Academic libraries are attached to colleges and other postsecondary academic institutions. Their primary purpose is to bring together the necessary academic background resources to support research and education at the institution. All academic libraries ensure that their students, educators, and researchers have access to the materials they will need to broaden their knowledge.
Access to knowledge through educational support
Academic libraries ensure that both students and faculty members will have access to far more knowledge than they could possibly pull together on their own. Even for the richest, these kinds of resources are very difficult or even impossible to pull together, while their total cost puts them completely out of the reach of the poor. Pooling all these academic resources into an academic library helps to guarantee access to knowledge for everyone.
Many students are assigned supplementary reading from texts that are not available for purchase. These texts are available on the academic library computers or in hardcopy at the library’s short-term loan desk. This approach minimizes the cost to students and the copyright costs to the institution, while still making the material available to the students.
With over 1 million books currently in print, academic libraries cannot possibly cover every conceivable research direction. However, if a particular academic library does not have the needed book or background material, it can request an interlibrary loan on behalf of the student or faculty member.
The digital age
In the digital age, the role of academic libraries is being rethought. Books and physical papers are unlikely to go away any time soon, especially with so many rare materials in the form of manuscripts. At the same time, more and more academic background resources can be found in computer databases, which take up much less space than the hardcopy equivalent. The combination allows an academic library to give people access to more information than ever.
Most journal articles have been indexed in specialized databases. These databases charge high fees for access, which may be beyond the means of many students. Instead, the academic library pays a single institutional fee, and all its students can subsequently access these databases without incurring additional fees.
Preservation and access to rare materials
Many academic libraries have specialized niche collections, which may support a research specialty of the institution. For example, these niche collections may include most of the letters and original manuscripts of public writings by a famous historical figure. Other niche collections may have to do with the academic institution’s geographical location or mission statement.
Researchers who are not attached to an academic institution can often request access to archived materials. People who are researching their family trees often make use of academic libraries to track down obscure church or government records to track down a relative.
The niche collection may also be the basis of an attached museum. In these cases, the museum also opens the door of knowledge to the general public, who can enjoy the displayed parts of the collection.