“What Research Libraries Will Be”

On Monday this week I had the opportunity to experience the UC Merced Library. It’s the University of California (UC)’s newest campus, and the first American research university of the 21st century. The library is visionary. They’re motto is “Not what other research libraries are, what they will be.”

They’re crossing boundaries other libraries only dream of, and they’re situated in such a way that makes this possible.

Being the 10th UC campus, they have access to the impressive California Digital Library (CDL) – 20,000 full text electronic journals – as well as quick access the extensive print collection throughout the system. While their own print holdings are minimal, the loan system among the UC Libraries is fast and very active, getting all local materials to library users within 48 hours of request. Their acquisition philosophy is “tell us what you want” – meaning they primarily (if not only) buy what is specifically asked for by students, faculty & staff. That is their priority and built into their budget.

The library building has only a handful of desktop computers, but they have about 200 laptops being circulated at any given time. Their first year circulation stats showed that laptops were checked-out far more often than print materials.

There is one service point in the 4 story library, and it is staffed primarily by student workers. That’s right. While other libraries are struggling to make the case for pulling librarians from the desk, UC Merced isn’t even scheduling staff members let alone professional librarians.

Donald Barclay, the Deputy Director, wants to get rid of 4 things in libraries – reference, instruction, the OPAC, and the website. Say what? While this freaks people out (and for good reason as this sounds like the core of many of our jobs!), the idea is to not ask “how do I do X” but to ask the bigger question, “what do you want to do?” This can open your eyes to the bigger picture of what services we’re ultimately trying to provide, and exploring the most effective means of doing so.

So is this the example of what research libraries will be in the future? Could be. If nothing else, perhaps this library can inspire us to take those risks, ask those tough questions, and move forward with passion, creativity, and vision.

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