Transformation of the University Library

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.

Ken Ladd
Acting Dean
University Library


4 thoughts on “Transformation of the University Library

  1. Stephen, I thought I’d comment on the section of your post that is about governance. I think you mean paragraph m (rather than h, which is about student discipline), which says that the council may review library policies. I would not say that the decision to offer specific services in a given location, or not, is a policy decision – I think it is an operational matter. However, I am not sure this distinction is important, because council is responsible for academic matters and can make recommendations on any subject it chooses. As I state regularly, I expect council to provide advice on major administrative decisions that have academic impacts. I am not aware of anything in practice or in the act that would make such matters decision items for council. P&P has already had a general discussion of the point that changes to libraries are intended. I would expect that the library would be talking to TLARC in more detail about their plans. These and other committees may place these matters on their agendas and request presentations or information from the library.

    • Brett:

      Thanks for the correction. Either you have memorized the act, or you have a dog-eared printout at your desk.

      I was careful to not say what the role of Council would be in my post; within the constraints of the act, that is for Council to define. There can be shades of grey between explicit policy issues and “operational changes” that have as a consequences the effect of limiting access. It is not a black and white issue, but I am glad to see it is one where Council has already expressed its interest.

      There were other substantive points in my post; I look forward to further discussion on these.


  2. Ken, thanks for your guest post.

    I support the use of remote storage and retrieval systems for print media. University libraries have a duty to preserve knowledge, and academics (like myself) have a continued need to access these items, old and new. I’ve accessed remotely stored books when on sabbatical at UofA, and I found the process acceptable. I rather pick the book off the shelf myself … but I much rather that the book be there in the first place.

    As many others, I was surprised to read about the proposed closure of four library locations (education, engineering, law and vet med). Your post talks about “consolidation”. I prefer that we all use direct language: “closed locations” and “collections and services relocated.” It’s much easier to get my mind around the proposed changes when direct language is used.

    My concerns are not with the “location of books” but rather about changed access to subject-specific library services. I use the library daily, but mostly from my laptop computer. However, the physical library location provides me with subject-specific resources, thanks to the liaison librarian (Hi De De!), and specialized reference collections. The proposed changes will move these liaison librarians and resources much farther away from students, staff and faculty who use them. Frankly, it’s a bit of a hike from Engineering to the Natural Science Library. For busy people, this activation barrier matters.

    I’m not opposed to change, and there are many aspects of this plan I appreciate. I would ask the administration keep their eyes open for a middle path: consolidate resources and centralizable services, but maintain a subject-specific presence closer to the academic units. Space in engineering (I use this as an an example as I know this location best) could combine engineering-specific student services with a focused set of liaison and reference services, analogous to the ULC and the Murray library (NB this is an uninformed suggestion, but it could act as a foil for a better idea). It’s important to have librarians embedded in the academic communities, rather than far away from those they serve.

    The mark of a good plan is its ability to be replaced by a better plan. I throw these ideas out in the hopes that valuable subject-specific services can be retained, while those services amendable to centralization are centralized. I look forward to the subtleties and specifics of the ongoing discussion.

    As far as governance approval, I note the project brief casts these as changes to “management structures,” within the purview of the administration. Fundamental changes in library delivery practise seem to rise to the level of policy; University Council has a role in issues of library policy under section 61(1)h of the University of Saskatchewan act. Council oversight would be an issue for Council to consider, presumably through the chairs of TLAR, P&P, governance, etc.

    I know that library staff are following these issues with concern. I apologize for my abstract tone as I talk about issues that touch closely to your work and professional lives.


    • Stephen, thank you for a very thoughtful reply to the post.

      I was quite taken with your suggestion of maintaining a subject-specific presence closer to the academic units – to centralize what can be centralized and keep local subject-specific services. And you note that it is important to embed librarians in the academic communities. What you are describing is a concept in the library discipline that is called exactly what you have noted – embedded librarians. In the concept a subject specialist librarian has an office or space within a college and is able to interact with faculty and students where they are. This is something that we have been reviewing and are interested in exploring. The value added is having the expertise of the librarian on site for support of teaching learning and research. I expect it will be part of the upcoming conversations and consultations as planning proceeds.

      With respect to using the direct language of “closed locations”, the language of reconfiguring campus libraries is used as it is more in line with what is planned and reflects the unknown nature of what will transpire with the spaces. We are reconfiguring the library system and we have yet to work through the nature of the changes that will result from the consolidation of print collections and services, and then how the space will be used to support teaching, learning and research.

      I agree with your characterization of what constitutes a good plan – one than can be replaced by a better one or perhaps said a little differently, one that can evolve. The project brief notes that significant consultation is anticipated with key stakeholder groups, and I hope that through those discussions we will generate ideas that will ensure we reconfigure our campus libraries to create a sustainable, efficient and effective library system that meets the needs of our students and faculty.

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