The UST Libraries: Context, assessment and planning, Part II

The UST Libraries: Context, assessment and planning, Part II

Part I of this series provided the context in which the UST Libraries conducted a self-study during the spring of 2005. (Read Part I.)

We focused our assessment on the following questions: What is our responsibility to the University of St. Thomas community as an academic library in 2005? How should we best allocate our resources, organize our staff and set our direction for the future?

We were starting this self-study in the context of the installation of Information Commons in both the Keffer and O’Shaughnessy-Frey libraries. (For a more complete description of the InfoCommons, see “Infocommons: The UST Libraries look to the future” from the March 17, 2004 Bulletin Today.)

Student and faculty expectations and use

Both of those installations brought changes to the libraries. In the case of OSF, we remodeled the first floor, lower level and sublevel of the library and designed new furniture to accommodate more than 100 new public access computers. As the semester started, we gathered comments from student users, some of whom were initially confused by the changes and surprised by the appearance of the furniture (which is more colorful than traditional library furniture). But the changes proved to be popular and in the Dec. 10, 2004, Aquin, OSF Library was identified as the “Best Place to Study” on campus. One of the characteristics of the Information Commons that was noted was that “everything is in one spot” – referring to one of the key benefits of the convergence of computers for research and writing, books and support for library research as well as technical issues.

Over the course of the 2004-2005 school year, OSF experienced a very large increase in the number of users (during the month of April 2005, we had 67,000 visitors – a 110 percent increase over the previous April). We extended OSF’s closing time to 2 a.m. on most nights, in response to repeated requests by students for longer hours. (During the semester, we had an average of 70 students still using the library at midnight and 33 at 1 a.m. – those numbers increased dramatically during finals week.)

One of the lessons we have taken from this experience is that students need a place on campus that they can study – a “third place,” not the classroom and not the residence hall room. The university’s libraries can appropriately serve in that role – an academic space in which students can do research, write papers, consult with each other in group settings, and meet and work with faculty. (If the place has good coffee, so much the better.)

Fears that digital content will kill the library as an important physical space have been laid to rest by our experience. We see a level of energy and activity in the libraries that we have not experienced for years. In addition to the library as a center for learning, we hope that it can serve to build community. It can be a place for both solitary and social work, for reading and group study, for scholarship and for flirting.

It was clear from our findings, however, that student research behavior has changed in recent years. We know that among undergraduate students, 80 percent turn to electronic sources of information first (both library-purchased content and the free World Wide Web). Among graduate students, 93 percent said they got most of their information from electronic sources. These results are consistent with national findings. A 2004 report from the Pew Internet and American Life project found that 84 percent of American adults have used search engines, 56 percent of them on a daily basis. The vast majority (87 present) of online searchers (according to the Pew Report) say they have “successful search experiences most of the time.”

The UST Libraries conduct more than 500 instructional sessions each year, most arranged in collaboration with faculty and designed to enhance student research skills. While there seems to be a high level of satisfaction with these instructional services, several faculty we spoke to were troubled by student research habits. At the same time, faculty are not unaware of the seductive nature of the Internet. One faculty member commented, “I find myself doing what I criticize my students for – using only my computer for research.”

The challenge for the library is to engage and train students in information literacy – the effective use of information for scholarship and for daily life. Another striking conclusion from our assessment is that while we are attracting large numbers of users to our physical spaces, we can do a better job of engaging them in ways that take full advantage of our services and collections. We are interested in participating in a campuswide conversation on the nature of and importance of research in a St. Thomas education, particularly in the context of Google and a younger generation that has different expectations regarding technology. Several comments from students and even from faculty suggest that there may not be enough clarity around the expectations of students to conduct research, and what constitutes good quality student scholarship.


The possibilities for a digital future for libraries are real, and we see in the patterns of use that electronic resources are very popular. The libraries have worked over the last several years to develop collections with the appropriate mix of print and electronic, books and journals. Continual monitoring of the use of our resources will help us maintain these balances.

We have seen very large increases in our spending on electronic resources (316 percent over the last 10 years) while our budget for print increased only by 6 percent in the same period. In our journal collection, the shift from print to electronic continues – in FY03, we spent 71 percent of our budget on print and 29 percent on electronic. In the current year, we anticipate that ratio to be 47 percent print and 53 percent electronic. Annual price increases of more than 10 percent in journal subscriptions put tremendous pressure on the libraries’ book budget, which has lead us to conduct nearly annual reductions in the journal collection. Those reductions have been managed with the advice of faculty and often resulted in the conversion of a print subscription to an electronic equivalent. Our justification for such conversions is in part, the evidence we’ve gathered on the use of journals, which indicates that it has declined dramatically in recent years.

The main objective for our collection development and management efforts is to provide the appropriate material to UST students and faculty in support of teaching and learning. In addition, library staff are centrally involved in the development and management of collections of digital assets to meet both administrative and academic needs, as well as to address archival and special collections challenges.

Future directions: Community, collaboration and content

We began our assessment by looking for an answer to the question: What is our responsibility as the academic library serving the University
of St. Thomas. In the end, we’ve identified goals and objectives that focus on three major roles:

  • The library as place – supporting learning and nurturing community. We will develop a master plan for the OSF library incorporating opportunities for new services, programs and organizational structures with plans for the physical structure. Specific possibilities to be addressed include: redesign of the services desks, development of a “faculty technology and teaching” center, and the implementation of a coffee shop.
  • The library as instructor – collaborating with faculty to enhance teaching, learning and scholarship. We will continue to integrate instruction in the principles of information literacy more effectively into the library’s instructional program.
  • The library as content manager – managing collections of resources in multiple formats to meet scholarly needs of today and tomorrow. In addition to building print collections, we will develop digital collections in support of academic and administrative goals of UST through participation in the UST Digital Asset Management initiative. We will hire an associate director for virtual services to coordinate the libraries’ technology initiatives.

Our assessment resulted in much more information than can be noted here. For a copy of the complete report, please contact Julie Kimlinger in the OSF Library office, (651) 962-5005. This round of assessment is only a beginning – it is our intention to make evaluation a part of the daily life in the libraries.

As the libraries look to the future, we are excited by the opportunity to create, in partnership with our colleagues all over the UST campus, the academic library of the 21st century – an energetic and vital library that continues to stand at the center of the academic enterprise as it has for centuries.