University to expand library collections to prepare next generations of scholarsBy Josh Schonwald
Many colleges and universities are moving library collections off-campus. Others are curtailing book buying in favor of digital resources. Not Chicago.
The University Board of Trustees has approved a $42 million plan to expand the University Library by more than 3.5 million volumes and create by June 2009 one of the nation’s largest university collections of materials under one roof at the center of the Hyde Park campus.
Of the $42 million, $35.79 million will go toward the construction of the expansion, and $6.215 million will be allotted for the preparation and processing work. The expansion, immediately to the west of the existing Joseph Regenstein Library, will allow Chicago to rethink library programs in an all-encompassing way.
“The library should be the heart of this campus,” said Richard Saller, University Provost. “At some universities, the football field is the center. Here it is books rather than athletics. The library expansion reflects our values as an institution.”
Not only will this decision increase the size of the library by nearly 40,000 gross square feet and allow the collection to grow to more than 11 million volumes, but it also will provide better book preservation facilities, better book tracking technology, and more reading and consultation space. The addition will feature an automated shelving system that will enable library users to retrieve books in minutes.
What’s more, at a time when many universities have been forced to limit access to their collections due to space constraints, the Regenstein expansion will ensure that large portions of the collection—and most importantly, almost all of the monograph collection—remain open to browsing.
“I am thrilled by this decision,” said Judith Nadler, Director of the University Library. “We are not the biggest library in the world, but we are known by many to be amongst the best. Effective research depends on ready access to all available sources. While there has been aggressive growth in the library’s electronic assets, these resources complement the print collections and enhance their discovery and use. The addition to Regenstein will optimize the use of both print and electronic resources.”
The generosity of the Regenstein Foundation enabled the construction of the Joseph Regenstein Library in the late 1960s. The late Joseph Regenstein Jr., Trustee of the University, facilitated the founding gift and, along with other family members, remained an advocate and supporter of the library for many years.
The present expansion is possible, Saller said, “because of the visionary planning that began more than 30 years ago. It was a massive achievement of the Edward Levi era.” The planners of the Joseph Regenstein Library, which opened in 1970, projected that the collection would reach capacity in22 years. Consequently, the building’s architectural plan, which Walter Netsch designed, included plans for an expansion. “The foresight of the plan,” said Nadler, “ was crucial.” The current plan calls for a building addition to be connected to the west side of the existing building. A committee has been convened to select an architect by November.
The plan approved by the trustees is the culmination of a two-year-long planning process. A faculty committee, headed by Richard Helmholz, the Ruth Wyatt Rosenson Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School, and a library committee convened by Nadler, both concluded that the big issue was browsing.
“It was clear that a small group of faculty would riot if open browsing was threatened,” said Andrew Abbott, the Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor in Sociology, who was active in the discussion. “There’s a lot of serendipity, and randomness, in research,” said Abbott, “the chance encounter. Stumbling across a book or idea inadvertently is held as sacred by dedicated library researchers.”
Growing the collection at projected levels and maintaining the open-stack status quo, though, proved to be a logistical and financial challenge. “It would have required building a $70 million-plus building,” said Saller.
The solution is a high-density, automated shelving system with rapid-retrieval technology. The high-density shelving system needs only one-seventh of the floor space that conventional fixed shelving requires. Already widely used by libraries, the system uses bar-coded books, sorts them by size and stores them in bins. It enables books to be selected and delivered to users within minutes. Moreover, the addition can be filled mainly with journals, leaving all the monographs on open shelves available for browsing.
A classical historian who uses old works for his research, Saller is excited about the rapid retrieval technology that will enable him to search for a book online in his office and then arrive at the library with a book waiting for him.
Another crucial concern was the continued preservation and acquisition of rare and rarely-used books and periodicals. The addition will include a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled lab for the preservation of rare books and other library material. Only a fraction of the University population uses many of the old books and old periodical series, but, Saller said, it is not the frequency of use but rather the importance, quality and breadth of the scholarship that is valued. “That’s our top priority as a world-class research institution,” said Saller.
The biggest impact of the addition may be far beyond the expanded shelving capacity. The addition allows Chicago to maximize the library as a research tool for faculty and students in the coming decades.
In planning for the library’s future, Saller has formed a faculty committee to consider how best to utilize the expanded space and maximize the library’s intellectual impact. The committee also will consider a broader question: “How do we think about knowledge at the beginning of the 21st century?” Modes of dissemination of knowledge have changed more in the past two decades than in the previous two centuries, Saller noted.
Chaired by Abbott, the committee—which includes Richard Rosengarten, Dean of the Divinity School; Neil Harris, the Preston and Sterling Morton Professor in History; James Chandler, the Barbara E. and Richard J. Franke Professor in English Language & Literature; Martha Roth, Deputy Provost for Research and Education; Martin Feder, Professor in Organismal Biology & Anatomy; Jim Vaughan, Assistant Director for Access & Facilities Services in the Library; and Nadler—already has begun the data-collection phase of its research, conducting a Web-based questionnaire to determine how undergraduate and graduate students use the library.
This summer, the committee will meet individually with faculty to evaluate how usage is changing. Another major task of the committee is to think about ways in which the library can be used as an asset for the University. “When European colleagues come here and see this vast open-stack collection,” said Abbott, “they’re like kids in a candy store. They don’t have open-stack libraries there.” One idea, Abbott proposed, was to create a fellowship for European scholars.
The faculty committee will submit its findings in the winter of 2006.
“The expansion of the library is as important for humanists and social scientists as the opening of the Center for Integrative Science is for researchers in the Physical and Biological Sciences divisions,” said Saller. He also believes the goal of the expansion is very clear. “We want to try to make this the most effective research tool for the future generation.”