Is the Dept of Ed Shortchanging Libraries?

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Photo of student in library.

In an unpopular move, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has proposed discontinuing the library component of the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). ED has faced significant opposition from various academic and library associations. The library data, which has been collected as part of IPEDS since 1988 and annually since 2014, is seen as vital for understanding the role of libraries in supporting higher education institutions.

The American Library Association, along with the Association of College and Research Libraries, the Association of Research Libraries, and the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries, voiced strong objections to the elimination of the library survey in a joint public statement. They argue that maintaining this data is crucial for transparency and accountability in higher education, and allows institutions to effectively benchmark and allocate resources.

In the statement, the groups noted, “Academic libraries hold a unique position as the heart of their institutions: No other unit supports all other parts of the institution and its educational mission as libraries do.”

Academic libraries play a central role in promoting information literacy, supporting faculty research, and contributing to student success. Data from nearly 3,700 academic libraries collected through the IPEDS survey helps illustrate their extensive reach and impact, particularly important in an era of growing misinformation about, and declining public trust in higher education.

The proposed cutting of library data stems from budgetary concerns and the need to manage the scope of IPEDS, according to Josué DeLaRosa, director of annual reports and information staff for the National Center for Education Statistics. However, many in the academic community believe that the benefits of the library data far outweigh the costs and administrative burdens.

Judy Ruttenberg, senior director of scholarship and policy for the Association of Research Libraries, highlighted the importance of the data for understanding educational trends and setting library service prices. She emphasized that while the survey is detailed and time-consuming, the library community is prepared to accept this burden due to the invaluable insights the data provides.

In addition to individual comments, several higher education associations, including the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of American Universities, have also submitted a joint letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, supporting the retention of the library data in IPEDS. They cite the crucial role of this data in supporting the broader educational mission and its utility in the current information-driven decision-making landscape.

The debate over the IPEDS library component underscores the ongoing challenge of balancing resource constraints with the need for comprehensive and actionable data in higher education. As the comment period has closed with a strong response from stakeholders, the future of the library survey in IPEDS remains uncertain, awaiting a final decision from the Department of Education.