Thursday, June 03, 2004

The Soul of the New Library

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm in northern California doing a few library visits. Today, we met with Bruce Miller and his colleagues at the library for the University of California at Merced.

What, you've never heard of UC Merced? At the moment, the university is pretty much a construction site, but on that campus, scheduled to open in September 2005, are the seeds of the future library. Bruce and his team have the opportunity that most librarians would trade at least one major organ for: to create a new library from scratch. And this is a university that will take its library VERY seriously.

A 21st century model
Bruce was the first academic hire at UC Merced, a position that indicates how strongly the university chancellor felt about the library. Bruce set out to build a facility, a collection, and, most important, a philosophy of service, that would reflect a 21st century model, rather than a 19th century one.

The first thing that surprised me: no OPAC terminals. Most students will be coming to campus with PCs or highly enhanced PDAs, and the entire building with be wireless enabled and have network connections for the tethered. If you don't have a PC, they'll check one out to you. All of a sudden, there is no heavy investment in PCs for an OPAC, no waiting lines for an internet PC, and no time when the investment is sitting there idle. You can actually use attractive furniture if you don't have to keep drilling holes to run wires through it!

There will be no paper journals. The current issues may be available in paper, but there won't be backstock on the shelves. That's what e-journals, JSTOR, and the extant UC journal collections are for. Circulating and reference books will be on the shelves together.

Special collections
Wait until you see the collections of Asian art that the library is digitizing in high quality TIFF files. But the library's web site won't be anything glorious. Instead, it will be highly functional. The goal will be to put links to the library on the sites the students are already using.

Designed for studying (with snacks!)
The heart of this new library will be a central tower for reading, discussion, studying. The library will share its building with the student affairs offices (like the bursar and the registrar), an arrangement Bruce strongly supported because it puts the library where the students are, instead of trying to dragoon them in. Oh, and by the way, food and drink will be permitted.

A physical embodiment of the Scan
It seemed to me, and to Pam Bailey and Karin Ford of OCLC Western Service Center who are guiding me on this trip, UC Merced embodies many of the ideas we gathered and shared in the environmental scan. Memphis, Denver, Seattle, and a few other major urban libraries constructed in the last decade have offered direction for public libraries for the future; UC Merced may provide a similar role for academic and research libraries. The whole focus of this institution is on meeting user needs, students and faculty alike, while stripping away the barriers that make library service inconvenient or unpleasant.

George

2 comments:

ruhan said...

hello

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