The University of Alabama

Steady Growth, Investment Raise Rankings of UA Libraries

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — First-class universities need strong libraries to power teaching and research, much as large steamships need big engines. As recent rankings show, The University of Alabama Libraries are growing in quality and support and are prepared to power academic pursuits at the Capstone in the 21st century.

Statistics compiled by the Association of Research Libraries show that University Libraries have risen in the rankings in several key areas, including investment and in overall criteria. Since 2003, UA Libraries have moved from 97 to 56 among all criteria for the ARL’s member libraries, which include the top private- and public-university libraries in the United States and Canada.

Among public universities, UA Libraries have risen from 61 to 32 since 2003. Among the 23 ARL members in the Southern University Group, including the University of Florida, University of North Carolina and University of Georgia – UA’s ranking has risen from 21 to 12.

As for investment in libraries, UA has risen from 92 to 76 overall and from 56 to 41 among public universities. In the Southern University Group, the ranking has risen from 18 to 15.

“This recognition of our libraries reflects our commitment to providing the best academic and research materials for our students and our faculty,” said Dr. Judy Bonner, UA executive vice president and provost. “We are proud of the tremendous effort Dean (Louis A.) Pitschmann and all our librarians have made to improve the quality of our libraries.”

“The rise in investment stands as a key benchmark for the University,” said Pitschmann, UA dean of libraries.

“What these numbers represent is the University’s commitment to investing in a library that is commensurate with the quality of the teaching and research that is currently taking place at the University,” Pitschmann said. “Without this level of funding, we could not put in place the type of library UA’s current programs and priorities require.”

The increase in rankings, for both investment and for overall criteria, represents the University’s efforts to improve access to materials for both students and faculty engaged in cutting-edge research. He notes that in 2003, University Libraries provided access to 23,000 periodicals for scholarly research; in 2011, the University community has access to more than 88,000 unique titles – almost all of them in electronic formats.

“An estimated 90 percent of the electronic information that one can access through the Internet needed for higher education is not free,” Pitschmann said. “Libraries must license and purchase that material. Thanks to funding from the University and donors, we’ve been able to move the library to higher qualitative levels.”

As investment has increased, so has University Libraries’ commitment to augmenting the life of UA’s scholarly community, including undergraduates.The new Scout unified resource discovery interface from EBSCO, for example, allows students and faculty to search for articles and information simultaneously among electronic resources and catalogs of printed materials.

Librarians also have sought to acquire access to materials undergraduates can use for class assignments and original research. The result: Staff members have not only improved the quantity of material available but also the quality of the collection.

“We’ve moved to a totally different qualitative level that would have been impossible without the funding increases we’ve received,” Pitschmann said. “This funding also has allowed us to hire more staff. We have a very strong and committed library faculty who are developing the collections and developing new forms of access to the electronic information.”

Membership in the Association of Research Libraries is based on meeting high standards for libraries in research institutions. In Alabama, UA and Auburn are the only two members of ARL.

Other members include Harvard, Yale, the University of Florida, Florida State University, the University of Tennessee, the University of Georgia and Louisiana State University. Membership in ARL is a strong indicator of UA’s strengthening position as a major U.S. research institution and benefits the University in several ways.

“Membership allows us to work with and collaborate with some of the largest and oldest research libraries in the United States and Canada, and it assures us that we stay current with trends and opportunities that will support the University’s teaching, research and outreach agenda,” Pitschmann said.

Pitschmann also says the rankings reflect the commitment of UA President Robert E. Witt and Provost Bonner to improving the quality of the University as a community of scholars.

“Dr. Witt and Dr. Bonner have shown exceptional support for the libraries, and our growth is directly attributable to their support,” Pitschmann said.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.