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Homer Babbidge Library addresses changing space needs

by Richard Veilleux - October 30, 2006

With the number of books and journals at the Homer Babbidge Library outstripping the space available, staff are weeding out materials that are rarely used, adding to the electronic database, and evolving new approaches to services and study areas.

Emily Hoffman, a sophomore majoring in communications disorders, in the reference section of Homer Babbidge Library.
Emily Hoffman, a sophomore majoring in communications disorders, in the reference section of Homer Babbidge Library.
Photo by Suzanne Zack

"Homer Babbidge Library is running out of space to house its growing book and journal collections," says Peter Allison, principal bibliographer, in the opening paragraph of an article published in the latest edition of the University Libraries' quarterly newsletter.

"Significant sections of the stacks are too full to permit routine shelving of new or returned materials."

Brinley Franklin, vice provost for University Libraries, says that for a while, staff have been juggling some collections, shifting some literature and science collections from the third floor to alternate locations, and moving some reference journals to the first floor of the building.

But with 10,000 new books arriving annually, and the changing ways students use the library, how to keep Babbidge Library healthy and vibrant for decades to come is a question that will continue to provoke serious discussion.

Expanding the library or building an off-site repository, as other research libraries have done, is not an option, says Franklin.

"The era of the library just providing books, journals, and grand, quiet reading rooms has passed," he says.

"Students expect technology, coffee, books, easy access to electronic journal articles, and a variety of space and furniture . Our task is to ensure that materials which are unique, heavily used materials, and those not available electronically, continue to be available in Babbidge Library."

The 400,000-square-foot library currently houses more than 2 million printed volumes. UConn officials, though, are concerned less about the number and more with quality and the issue of how books and journals are used today.

"The migration of library materials to electronic formats has changed the way we think about providing library collections," says Franklin.

"Faculty in the sciences and social sciences, for example, now do the majority of their work remotely, using networked resources. When UConn faculty and students need a book or journal article we don't have, we have made it easier and faster for them to get them from other libraries - whether we own a book or not is less relevant, since we can typically get them a book within two or three days, and provide them with an electronic version of a journal article even faster in most cases."

Adds Allison: "Use of the reference collection is down 50 percent. There's hardly anyone in the reference area anymore. You can get the Encyclopedia Britannica and two up-to-date science encyclopedias online.

"Most of the legal, governmental, and statistical information for which people formerly came to the library is now available online, either from sources we license or from governmental agency web sites.

"We are actively moving to convert as many of our reference offerings to online as we can afford," Allison says.

"This is what our users want, and licensed electronic provision brings resources to our regional campus libraries that they would not otherwise have been able to offer."

According to Allison, the reference area may yield space to an expanded Learning Commons that will grow beyond the current site used by the W Center, the Q Center, and the Learning Resource Center.

He says the Commons is the type of program today's students want from a library.

"The students want more facilities for group study and collaborative activity, in line with increasing expectations in business and other subject areas that they work more as teams and less as individuals. On the other hand, many students come here just to do their own work. It's calmer and generally quieter atmosphere than they find in their residence halls."

Allison says the library operates at 90 percent capacity as exam time approaches, and the small group rooms are almost constantly in use.

"We need to plan for both more quiet study space and more collaborative environments," he says.

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