The UST Libraries: Context, assessment and planning

The UST Libraries: Context, assessment and planning

There is a welcome poster in the front window of O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center this fall that has at its center an image from one of the library’s original, small, stained-glass medallion windows.  

The image in the poster is of Sherlock Holmes and we added the tagline, “Where the Search Begins.” This image, a creation of the 1950s, with a character from the 19th century, roots the UST libraries in the tradition of books and research.  

At the same time, there is evidence all around us that we are growing into a new kind of academic library.     

For a while during late fall 2004, the possibility of a viable digital library moved toward reality, at least based on media reports. On Dec. 3, 2004, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on Google’s launch of its new search tool, Google Scholar, which reportedly “could make libraries obsolete … .” On Dec. 10, 2004, the Chronicle carried an opinion essay, “College Libraries: The Long Goodbye,” in which the author wrote:

So turn off your computer and take a stroll down to the campus library. Walk through the stacks and begin saying your goodbyes to the shelves of printed books. It may not be this year, this decade, or even before you retire – but drastic changes in the ways libraries and scholarly publishers operate are coming, and their effects will extend throughout the academy.

On Dec. 14, 2004, Google made front-page news in papers throughout the world with its announcement that the company would be scanning in the holdings of several major research libraries in the United States and England with the goal of having 15 million books available electronically within a decade. Daniel Greenstein, university librarian for the California Digital Library, commented, “Our world is about to change in a big, big way … . Instead of expending considerable time and money managing their collections of printed materials, libraries in the future can devote more energy to gathering information and making it accessible – and more easily manageable – online.”

(In a development that seemed to confirm these reports, the University of Texas announced in July 2005 that the 90,000 books in its undergraduate library would be removed to make room for computers. While the story was somewhat misunderstood and misreported – the books were simply moved to other campus libraries – the message surprised many readers.)

In addition to seeing this news in publications, the library staff was hearing from others in the library community, most notably Scott Bennett, author of Libraries Designed for Learning.   Bennett spent two days in November 2004 leading conversations on the role of the library as a learning space, centrally located at the core of the educational mission of the university and organized around teaching and learning activities.

The move toward the Information Commons in both Keffer and O’Shaughnessy-Frey libraries was also influencing our thinking. We were seeing large increases in the numbers of students using the facilities (in some months, a more than 100 percent increase over the previous year.) There was a level of activity and energy in the library that had been missing for many years. But it also begged the questions: Now that we have the students in the building, are we engaging them? Are they using our services in greatly increased numbers? Are they checking out more books? Are the libraries and the Information Commons making a difference in student learning and scholarship?

In order to make sense of our observations and to try to answer some of our questions, the library developed an assessment team last January charged to evaluate our experience with a focus on the changing expectations and patterns of use of students and faculty, and the trends in the development and use of the libraries’ collections. The team conducted surveys and focus groups with students and faculty, and analyzed data that has been collected for years on library use and collection building.

The project was intended to inform planning and goal setting for the coming two to three years. In addition, we wanted to raise awareness in the UST community of current academic library issues. Our hope is that these findings will provide the real data we need as we seek to understand the implications of changes for new roles, relationships, organizational structures and direction for the UST Libraries, as we seek to become, in the words of the Libraries’ vision statement, “intellectual and technological crossroads of information resources, teaching, and learning at UST.” We set before us two major questions: 1. What is our responsibility as the academic library system serving the University of St. Thomas ? 2. How should we best allocate our resources, organize our staff and set our direction for the future?

Tomorrow: What the libraries learned and how they are responding