What is a Library? The Issue of Library Collections

I have recently been approached by some faculty who believe that we are removing important items from our print collections and that this is evidence of a lack of support for faculty, for research, and for scholarship. I respect their concern and expect to be engaging in many more conversations about the changing nature of libraries and library collections in the near future. As I try to respond to their concerns, it makes me ponder the question of what a library is. Today, I want to focus on library collections.

Traditional dictionaries like Merriam Webster define a library as “a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (such as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale.   The Oxford English dictionary defines a library in similar fashion as “A building or room containing collections of books, periodicals, and sometimes films and recorded music for use or borrowing by the public or members of an institution.” There are some for whom this is the only valid definition of a library.

There are others who think (and have said to me since I’ve been Dean of University Libraries at FAU) that: “Since everything is available digitally, why do we need a library anymore?” If you do a Google search on the question “do we still need libraries in the digital age?” you will turn up link after link to articles from the New York Times, the Washington Post, PBS, the Guardian, the CBC, and many more that ponder this question, all with their own twist on the issue.

It is interesting to be standing in the middle of these two opposing views and trying to find a middle ground.

Unlike some of my colleagues or the popular press, I don’t foresee a day when the traditional definition of a library will be completely eliminated. I don’t believe that all knowledge, scholarship, or creative output will be available digitally anytime soon – or ever. I’m not even sure I would consider that desirable.

However, as the world’s scholarly output continues to increase, libraries are able to own or even provide direct access to a smaller and smaller percentage of it. A 2014 posting on the Nature Newsblog noted that “Bibliometric analysts Lutz Bornmann, at the Max Planck Society in Munich, Germany and Ruediger Mutz, at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, think they have a better answer. It is impossible to know for sure, but the real rate is closer to 8-9% each year, they argue. That equates to a doubling of global scientific output roughly every nine years.”

Libraries cannot hope to own or provide immediate electronic access to all the resources that their patrons want and need. Not only do we not have the funding to keep up with the world’s production of scholarly output, we also don’t have the space. Our collections budget are usually stagnant and not keeping up with the pace of inflation (as detailed in a April 2017 article from Library Journal on the Periodicals Price Survey) and there are new demands for the use of our space all the time. In the face of this new reality, libraries around the world are reviewing what it means to be a library.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is an elite group of  123 research libraries in the U.S. and Canada. Membership in this elite group is hard to come by and, in earlier years, members could lose their standing and slip in the rankings if their total volume count decreased and if their budgets for collections were deemed to be inadequate. However, this traditional definition of a research library is being challenged, even within the ARL. In 2012, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) commissioned an issue brief on 21st Century Collections.   ARL has been moving away from its decades-old means of determining eligibility to join ARL that was based almost entirely on volume count and it is looking for new metrics that matched today’s research environment. A couple of phrases from that report have stayed with me: “Twentieth-century research library collections were defined by local holdings, hailed as distinctive and vast. Twenty-first-century research library collections demand multiple strategies for ensuring broad access” and “As libraries transition from institution-centric collections to a user-centric networked world, distributed collections should grow correspondingly. Traditional practices cannot easily scale to support this new environment. Emphasizing the shift from paper to e-texts understates the change. Rather than focusing on acquiring the products of scholarship, the library is now an engaged agent supporting and embedded within the processes of scholarship.”

To my mind, the world is everyone’s research library and we serve our faculty far better by assisting them in discovering and gaining timely access to the world’s scholarship rather than simply by holding onto specific journals or monographs. The ARL states on its Collections site that “Research collections are at the heart of the research library, but in the digital age the nature of information resources and library collections are undergoing profound transformations. New kinds of content, new formats and reformatting, new publishing models and access arrangements are rapidly reshaping research collections. As digital information resources increasingly predominate collecting, bringing new kinds of content within the research library’s sphere of responsibility, value propositions of traditional collections are altering apace.”

As far as our collections of published content are concerned, the FAU Libraries cannot be an archive or a museum. As reference and instruction librarian Joe Hardenbrook from Carroll University wrote in 2014,  “For most academic libraries, our mission is not to collect the whole of human knowledge. We have limited space, limited resources. We are not a warehouse for books–a warehouse is a storage facility. Books are for using–not for sitting on a shelf for years on end.”

In the realm of scholarly or creative output, at the FAU Libraries, we strive to:

  • be a portal to the world’s scholarship, through providing immediate access to select, high-quality content in print and through electronic subscriptions, as far as our funding and space permits.
  • enable our students and faculty to gain access to much of the rest of the world’s scholarship and creative output through rapid and efficient interlibrary loan.
  • provide better awareness of, access to, and use of our distinctive special collections.
  • create local digital collections of unique materials that can be accessed anytime, anywhere.
  • help our faculty and students create their own content and publish it in some form.

In this imperfect and rapidly changing world, the FAU Libraries will continue to select new materials; we will continue to deselect some materials to make room for new content or for other uses of the space (as explained in the LibGuide on our Weeding Project ); we will continue to help our users find the information they need, create their own scholarship, collaborate in their study and research endeavors, work quietly on their own, explore the world of rare and unique materials, and be as successful as we can possibly help them to be.

 

 

 

Support for FAU Faculty

The FAU Libraries have been working to upgrade our services to all of our constituents, students and faculty alike. While we have been paying a lot of attention to the students since my arrival as Dean of University Libraries at FAU in August 2015, we have also been working to improve services for faculty, especially in the area of supporting faculty research. While it takes a while for the full impact of new programs to be felt, I would like to share the following examples of our efforts in this area:

  • We have reinvigorated the academic liaison program. This program aligns a member of the library faculty to work with Colleges and departments to offer information about collections and services, to provide assistance in utilizing print and electronic resources for research, and to provide library instruction for any class when requested by any faculty member. We have expanded that program to include a full contingent of library faculty to provide significantly better coverage and attention to all departments and disciplines. While we will never have the same number of library faculty as there are separate departments and programs within the Colleges, we have increased the number of librarians providing this support significantly and have assigned someone to cover every area.
  • We have created a new position of an Assistant Dean for Research and Collections, whose portfolio is to provide strategic vision, policy and program development, and leadership in library collections and support for research across all disciplines. The new Assistant Dean, Jeff Sundquist, who starts July 10, will be responsible for contributing to innovative program and content development in support of the University’s research mission through the Libraries’ units that comprise Special Collections, Interlibrary Loan, Government Documents, and Collection Management. Responsibilities of these areas include developing and maintaining strong, user-focused collections (print and electronic) in support of the University’s academic programs at all campuses; strengthening support for and the reliability of Interlibrary Loan services; reviewing and enhancing the role of Government Documents in support of research and academic programs; building, strengthening, and increasing the use of and support for all Special Collections including: Jaffe Center for Book Arts, Recorded Sound Archives, Print Music Collection, Marvin & Sybil Weiner Spirit of America Collection, and University Archives.
  • In 2016/2017, we created a new position of Scholarly Communication Director and reassigned a library faculty member (Jane Strudwick) to take on the role. Her responsibilities include developing a toolkit for all liaison librarians so that they can provide more direct assistance to faculty in navigating the increasingly complex publishing world. She organized the Copyright Workshop this spring which brought in one of the world’s premier copyright experts to present information and answer faculty questions. Among other initiatives, she is working closely with the Division of Research to develop new guides and programs to support the faculty research process.
  • We have been with working with the Office of Information Technology and the Division of Research to identify and address data storage and management needs for faculty across all disciplines. This collaborative work seeks to provide support for faculty with their research data, both to comply with new demands from granting agencies, as well as to assist faculty from any discipline with having better control over and access to all types of research data that they generate, regardless of format or subject matter.
  • We have supplemented our collections budget by making proposals to the Center for eLearning and to the Technology Fee proposal process to acquire backfiles and other one-time purchases of new electronic resources packages. These supplemental funds have allowed us to fill in gaps in our holdings that we have been unable to address with our stagnant collections budget.
  • We have increased our efforts to capture faculty publications in the Digital Library and with that to develop a comprehensive digital portfolio for faculty who chose to participate. This service, when fully developed, will help to protect and promote faculty research in all disciplines.
  • We implemented a new ILL service for faculty this past semester that provides for library staff to deliver ILL materials requested by faculty directly to College Deans’ offices and to pick them up when the faculty member has finished using them.
  • We successfully advocated for special funding last year to redesign and open up the 5th floor of the Wimberly Library. That space had been closed to the public except for a limited number of special events. With the funding granted by University Administration, we have repurposed much of the space to provide 100 more seats for student study, utilizing a design model that allows us to fold the furniture up quickly and move it out of the way so that we can host lectures and presentations in that same space. We have always hosted a limited number of lectures from the History Department and some others, but now we hope to make it a venue for more faculty and students to showcase their research efforts. In addition, we are also redesigning a large boardroom and exhibit space on that floor to include videoconferencing capabilities and an instructional lab to provide hands-on experience with carrying out research using primary-source materials from our various Special Collections.Fifth floor students promo 5 23 17 clw 074
  • We are preparing a comprehensive survey for faculty for the fall semester that would seek to learn about faculty concerns and levels of satisfaction so that we can increase our responsiveness and improve services, as far as our resources permit. This survey will seek to gather input from as many faculty as possible and we will be enlisting the assistance of the other Deans, the Provost’s Office, department chairs, and others to get the highest level of participation possible. If you would be willing to help us test the survey instrument this summer so that we can improve it before the survey opens, please get in touch with me at  hixson@fau.edu
  • We are planning a series of faculty forums this fall to broaden discussion on library services and collections. More on that will be forthcoming when the fall semester begins. If you have suggestions on topics, please let me know.

These are just some of our efforts to support our faculty colleagues across the entire University. If you have interests or concerns in this area, I encourage you to contact me at  hixson@fau.edu.

 

New Assistant Dean for Research and Collections

Following a national search, the FAU Libraries are pleased to announce that Mr. Jeff Sundquist will be joining FAU as the Assistant Dean for Research and Collections effective July 10, 2017.  Mr. Sundquist is a Ph.D. candidate in Scandinavian Languages and Literature (ABD) at UCLA. He completed his Master of Library and Information Science (with distinction) from UCLA in 2003 and his Master of Arts, Scandinavian Languages & Literature, also from UCLA in 2003.  Since June 2014 he has been Collection Management Librarian at Eastern Washington University, where he has provided leadership and coordination for the creation, assessment, and analysis of the Libraries’ collection policies and activities. From April 2011 to May 2014 he served as Associate Librarian / Coordinator of Acquisitions & Cataloging at Chapman University where he provided leadership and oversight of the work functions in Cataloging and Acquisitions. From August 2007 through December 2010, he was an Associate Instructor, at the University of California, Berkeley where he taught semester-long, four-unit courses of Scandinavian R5A & R5B in the College Writing Program, offered through the Scandinavian Department.  From August 2006 through October 2007 he served as Librarian, Scandinavian Department, at the University of California, Berkeley. Between January 2005 and August 2006, Mr. Sundquist was UC/JSTOR Project Manager/Associate Librarian, in the University of California, California Digital Library (75%) and the UCLA Libraries (25%) He was a Fulbright Research Librarian from July 2003 to May 2004 at Statsbiblioteket (The State and University Library), Århus, Denmark. Mr. Sundquist is professionally active and has authored peer-reviewed articles, a book chapter, and co-authored the monograph entitled “The craft of library instruction: Using acting techniques to create your teaching presence,” published by the Association of College and Research Libraries in 2016. 

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As the first Assistant Dean for Research and Collections for the FAU University Libraries, Mr. Sundquist will be working to develop, strengthen, and promote collections and services that support faculty and student research. As Assistant Dean, he will provide strategic vision, policy and program development, and leadership as the Libraries redefine their collections and support for research in the context of emerging trends in scholarly communication, changing formats and access models, shared collections, and new definitions of research collections. He will also provide leadership for innovative program and content development in support of the University’s mission through the Libraries’ units that comprise Special Collections, Interlibrary Loan, Government Documents, and Collection Management.

 

A welcome reception will be held for Mr. Sundquist in the fall to introduce him to the FAU community. During the summer, he will be reaching out to many departments and units across the University to familiarize himself with the University’s programs and services and to look for opportunities to strengthen partnerships and build on existing library services.