From the Director

A library born in the age of Google: books and technology at the heart of campus

Judith Nadler

Judith Nadler, Director and University Librarian

Great research libraries support research, study, and teaching and fuel scholarship by connecting people with the widest range of scholarly resources. The library was and will continue to be the heart of the University as long as it stays vital to the advancement of its mission.

Technology and the Internet have changed the creation, dissemination, and use of information in new and exciting ways. The proliferation of resources published and made accessible in electronic form increases the demand for more such resources and for new spaces for their interactive use.

At the same time, budgetary pressures require that tough choices be made in the library’s offering of scholarly resources, and libraries are tempted to rationalize books out of the equation due to the increasing difficulty of supporting both physical and electronic formats. The very real need to repurpose spaces and to reduce cost of managing physical collections threatens to overshadow the importance of their availability. There is a natural progression in the financial management process from “Can we afford them?” to “Do we really need them?”

What is forgotten in this equation is the role of the library vis-à-vis its users. Ubiquitous and immediate access to information online diminishes the use of information that is not readily available—a pragmatic censorship that is counter to the philosophy and historical practice of libraries.  The problem of bibliographically hidden collections created by cataloging backlogs is replicated by physically hidden collections relegated to remote storage.

Moving books out of immediate reach creates a self-fulfilling prophecy of under-use.  And, ultimately, remote storage transfers the cost to our users by making it more difficult for them to discover and access the universe of information we have collected for them over time.

Intellectual inquiry and scholarly research presume ready access to the widest possible range of scholarly resources. The role of the library is not to impact the direction of research but rather to offer up a full range of resources to enable it.

Soon, a new library at the University of Chicago will open its doors to faculty, students, and researchers from around the world. At a time when research libraries move their collections offsite, the University of Chicago has made a commitment to investing in the future by preserving the past, and has positioned this investment at the fingertips of scholars, at the very heart of campus.

The Joe and Rika Mansueto Library will provide on-campus storage capacity for millions of books and journals, bringing the Library system’s total capacity to 11 million print volumes when full. The technology-driven, high-density storage facility will make room for collection growth in areas where open-shelf browsing is an asset and will free up spaces for interactive and collaborative study and research.

The commitment to ready access to the collections that is manifest in Mansueto’s underground book repository is matched by the Library’s stunning architectural design – including a spectacular Grand Reading Room. And that commitment is echoed in Mansueto’s conservation and digitization laboratories, where preservation work will ensure access to the collections over time.

As we prepare collections for transfer to Mansueto, we also ship books to Google as part of the Google Book Search initiative. Envisioned as a multi-year project that will digitize up to 1 million Chicago volumes, the Google partnership will be complemented by our local digitization program.  The resulting digital content will be deposited and made accessible through HathiTrust, a shared digital repository created by major research institutions. Online access to digitized books through Google and HathiTrust will in turn allow researchers to more readily discover physical volumes that they will want to retrieve from Mansueto.

Born in the age of Google, Mansueto’s print repository and HathiTrust’s digital one will join in underpinning discovery and access to an extraordinary wealth of information. By building these physical and digital homes for our resources, we leverage past, present, and future investments for research, study, and teaching, now and in the future.

Welcome to the University of Chicago Library News

Welcome to the new Library News site, your source for features, news, and announcements about Library offerings and events. Topics covered here range from new acquisitions and featured electronic resources, to teaching and learning at the Library, to renovations and the making of Mansueto.

In addition to Library-wide news, the site has subject-focused sections devoted to Business and Economics, Humanities and Social Sciences, Law, Science, and Special Collections. These sections replace distinct blogs previously published by the D’Angelo Law Library, the John Crerar Library, and the Special Collections Research Center.

You can access our news postings by visiting this site or by subscribing to an RSS feed that delivers Library-wide or subject-focused news.  We welcome your comments and suggestions for future postings.

Legacy and change

As research libraries enter the digital age we are tempted to wish that we were not encumbered by much of the weight of the past. Processes, procedures, standards, and organizational structures that have supported the needs of the traditional library are becoming obsolete and obstructive as we build the library of the future.

I propose a different perspective: that we look beyond the structures of the past to the goals these structures were built to enable.

We have a long and successful history of connecting people to information by building collections and making them accessible to our users. We have built collections with the goal of self-sufficiency and comprehensiveness to best serve our users and to ensure our institutions’ competitive edge. We created discovery tools for operability within a structured information environment. We built library spaces conducive to structured information seeking. And we staffed our libraries with information specialists according to the needs of a library-dependent, information-seeking environment. Procedures and organizational structures were built to enable this environment.

Technology and the World Wide Web have changed the information-seeking behavior of our users and continue to challenge traditional user/library dynamics. In an environment of ever-growing information abundance, the ambition for collection self-sufficiency and comprehensiveness is changing to the expectation of seamless and ubiquitous access to information. New discovery tools are expected to support interoperability within a mixed, unstructured information environment. Library physical spaces must support interactive study and teaching in addition to traditional modes, and the physical library presence must be complemented by a virtual library presence accessible on the Web. Library information specialists reach out to users to meet them on their terms and in their space. New and different processes, procedures, standards, and organizational structures will have to be built to enable this new environment.

Many of these changes are already underway. With our peers, the University of Chicago is developing an open source library system, Kuali OLE, to move away from homogenous collections and paper-based workflows to format-agnostic acquisitions and resource sharing in an environment that incorporates a diverse range of information sources. By participating in the Google Book Project, we enhance discovery of our rich resources, create opportunities for collaborative collections programs, and open up potential for new types of scholarship by depositing digitized copies of our books and journals with those of other important research collections in the joint repository HathiTrust.

We complement mass digitization with local digital programs and invest in flexible physical and online exhibition spaces to open our rich special collections to users here and around the world. We develop tools that can shape workflows that are efficient and effective in a technology-rich environment, and rethink the role of the library catalog from discovery tool in a contained information environment to a tool for discovery and access in the context of the Web. And we make these changes with an eye to flexibility and openness to further change.

The University of Chicago builds the new Joe and Rika Mansueto Library as the library of the future, with technology-enhanced, preservation-safe, easily accessible physical collections; with electronic resources and digital collections backed by preservationsafe digital repositories; with technology-equipped and aesthetically pleasing spaces for research, study, and teaching; and with new configurations of services that help our users to take full advantage of all that we offer to serve their needs.

Our new systems, new structures, and new environments are being built to enable us to continue to excel in our traditional mission of connecting people with information. The tension between legacy and change contributes to the creative energy that fuels this mission.