Preparing for crossroads

The historic mission of libraries—to build collections and make them available to users now and in the future—is just one aspect of our Library’s mission today.

Judith Nadler in the Mansueto Library Grand Reading Room
Judith Nadler, Director and University Librarian

Libraries have successfully served generations of users, making only incremental changes in an environment with stable expectations. Today, technology introduces change at a pace that was infeasible before. New technologies, changing approaches to learning and research, and dynamic user expectations raise important questions and call for informed decisions about the choices we make.

How can we respond to the expectation of broad access to exponentially growing physical and electronic collections when we have limited budgets for acquisitions?

We must explore ways to complement our local collections with collections we collaboratively build with trusted peers. Achieving the proper balance between local depth and collective breadth will be crucial to our users’ present and future information needs. We must be prepared to make these decisions wisely as options arise. With the support of a generous donation from the Rhoades Foundation through the cooperation of Julius Lewis, we are exploring possibilities with our Ivy League colleagues through the Borrow Direct program.

How can we broker ubiquitous and easy access to information that we do not locally control?

We must invest in the development of forward-looking, linked discovery tools built for easy discovery and access in an increasingly complex resource environment. Toward this goal, we are currently working to develop a community source, interoperable library software system, Kuali OLE, with support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, that will allow flexibility in the choice of discovery tools.

How can we ensure long-term availability of our resources in their different forms and media?

In collaboration with peers, we must invest in the development of shared solutions for a national preservation eco-system, much of which is still in the exploratory stages. Partnering in these developments in their early stages ensures synergy and the ability to integrate local solutions into the eco-system. A generous endowment established by Dr. Albert Somit supports a preservation internship for young librarians. 

How can we harness the power of new technologies to support new approaches to research employing a wide range of media?

New approaches can be developed through interdisciplinary and, sometimes, international collaborations among faculty, librarians, and technologists. A generous gift from Joseph Neubauer, MBA’65, and Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer to the University is now enabling eighteen ambitious research projects tackling complex questions through cross-disciplinary collaboration via the Neubauer Family Collegium for Culture and Society. In one, faculty and library staff are collaborating with technologists to explore how the methods of “big science” might elucidate and facilitate the humanistic understanding of music, speech, and other audio expressions via the Audio Cultures of India project. 

How can we maximize the impact of library spaces in support of user needs for study, teaching, and research? 

We must build a spatial environment that provides seamless integration of study, teaching, and research with Library resources and services. We must mine the information from our user surveys and invest in flexible solutions that meet the needs of our faculty and students. A generous gift from John Blew supports research and teaching with rare materials in a group study in the Special Collections Research Center while joint investment by the Library, College, and Computer Science Department is enabling the creation of an enhanced instructional laboratory in the John Crerar Library that supports the needs of a growing program.

How can we equip library staff to help users identify and locate information, undertake research, and synthesize and create knowledge? 

We must invest in the ongoing development of an excellent staff, conversant in emerging technologies and creative in applying their transformational power in support of study, teaching, and research.  

We would like to keep you—the members of the University community—informed about these changes and the role you can—and do—play in preparing us to navigate crossroads. Toward that end, we have redesigned and expanded our newsletter, Libra, so that it not only provides news about how the Library supports research, teaching, and learning at the University but also thanks and recognizes those who join us in making this investment.