In several venues recently I have suggested that it would be useful to do some content analysis on various documents to see how institutions are describing themselves, their priorities, their relationships and so on.

I am thinking of strategy documents, annual reports, but also things like websites, organizational charts and job adverts. I know that I could dig up some work in this area, but in a time of reported change it becomes interesting seeing how folks are adapting.

As interesting, or perhaps in some cases more interesting, is how the library is reported in the 'documents' of its home institution, the university or city for example. What is emphasized about value; what are seen as major achievements; what needs to change.

Curious, this morning I spent an hour or so very quickly looking at the websites of the first 30 universities in the Newsweek top 100 global universities. I was interested to see what this very superficial examination had to say about libraries in those institutions. A couple of things:

  • There was a link to the library on the majority of the sites. I counted four where there was not (and appearing in a drop down list did not count). I thought this was high compared to a randomly selected 30? This is just based on my own observation, I may be wrong.
  • As expected there was quite a variety of ways in which the library was presented. Perhaps the largest category was where the library was part of the general infrastructure, or visible in a set of quicklinks to central services or departments. I was interested to see the number of institutions where the library was associated with university museums and/or archives, sometimes as part of a general 'collections' category. This was higher than I expected. And the number where the library was associated with computing infrastructure was lower than I expected. In several cases, the library was presented in a research or academics category. (I am just using 'category' to refer to the grouping on the website - it doesn't necessarily represent any organizational grouping at the institution.)
Now, I have spoken about stuff being more or less than I expected above. My basis for this? Nothing more than hunch ...

I do think that looking at how organizations present themselves and what is important to them in the documents they produce is revealing, documents such as annual reports, strategies, job ads, websites, org charts, and so on. It would be interesting to see more analysis of them. Of course, we would have to be cautious in assuming too much about what they do reveal!

Comments: 1

Feb 18, 2007
Simon Spero

(I really don't the SJTU methodology- any system that ranks Cal Tech as 18th in technology is missing something fundamental).

A lot depends by what you count as the home page.

In the case of Imperial College, there are no direct links to any individual units on the home page.

However, following the link to the "Student" page places the library in the second most prominent position, in a grouping (and ahead of ) ICT (which is the confusing acronym for the computer centre).

Because a portal system is used, and I did not authenticate, these pages have rather a heavy marketing bias; the prominence of library in this context shows that it is considered a strong recruiting tool.

When authenticated as an alumnus, the libraries appear fourth out of five items in the "Quick Links" box - ahead of the link to the online donations page!

Imperial College and her libraries also point at what is likely to become a growing problem with ranking methodologies.

As you have blogged about here, Imperial is looking to radically reduce the number of lightly-used journals that it keeps on site and for which it has electronic subscriptions. This is inevitable, given how unbelievably expensive real estate is in South Kensington, but is incompatible with most current systems of rankings and evaluations that uses volume count as a metric (10% of the Newsweek study).

If electronic subscriptions are ignored, then the UKRR model will be harshly penalized; if it they are counted the same as physical copies then there will be perverse incentives to purchase subscriptions to as many titles as possible, probably with a heavy weighting towards per-use pricing.

All of this penalizes intelligent and careful collection development, and rewards mere warehousing.

Simon // former Imperial College Science Fiction Society Librarian and Official Scapegoat