12 · Survey Results: Executive Summary
legitimate demonstration of rigorous inquiry.9 Since
the most recent SPEC survey to explore outreach pro-
grams in ARL member libraries was conducted over a
decade ago, the purpose of this survey was to explore
the ways in which traditional “outreach” programs in
academic libraries are evolving to address the emer-
gent concept of “public engagement” at the institu-
tional level and the degree to which the library is
integrated into campus-level efforts to promote public
engagement.10 As this survey was being launched, a
new collection of essays edited by Nancy Courtney,
exploring the evolution of the “third mission” in aca-
demic libraries, was published.11 Readers should com-
pare the data collected through this survey with the
case studies presented by Courtney (2009).
The survey was posted in February 2009. By the
March deadline, responses had been submitted by
56 of 123 ARL member libraries for a response rate
of 46%.
Public Engagement in Academic Libraries
For the purposes of this survey, respondents were
asked to report on “public engagement programs”
that met the definition of those that demonstrate the
library’s “commitment to community partnerships,
service to professional communities outside [your]
primary user groups ....[and that] go beyond the
‘provision of institutional resources for community
use,’ and are aimed at bringing the professional exper-
tise of the library to members of the public.” Of the 56
responding libraries, 49 (88%) reported providing such
programs as part of their service profile.
Respondents identified a wide variety of pro-
grams that they characterize as “public engagement.”
The top four areas of library activity reported were
programs in the areas of K-12 education (80%), cul-
tural engagement (75%), government information/
e-government (68%), and lifelong learning (66%). A
review of comments and open responses provided
as part of the survey suggests that several of these
programs are closer to the traditional understanding
of “outreach” (e.g., community borrower programs,
public programs and exhibits, and participation in
the Federal Depository Library Program) than to the
emergent understanding of “engagement.”12 Others
represent library programs designed to complement
or support campus-level engagement programs, such
as Cooperative Extension.
Among the programs that appeared to better
represent library-based public engagement efforts
were those aimed at K-12 students and teachers
(e.g., National History Day http://www.national-
historyday.org/), those aimed at other special user
populations, including retirees, homeschoolers, and
residents of local correctional facilities (e.g., Osher
Lifelong Learning Institute http://www.osherfoun-
dation.org/), and those that allowed ARL member
libraries to participate in national efforts to facilitate
collaboration between academic libraries and com-
munity organizations (e.g., the National Endowment
for the Arts’ “Big Read” program http://www.neabi-
gread.org/), or that direct the information expertise of
academic librarians toward public concerns (e.g., the
National Library of Medicine’s “Go Local” program
In addition to involvement in national efforts
such as these, respondents identified a number of
innovative programs reflective of local interests
and opportunities for collaboration, such as the Get
Graphic program at the University at Buffalo http://
getgraphic.org/, and the School Partnerships in
Research and Information Technology (SPIRIT) pro-
gram at the University of California, Irvine http://
spirit.lib.uci.edu/. Finally, one must note the degree
to which digital library services and programs pro-
vide opportunities for public engagement and col-
laboration with community partners, for example,
the University of Georgia’s involvement in the Civil
Rights Digital Library http://crdl.usg.edu/, and the in-
volvement of multiple institutions in the Government
Information Online (GIO) Virtual Reference Service
Organizational Culture and Structure
The organizational culture of a library and its parent
institution influence the level of commitment to, and
involvement in, public engagement programs. The
organizational structure of the library, as well as the
structure for coordinating and communicating public
engagement initiatives at the campus level, also have
an impact on the degree to which public engagement
programs have become embedded in the mission,
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