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From Stronghold to Threshold

The Library’s Role in Supporting the University of Aberdeen’s Quest to Join the Ranks of the World’s Top 100 Universities

By Chris Banks | Aug 01, 2009

At the time of writing, Chris was University Librarian and Director of the Library & Historic Collections at the University of Aberdeen.


Founded in 1495, the University of Aberdeen is the fifth-oldest university in the English-speaking world and holds a reputation as a broad-based, research-driven institution. The results of the UK’s 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) demonstrated that 89% of the university’s research was of international quality, with 55% being rated as internationally excellent or world-leading. The RAE results, combined with a trebling of our competitively won research income over the last decade, comprise tangible outcomes of the university’s fundraising and investments to support our ambition to become one of the world’s top 100 universities.

What the university needs to do to achieve our ambition

Aberdeen recognizes that to achieve our ambition we must attract even more world class academic staff, encourage and recruit undergraduate and graduate students, and provide a first-rate learning environment—both in terms of facilities and the culture of thought within the institution.

What the university is doing to get there

Improvements in the infrastructure and teaching and research provision have been underpinned by a major fundraising initiative, beginning in 1999 with our Sixth Century Campaign which was at the time the biggest fundraising program ever undertaken by a Scottish university. Our major fundraising initiative is on target to raise a total of £150 million by 2010.

In relation to learning and the student experience, the university has undertaken an extensive review to modernize the content, delivery and flexibility of Aberdeen degrees to ensure theymatch the needs of graduates and employers. Curriculum reform plans are being implemented to provide students at Aberdeen with a wide choice of restructured and enhanced degree programs, more flexible entry and exit, and enhanced support. On completion of the new programs, Aberdeen graduates will be academically excellent and intellectually flexible and able to think critically and communicate effectively. Thus Aberdeen graduates will be more committed to personal development and better prepared to be active citizens.

The library’s role in supporting the university’s goal

Out of the total raised through our major fundraising initiative by 2010, £57m will be invested in a new library. Due to open in 2011, this flagship project will spearhead the university’s next ten-year £230 million investment in its infrastructure. Designed for the 21st century, the new library will be of great architectural merit and will offer a research environment featuring flexible and large learning spaces for our students and academic community, as well as dedicated public spaces for exhibitions, readings, art, music and events for all. Reflecting the university’s academic aspirations, the new library will provide access to everything from our oldest mediaeval manuscripts to the latest online resources and technology.

Actions the library is taking to support the university's goal

Throughout their courses, the library offers students information skills sessions to support their studies and make effective use of our significant investment in electronic resources. Over 80% of our collection development budget is spent on electronic material, and in the summer of 2008 we were in a position to make a further major investment in backfile purchases. Using subject-specific analysis provided by Elsevier and recommendations from academics, we purchased collections of ScienceDirect backfiles that would most benefit research by providing a five-fold increase in content. A ten-fold increase in ScienceDirect fulltext downloads occurred within 3 months of access to the new backfiles.

Use and impacts of the library’s investments

The partnership between the University of Aberdeen and Elsevier has resulted in further significant investment and has extended our access to ScienceDirect’s complete journal backfiles and collections of electronic books, with a further impact on our ScienceDirect download figures. Prior to this significant investment in our ScienceDirect holdings, one fulltext item was downloaded every 111 seconds (averaged over a year). This has now jumped to one download every 73 seconds.We’ve yet to fully analyze the usage of the new electronic books but they have proved very popular; usage increased markedly once records were added to the library catalog. There are still users of library catalogs out there!

Measuring the impacts of Aberdeen’s access to ScienceDirect and Scopus is a challenge. Scopus is popular at Aberdeen; we are one of Europe’s heaviest users of Scopus. In the coming years, we’ll use Scopus to measure student and faculty output and will thus investigate the impacts of Aberdeen’s access to ScienceDirect and Scopus.

An investment in a Research Information System (RIS), which captures research outputs and integrates with our Institutional Repository, has allowed us to become more involved in providing research performance evaluation, improving grant and funding proposals, identifying potential collaborators and analyzing competitive intelligence for our scholars, researchers and graduate students.

An evolving university requires an evolving library

As our university seeks to strengthen its role and standing, our university library acts as a proactive partner, changing and improving the resources and services we offer. Throughout the journey, as our library supports our university’s goal to join the ranks of the world’s top 100 universities, we continue to offer not a stronghold, but a threshold of available knowledge.

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