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Libraries dominate discussion

Amanda Michaels | Thursday, September 7, 2006

At the Faculty Senate meeting Wednesday night, discussion centered on University libraries – a topic Chair Seth Brown called “more than appropriate” for the group’s first session of the academic year.

“We all know how important the library is to us as a faculty, in scholarship and teaching, and as a result, we as faculty tend to be passionate about the library,” Brown said.

For the bulk of the meeting, Director of Libraries Jennifer Younger and John Weber, chair of the University Committee on Libraries (UCL), spoke to the faculty members on the state of Notre Dame’s library system, and the goals and strategies for improving its services – especially in the area of technology. Their comments were drawn primarily from a draft of the UCL’s 2005-06 annual report and the draft report of the task force on University libraries, both of which were made available to the group.

Weber went through the UCL’s report, expounding on several of the more important points. He opened the discussion by comparing the boom in technology in the hands of students – from iPods to Blackberries to TiVo – to the dramatic change the library’s technology has experienced.

“Since [the late 1990s], the technology change has been unbelievable, in terms of how it affects the library,” Weber said. “Currently technology and cost are the two factors that are pretty much driving everything that’s going on in the library.”

According to Weber, the faculty and students’ expectation of the library’s digital capabilities has increased exponentially with the new dependence on instantaneous desktop access to core materials. Electronic accessibility is moving beyond periodicals, and starting to cater to the desire, or even need, for entire collections to be available on-line.

“There’s no denying the fact that for most of the disciplines on the campus, besides Humanities, desktop access is the new standard,” he said. “So when it comes to measuring library performance, there is a real emphasis on access speed, ejournals, connections with consortiums and fast searches.”

Weber also brought up the concern with “deteriorating information literacy” among students.

“When I ask students in my class to do research, the first thing they do is go to Google,” he said. “Where is the regulation for those materials?”

He said the University as a whole must take up the problem of educating these students about research and information, with support from the library staff.

The cost of resources is also a major issue, as the price of library materials in general increase at twice the rate of the consumer index, according to Weber.

“We’re in a ‘can’t-have-everything’ environment, and end up having to make difficult choices on how to prioritize materials,” he said.

Younger spoke about these choices, specifically the decisions made in regard to how to use the $1.5 million given to the library from the Fiesta Bowl winnings.

According to Younger, $1 million of that sum is going to the expansion of the library’s holdings in history.

“History is a core discipline, and there is a well-known gap here between the need for resources and what our collection can provide,” she said. “Divided up, that $1 million among many disciplines wouldn’t have made much of a difference for any of their problems, so we chose to focus it.”

She also said $200,000 of the money is going to increasing the holdings in Africana Studies, $150,000 is going to the IEEE digital engineering library and the final $150,000 is going to pay for the back files of the Web of Science citation database.

“The problems the library has are basically problems able to be solved by money, so it’s so fortunate to get $1.5 million,” Younger said.

In general, the presenters were optimistic about where the library was headed.

“Our [the UCL’s] collective assessment of the library system, is that it is doing well, setting dynamic and realistic goals and using foresight to capitalize on the opportunities available,” Weber said.

The next meeting of the Faculty Senate is Oct. 4.