The following is a guest blog post by Ken Ladd, acting dean in the University Library.
The changes currently proposed for the U of S library are the latest stage in a decade-long transformation that has involved a shift from providing space for books to providing space for students.
The First Integrated Plan (2003-2007) proposed the “establishment of an Academic Skills Centre which will consolidate, perhaps in the Main Library, units like the Writing Centre, Math Help Centre, IT Ready, and Library Instruction and Information.” Further in the document it has a complete section on ”A New Learning Centre” that would most likely be in the Library. This is, of course, the Learning Commons and the University Learning Centre, both of which have been a huge success. The ground floor of the Murray Library has group study rooms, a variety of seating for groups and individuals, adaptive technology room for students with disabilities, self-check units for signing out materials, some computer stations, and a café. The first floor is a space with the University Learning Centre, library reference assistance, IT help, a wide array of computer stations, a collaborative learning lab, and a very vibrant atmosphere. These changes were the result of the University Library Transformation Project Phases 1 and 2 and occurred over a few years (2006-2009). To accomplish this transformation we placed some materials in storage and made the decision that we would not keep the print versions of the electronic journals held in JSTOR (a digital library).
What is proposed in the consolidation of print collections and services project is a further transformation of library space occupied by print collections. With the exponential growth of electronic resources (both digitized and born digital) we are witnessing a steady decrease in the use of our print collections. For example, from 2003/2004 until 2012/2013 we have seen a 58% decrease in items being signed out of our collection. Our print collections, however, are still of importance which is why the project calls for there being remote storage.
What is being proposed here is not particularly unique. Academic libraries are being transformed across North America and around the world to reflect the new reality of electronic resources. When new libraries such as the Taylor Family Digital Library at the University of Calgary and the James B. Hunt Jr. Library at North Carolina State University were recently built, their spaces were created vastly different to what academic libraries were ten years ago. They use high density storage to house much of their print collections and the space is very user-centred with immersive technology rooms, maker spaces where 3-D printing and other resources are located, group study, quiet study, music rooms, electronic media rooms, etc. They have preserved the knowledge that they have acquired through storing print resources for use as needed, and created spaces that advance learning, teaching and research. Our new Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library reflects these changes with the much reduced footprint for our print collections and the over 20 group study rooms, Learning Commons computers, and a variety of individual study spaces.
We have as a university the opportunity to continue the transformation of our libraries and the spaces to create a sustainable, efficient and effective library system that meets the needs of our students and faculty in their learning, teaching and research. It will look different than how it looks today, but we will preserve the knowledge that they now contain through collaborations with university libraries in western Canada and beyond. We will offer a variety of library services that are traditional as well as some that are new. We will provide access to the electronic and print resources that are needed. We will do this so that we can create user spaces that meet the current, emerging and evolving needs of our students and faculty. And with the space the university will be able to address high priority needs.
I have been asked about the possible impact of these changes on accredited colleges/programs. The University Library is committed to working closely with these colleges to ensure that library-related accreditation criteria are met. I have also been asked about the services and space that will be in place after the print collections are consolidated. I have given some idea of the possibilities above, but I would note that this project is very early on, so there remain many details to be worked out. In the coming months, under the leadership of Dr. Vicki Williamson, Dean, University Library (on leave until July 1st), the details will begin to emerge through the planning processes that she will put in place. This process will involve consultation with colleges affected, as well as with students and faculty. Dean Williamson and I are very optimistic about the opportunities that this project provides.