Provost's Task Force on the Library - Final Report
Provost's Task Force on the University Library
When it became clear that shelving in the University Library
would soon be full, Provost Richard Saller appointed a faculty
committee to consider options for housing future print collections.
From this process came the recommendation for and ultimate
Trustees' decision to build an addition to Regenstein for an
automated storage and retrieval facility (ASRS). This decision in
turn made it logical to rethink the University libraries. The
Provost therefore appointed the present Task Force in April 2005 to
"have a larger discussion about the changing use of our
The Task Force gathered various kinds of data. It surveyed
students in the Spring Quarter of 2005. It met with various
stakeholders in the following Autumn Quarter. It sponsored a
one-day conference on "Space and
Knowledge" on 17 November 2005. The Task Force has benefited
throughout from excellent support by John Kimbrough and others of
the library staff. It has also benefited from the extensive report
of Professor Abbott on the library (appended), which contains detailed
analyses of much of the formal data gathered by the Task Force.
One context for our discussion is provided by the library
policies of the other major universities. Most of these have moved
substantial portions of their collections offsite, usually into
some kind of high-density storage. The Trustees' decision to build
the ASRS facility on campus thus emphasizes Chicago's uniqueness
among academic libraries.
In recent decades, Chicago's library system has been highly
centralized, resting on two major facilities - Regenstein and
Crerar. (The other major library - Law - is already undergoing a
faculty-mandated move towards a purely departmental model, shifting
much of its research collection to the central system.) Much
evidence shows that Crerar is little used as a physical library, so
the major decisions all concern Regenstein, which remains an active
research library. The original design of Regenstein around
subject-oriented floors, however, has of necessity changed because
of collection growth and rearrangement. Luckily, however, the
building has no internal bearing walls and hence is almost
Current Use of Regenstein Library
Evidence shows that Regenstein was very heavily used in the
1970s. Personal computers and coursepacks seriously reduced that
use in the 1980s and early 1990s. A combination of factors - the
Palevsky dormitory, wireless computing, increase in the College,
and other things - have increased physical usage in the last
decade, bringing it close to the levels of the 1970s. (Since a
substantial amount of usage is electronic, and hence possibly
offsite, it is not clear that physical usage will continue to
increase.) Physical usage is of two kinds: research and study. Most
stakeholders underscore the dual function of Regenstein as study
hall and research facility.
Our studies of recent trends in Regenstein usage revealed many
things. The most important are the following:
- Undergraduates are both more numerous and are going in the
library more often, although they are taking out fewer books.
- Faculty are going in the building less but taking out many more
- Most circulation is accounted for by a small group of heavy
users, from 500 to 1000 depending on how one counts. This group
contains from 70 to 130 faculty and from 300 to 600 graduate
students, plus a hundred or so undergraduates. The majority of
library "users" are actually study hall users. The library is thus
a laboratory facility for a core group, and a study hall for most
- Among faculty, usage of the libraries is in effect an HD, SSD,
and Div affair. Individual faculty vary their usage considerably
from year to year, quarter to quarter, and day to day, making
measurement difficult. There is not much evidence that faculty are
turning over most of their library work to RAs. There is mixed
evidence about the usage of faculty studies. In summary, faculty
use of JRL is high but changing in kind. There are about 100-130
faculty who are absolutely dependent on the library and very heavy
users of it.
- Among students, we can make more fine distinctions because of
the on-line survey of 2005. In general, undergraduates use the
library primarily as a study hall, with some secondary usage as a
social center. Graduate students (mostly from HD, SSD, and Div) use
it more as a research center. All students use the various
technologies of everyday life (cell phones, web purchase, etc.) in
the library, but the degree to which they use these is unrelated to
their level of research use of the library.
A variety of questions were asked about special usages and study
habits. In general graduate students are more serious users of the
library in all ways: less likely to listen to music or to eat food
while working and more likely to use the various special services
(Special Collections, Maps, CDROMs, On-line databases, Archives,
microforms and so on).
Electronic use of library resources is also higher among graduate
students than among undergraduates. There is no evidence of a
simple succession of older "non-electronic" people by younger
"electronic" ones. More important, there is a very powerful and
positive correlation at the individual level between electronic use
and traditional use. High users of electronic research tools are
high users of physical research tools and vice versa. Other than
the shift to use of electronic rather than physical versions of
journals, there is almost no evidence whatever of substitution by
our students of electronic for print resources.
Like faculty, students also have a group of heavy users. Although
the percentage of heavy users on all scales is far higher for HD,
SSD, and Div graduate students than among undergraduates, when we
look at the heavy user community by itself and ask what portion of
it is undergraduate, we find that undergraduates are about a
quarter of the heavy user community simply because there are so
many of them. As with circulation data, our scales indicate a group
of from 300 to 600 students total who are heavy research users of
the library. We might note that heavy use figures show the effect
of the undergraduate curriculum, since heavy use rises from first
year to second, as students leave the core behind, and again from
third year to fourth as (some) students undertake BA papers.
- General usage data indicate that overall replacement of former
physical usage is happening in only one area - journals. Indeed,
one can say that nearly all access to journals is now electronic
rather than physical. Beyond journal use, however, it is not clear
what the use of electronic data-bases means. It seems probable that
there has been less of a shift to electronic reference works than
there has been to electronic access to journals. The only
heavily-used non-journal database is Lexis-Nexis - the one
electronic database that most of our College students come to
Chicago having already used.
- Data indicates that the building is to some extent "zoned" both
spatially and temporally. To a large extent, the research users and
the study hall users not only segregate themselves physically in
the library (e.g., the faculty goes to its studies and wanders in
the stacks, the undergraduates use public spaces), they also
segregate themselves to some extent temporally, over the course of
the year, over the course of the quarter, over the course of the
week, and over the course of the day.
The basic picture of JRL today is of a dual-purpose building
with a good deal of physical and temporal zoning. The research
function and the study function are to a considerable extent going
on side by side. The temporal zoning is provided by the patrons
themselves, and they provide some at least of the spatial zoning as
well. Finally, and most important, there is a core user community
of around 100 to 130 faculty and about 500 or so graduates and
undergraduates who are the core research constituency of the
building. They are the central users of Regenstein.
In its discussion, the Task Force has established some general
principles and some more particular principles. These guide our
particular recommendations, which follow.
- The current building seems to be quite successful and we should
seek only to improve it. The building and its contents are an
essential resource for a significant fraction of our scholarly
community. In our view, the library's role in facilitating these
colleagues' work will not be supplanted by the electronification of
scholarship for at least two decades.
- Any plans for the future of Regenstein should be flexible. We
are unable to predict the future demands with clarity.
- While a visionary redesign for Regenstein seems attractive to
some, it is more practical to modularize and prioritize
recommendations. Given the funds to be expended on the Library
Addition housing the ASRS, more ambitious modifications of
Regenstein will have to be undertaken incrementally.
- The main purpose of Regenstein is research and should remain
research. There are a variety of aspects to this principle. It
means we feel that heavy users should continue to be the highest
priority in service, and it is their research success we should be
aiming to facilitate. Also, it means that the library's public
spaces should celebrate the research function and that the
University should work harder to expose its undergraduates to
library research as one of the forms of knowledge generation. We
also feel that the library should start to recognize that it will
increasingly have a constituency beyond University of Chicago
users. As other major libraries remove research materials to
offsite storage, Regenstein will become more and more attractive to
colleagues elsewhere. In some senses, the Trustees have already
envisioned the library as a facility whose research constituency
will reach well beyond the University of Chicago. We recognize that
judgment and applaud it.
- Research use of Regenstein ought to include the presentation
and discussion of research, as well as its generation. In part this
is a matter of reaching to groups beyond the University, but it is
also a matter of seeing Regenstein as in some sense the center of
one broad type of intellectual life on campus.
- Although primarily a research building, Regenstein has
successfully served the two functions of research facility and
study hall, and it should continue to do so. Although there are
inevitably complaints in a dual usage building, the two usages seem
to go on side by side without as much friction as we might expect.
But there are clearly things we can do to lessen their conflict,
particularly by increasing the physical zoning of the
- Graduate students seem to be a - perhaps the - most important
constituency of the research library and should be more integrated
into it. While we have diverse proposals for how to achieve this
integration, we are agreed in the necessity for it.
- The rapidly changing technical environment means that we need
to develop serious instruction in library research. And despite
technical change, many materials other than journals and databases
will continue to be either unavailable electronically or more
easily used in physical form. Yet most of our entering students of
all levels have relatively minimal experience with library work.
The Task Force is persuaded that there remain crucial skills of
knowledge assembly that students do not learn on their own, and
that a serious effort must be made to teach them.
- Integration between library staff and faculty is important. For
example, we should take steps to increase integration of
bibliographers into departmental and workshop life. Co-teaching of
research courses is another possibility.
Our recommendations are of two types: spatial and
- In the light of the Addition and the changing use patterns in
JRL itself, we have to rethink both A level and the first floor.
A-Level would do well as a dual purpose space, serving both as a
student study area and as a venue for small conferences. Both uses
require open reconfigurable space combined with smaller spaces for
group discussion. Actual planning for the space is, however,
hostage to the location decision on a coffee shop, since A-Level is
an obvious possible location for it.
At present, the first floor has a mix of uses that are not
harmonious: access, reference, web-surfing, social area,
circulation, and privileges. Redesign of the first floor is hostage
to the access plans for the Addition, however. An ad hoc group will
need to work on this with the library staff and architects, both to
resolve the disharmony of functions and to establish the library's
identity as a research center.
- We need to build at least four more technologically-equipped
classrooms for instruction in library research and for use in
courses heavily dependent on library materials. Demand for the one
current classroom (in the SCRC) is very high. An example of the
need for more such rooms is the Mellon-funded Center for
- The reading room of the Library Addition must be conceived in
the first instance as a research facility for consultation of
material located in the ASRS.
- We need to build a good coffee shop. The Task Force is unable
to agree on where to do this, but there is universal sentiment for
a coffee shop of better quality and aesthetic appeal than Ex
- While it is clear that faculty studies are underused, it is not
clear how underused nor what alternative uses might be better. This
is a vexed enough question to require an ad hoc group to
investigate it in detail.
- The Special Collections Research Center should be made more
visible and accessible. Integration of the SCRC exhibition space
into the library's broader pedagogical function is important.
- There is some sentiment for creating spaces for graduate
students in subject related groupings. The Classics Reading Room
has served its constituents very well, but we feel that not enough
is known about the desirability of similar spaces for other
disciplines (e.g., history, English). We should therefore appoint a
group to undertake research among graduate students about the
desirability of set-aside space by departmental or subject
- It is clear from the Task Force experience that most decisions
about the library require continuous planning and oversight, rather
than one-time investigation. The responsibility for oversight and
planning should be assigned to the Library Board.
- Harper Library presents complex issues that reach beyond our
charge. Although the below-ground stacks remain necessary to the
Library, the reading rooms do not. An ad hoc group, drawing broadly
on the University community, should consider future models for
- Crerar Library presents even more complex issues. In the short
term, Crerar will need to undertake a variety of temporary
functions until the Addition is finished. During that time, an ad
hoc group should be appointed to develop models for Crerar usage
once the Addition is complete.
- We believe that there should be fellowship programs that
encourage outside scholars to use Library collections. A beginning
has already been made in Special Collections, but these programs
should expand considerably and involve the collection as a
- We should encourage attempts to develop instruction in library
research methods. Impetus for these will need to come from the
faculty, but such initiatives should also avail themselves of
Andrew Abbott, chair