In the past decade, computers and the Internet arguably have had greater influence on research and scholarly communication than did the invention of the printing press more than 500 years ago. Digital formats and related technological advancements have led to new approaches to teaching, learning, and research by allowing for new methods of accessing information and disseminating scholarly findings. These innovations have in turn required libraries to reexamine their role in higher education and to reconfigure their collections, services, and facilities. Traditionally, research libraries have been perceived as "the heart of the university" where scholarly resources are acquired, organized, and preserved and where learning and research take place. These traditional library functions have not changed or diminished, but the role of libraries has expanded significantly in the last ten years to embrace far more than print collections and on-site services.
The 1990s were a decade when librarians and computer specialists discussed and debated the extent to which technology would reshape and redefine research libraries. Today, the much anticipated "library of the future" is no longer a nebulous abstraction. The Internet, increased bandwidth, personal computers, scholarly publishing, and the undeniable advantages of digital formats have converged to allow the "library of the future" to become today's reality. Various new formats and services have been tested and fully integrated into not only the largest and most heavily endowed research libraries but also into medium-sized and smaller research and academic libraries.
The University Libraries' vision statement reflects established thinking and practices in research libraries today. It adheres to the "Keystone Principles" of the Association of Research Libraries that "affirm the idea of the library as a nexus for learning and the sharing of knowledge." Further, it reflects the priorities found in the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries' document, "Shaping the Future," which describes the extent to which research libraries will be shaped "by the changing environments of higher education, the library and information profession, business and industry, and government." By following accepted principles and practices such as these, the Libraries will be well positioned to respond appropriately to the University's commitment to increased quality and advancement in national rankings.
Since becoming Dean of Libraries in July of last year, I have listened to the opinions of many on what the Libraries have done well and to requests and recommendations for services the Libraries should expand or inaugurate. For example, the majority of faculty, staff, and students express a high degree of satisfaction with the collections and services currently in place. At the same time, they express their strong desire to see print collections grow while simultaneously expecting greater access to electronic formats and increased off-site access to the Libraries' services. Many members of the campus community also ask that Gorgas Library be renovated to allow an environment that is more attractive and supportive of today's needs.
New opportunities and obligations will need to be weighed against long-standing practices and policies. New services will need to be tested and implemented, and physical space will need to be reconfigured to allow the Libraries to reach their full potential as the University's primary information provider and full partner in enriching the educational experience of undergraduates and in furthering the research opportunities of graduate students and faculty.
First and foremost, the Libraries' priorities and goals will reflect and support those of the University. In particular, the Libraries' primary objective will be to support and advance the seven action areas articulated in Provost Barrett's White Paper Update of December 1999: strengthening undergraduate programs, strengthening graduate programs, increasing research support, increasing international emphasis, increasing diversity, improving the technological infrastructure, and creating a sense of community while reaching out to serve others. As the symbol of learning, the Libraries are committed to supporting the University's goal of attracting and retaining faculty and students known for their academic achievements and potential. Strengthening the Libraries' collections and commitment to service will lead to a richer and more productive learning, teaching, and research experience for all members of the University community, whether they are undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, alumni, or partners in economic development.
The Libraries will continue to develop print collections that will enhance the undergraduate experience, allow graduate programs to prosper, and assure that the teaching and research interests of the faculty are fully supported. The Libraries' electronic resources will be expanded to assure access to a larger percentage of peer-reviewed scholarship and quality information that support higher education. Further, electronic resources will be accessible through a single search interface that will permit a user to search the online catalog, indexing and abstracting services, journal and book content, and free third-party Web sites by means of a single query.
The Libraries will test and implement more services in circulation, interlibrary borrowing, and instruction that require less direct intervention of staff. The Libraries will partner with peer institutions to provide state-of-the-art virtual reference services so that a student or faculty member of the University of Alabama can be in direct contact with reference and information services without visiting a library, including times when campus libraries are closed. Interlibrary loan and document delivery services will expand to deliver documents to users' desktops.
To assure the successful implementation and utilization of expanded resources and services, the Libraries will move beyond their walls not only virtually but also physically by creating more pro-active outreach programs. The Libraries will carry out pilot projects to test both the level of need and the viability of placing librarians and other information consultants in the various colleges and departments, as well as in residence halls and other non-traditional locations at key times during the day, evenings, and weekends to provide traditional reference services and to assist students in developing competence in searching commercial information resources and evaluating the reliability and validity of information found at free third-party Web sites.
For the Libraries to succeed in their role as primary information provider to the University, it is critical that new and existing library priorities and services mesh with those of other campus programs. To that end, the Libraries will foster partnerships with the Seebeck Computer Center, the Center for Teaching and Learning, and other campus instructional services, programs, and initiatives. The Libraries will collaborate with all faculty members to encourage the integration of library instruction and information literacy into a larger number of undergraduate and graduate courses.
To be fully responsive and supportive of the University's goals and priorities, the Libraries and library faculty will assume higher visibility and leadership in collaborating with peer institutions. The Libraries will expand collaborative endeavors with public and private institutions of higher education within the State through the Network of Alabama Academic Libraries, in the Southeast through the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries, and both nationally and internationally through the Association of Research Libraries.
The Libraries will provide improved and enhanced access to resources previously available only on site by converting some print and analog materials to digital formats. The Libraries' digital services will also expand beyond the printed word to include the digitization of image collections and audio as well as video recordings.
In addition to stacks and reading rooms, today's research libraries incorporate the social aspects of learning and research into their facilities by providing faculty and students with lounges, cyber cafes, group-study rooms, and computer laboratories. Local faculty and students report a serious need for collaborative learning facilities and computer laboratories in campus libraries. The Libraries will explore options for how best to respond to these needs by reevaluating use of existing space and seeking funds to upgrade existing facilities. For example, a general refurbishing and renovation of Gorgas Library is long overdue and provides a unique opportunity to enhance the quality of life and learning on campus by creating attractive multipurpose spaces where students and faculty can learn and exchange ideas in a social setting.
The current national shortage of qualified and experienced academic librarians and the extent to which digital formats and the Internet have revolutionized learning, research, and scholarly communication require the Libraries to invest heavily in staff training and development. Over the next five years, the Libraries will have to make a significant investment in training, travel, and outside consultants in order to move forward in a manner that is commensurate with the expectations and priorities of the University.
The Libraries cannot retain their national rankings or adequately support campus teaching and research priorities by relying exclusively on existing campus allocations and State appropriations. Because the Libraries are poorly positioned within the University to succeed in fundraising on their own, they will need to partner with the various colleges and the Office of University Advancement to encourage alumni giving in ways that will support the Libraries without diminishing support to the colleges. For example, endowments for scholarships and named professorships require the Libraries to strengthen collections and services in the donors' areas of interest but without providing any support to the Libraries. Similarly, federally funded research places specific demands on library services and collections, but the Libraries' support of these research projects is not recognized in the allocation of grant overhead. To assure appropriate levels of library support for specially funded projects and initiatives, the Libraries will need to articulate more effectively the justification for receiving a portion of future gifts and grants to the University.
The Libraries are committed to ongoing quality improvement as evidenced by its surveys measuring users' awareness of and levels of satisfaction with current and potential services. Also, the Libraries' annual planning process sets goals that assure quantifiable outcomes. Ongoing participation in the ARL quality measures project, LibQual+, will afford greater opportunity for developing new and more objective measures of the quality, rather than merely the quantity, of library programs and collections. LibQual+ will also allow the Libraries to compare local survey results with those of other ARL as well as non-ARL libraries. These and other forms of user feedback and a commitment to quality improvement will assure that the level of services and collections provided by the Libraries keeps pace with the University's commitment to improvement and advancement in national rankings and other quality measures
Louis A. Pitschmann
Dean of Libraries