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University Libraries are still at the heart of the community
August 31, 1998

Despite the rapid growth and seductiveness of the Internet and despite attempts by "big content" corporations to control, for profit, all of the world's known intellectual property, rumors of the death of libraries are greatly exaggerated. On the contrary, the importance of libraries is growing.

In a post-industrial world, the organization and access to information that libraries provide is critical to both personal and institutional success. For UConn to prepare its students to be successful in the post-industrial era, its libraries must be at the forefront of information delivery. During the past four years, the University Libraries have pursued systemic changes that have kept us current and have positioned us for the challenges of the future.

We have created "one library" out of the separate facilities on the Storrs and regional campuses. In doing so, we have leveraged the resources of each of the campuses for the benefit of the entire community. We have integrated the collections in one catalog, created mechanisms for rapid access and delivery of all the libraries' holdings and delivered a common suite of electronic services to all the University's physical locations.

We have attempted to make this single, collective library available from each of the University's facilities and we seek to serve everyone uniformly throughout the UConn community. We have recently insisted on, and have had to fight for, clauses in licenses and contracts with information vendors that define the University of Connecticut as a single entity that includes Storrs, the five regional campuses, the Health Center and the School of Law.

Contemporary society increasingly expects information to be constantly accessible. By concentrating on digital formats of information - especially the complete text and not simply citations - our libraries make that information available any time, any place and it is always "on the shelf."

However, we also have had to work very hard to maintain access to the information we want in a world where information is viewed as a commodity. On behalf of the University community, we fight for the price we want and the terms and conditions we need. We play hardball with vendors and we often say no until one of us "rethinks" our position. We increasingly fight for a restructuring of the very means of communication that have for several centuries formed the basis of scholarship.

We have made great strides in focusing our resources on excellence. The development of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center has given us a facility and staff that have attracted important primary collections and has created a venue for scholarly programming to bring together primary research and public interest. We have directed our human resources to our liaison program, which places subject specialist librarians out in the field in as much direct contact with faculty and students as possible. We have allocated collections resources where there have been public acknowledgments of University priorities and strengths. We have made choices and redirected resources in light of our future mission, even though we recognize that such actions may cause disruptions in the short term.

The measure of a research library is no longer only the number of volumes. Libraries are doing an excellent job of integrating collection resources that are distributed both physically and virtually into a unified whole. The development of bibliographic access methods has been phenomenal. We are now prepared to serve scholars no matter where scholarship goes, because we see our mission in a much larger role than one devoted primarily to local collections.

We also recognize the importance of reader support. In a world of student-centered, life-long learning the library remains a key element of success. In a world of information glut, librarians are the organizers, the filters, the guides. Most importantly, in a period where selectivity and sophisticated analysis of information will determine individual success, librarians will work closely with faculty to help create information-li terate graduates.

In the near future, my staff and I will be moving forward an agenda that advances the role of libraries and librarians by:

  • continuing to push the development of a model that provides access to the corpus of world information directly to the University communit.

  • working with peer institutions to collectively create a global, digital library available to everyon.

  • advancing the collaborative roles of librarians to engage with faculty in the reformation of teaching and learning and assist the University in developing innovative student-centered instructional programs.

  • articulating our intentions and aspirations in the development of local, primary research collections.

  • creating the highest quality services through the application of learning organization techniques,

  • and recognizing the continued importance of physical libraries.

The rededication of the Homer Babbidge Library on October 18 is a milestone for the University and for the library. It is a symbol of rebirth and a dedication to quality. More importantly, it is a statement that the library as place is still critical to the institution. Babbidge Library is at the very center of the University's largest campus and in that position it serves as a visible symbol of the centrality of information and information services to scholarship.

If we are truly to be, as we say in the University's strategic plan, a community of learners then the library must be the community center, a center with special spaces for everyone and the place where you go to be with others in making the academic experience memorable.

Paul Kobulnicky
Director of University Libraries