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Library to accommodate changes
in scholarly communication
April 6, 1998

When workers removed the last wraps from the exterior of Homer Babbidge Library, a troubled era in the library's history came to an end. Now changes are underway that will usher in a new era for the library and those who use it - a $3 million project to renovate and redesign the interior.

"We have redesigned the library, so faculty and students will recognize that the time they were inconvenienced was not wasted. We have also taken this opportunity to optimize our use of staff resources," says Paul Kobulnicky, director of University Libraries..

The project is a chance to examine current and future directions in both scholarly communications and pedagogy, and to make strategic decisions about the library's use of space and the applications of technology, he says. "We need to get things in place that will make sense for 10-20 years."

Despite technological advances, a lot of the changes are being driven by our collections, he says. "We're still acquiring a lot of print and microfilm materials, and will continue to do so."

One of the first areas to receive attention was the journals collection. Before long, current journals, bound journals since 1960, and microfilm journals will all be housed on Level 3. Bound journal volumes for the years 1940-1959 will be moved to Level A, helping to reduce the crowding on Level 3 and make browsing more effective.

Underlying this move, says Kobulnicky, is a steady shift in the way researchers are using journals. Instead of extensive browsing, as in the past, researchers are increasingly likely to have a specific citation to locate. "The direction people are going in is known item searches. We hear, 'I like to browse but I've not had much time recently,'" he says.

A rapid growth in electronic indexing and abstract services has helped. In addition, through a service called Uncover Reveal, the library offers easy networked, desktop access to tables of contents of current journals. In the future, he says, as journals increasingly come online, the tables of contents will probably offer a hyperlink to the full text.

Because of the benefits of browsing, library staff considered moving specific subject journals into the relevant departments. "Browsing works best when you bring the journals of one discipline together. The problem is that there are very few pure disciplines any more," says Kobulnicky, recalling a recent presentation on campus by Steven Chu, winner of the Nobel Prize in physics, who spoke about manipulating biological molecules. "There's so much interdisciplinary research now, that to move reference collections to small pockets disadvantages a lot of researchers," he says.

Moving current and bound journals to one level, where they are spread out across a wider area than before, is not universally popular.

Kent Holsinger, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, says the changes make it more difficult to keep current with the literature..

"In order to scan current journals, I have to go through the entire journal collection," he says. "I depend a lot on the serendipity that happens when I go to pick up, say, a copy of the Journal of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and, in leafing through it, happen on a plate or paper I wasn't intending to read. I depend in my research on understanding the context of what's happening, and less on the details of particular experimental research."

Holsinger says that although electronic document delivery services do a good job of supplying specific articles, they do not serve the same function as "pulling a journal off the shelf and running across something else I should know about."

Another aspect of the changes relates to the collection of government documents, which is moving downstairs to the former Current Journals Room. "One of the most dramatic changes is in access to government information," Kobulnicky says. "It is probably being converted quicker than anything else."

As a depository library, the University receives about 75 percent of what's published by the federal government, and that requires a lot of shelf space. The print version of the Congressional Record, for example, "used to eat up linear feet per week," he says. "Now it is on the Internet."

Kobulnicky says the more heavily used a document is, the more likely it is to be online.

George Cole, emeritus professor of political science, uses government documents extensively in his research on the administration of criminal justice. He says electronic access to these documents enables him to be "much more comprehensive and current," and he now goes to the library less and less frequently.

The changes, particularly the move of the current journals collection, have enabled the library to reduce its number of service points. "The more service desks there are, the more diluted the staff are," Kobulnicky says.

Instead, by concentrating on a smaller number of service desks within the library, the library's subject liaisons are more available to go out to departments to assist faculty and students.

"We want to improve service and remove redundancy," says Kobulnicky.

Services to support library users, especially in gaining access to electronic resources, are a major issue, he says. "There's a support service crisis. No one can get all the help they need in order to be effective." As a strategic response, the library will locate many of its electronic services and support staff in one area, he says. The new design for Level 1 focuses on clusters of computers, where people can learn and overcome problems by working together, placed around service desks with staff to help.

Also scheduled to move to the new Level 1 is the Faculty Resource Lab, currently located in the Computer Center. "Many faculty are developing courseware around networked information," Kobulnicky says. "Level 1 will have user support and guidance on intellectual property and fair use, as well as information on how to tie in with the media center and deliver multimedia.

"One of the main strategic issues for the whole University is client-centered services," Kobulnicky says. To assist in responding to student needs, the library turned to Dean of Students Sharon Kipetz, who conducted a survey of more than 200 students.

The results were clear. "If there's one thing we know students want, it's the ability to work together," Kobulnicky says. "It's being driven by group learning assignments that are given by faculty and by the recognition that the workplace is much more group-structured than it used to be. Students want spaces where they can work on assignments together."

In the former current journals room, the library will designate space for informal and group study. "We will tolerate a certain level of noise there," he says, "and we will use stacks to break up large areas." There will also be group study rooms on the perimeter of Levels 2 and 4.

Kobulnicky says managing change is critical to the library's success. "Constant change can be frustrating," he says. "Faculty and students come to the library today to do what they did yesterday, only to find that something has replaced it. The rate of change constrains the library's ability to refine services before it is time to change again. We don't just change for the sake of change. Often the information marketplace drives such changes. For example, we had to drop access to Biosis, an excellent resource in the biological sciences, because it increased to a cost that we simply could not sustain."

He says the University Libraries are not alone in facing these challenges. "Research libraries are all trying to cope. We are fortunate that our renovation project has enabled us to address internal service restructuring. However, even libraries without building projects to push them are reorganizing the delivery of their services."

Still, the library is trying to look ahead and trying to anticipate what is to come. "We believe these are the directions in which we need to move," says Kobulnicky, "If we are to be properly prepared for the future.

Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu