Report of the Library Committee, 1999-2000
Council by-laws state that, "The Library Committee shall advise the director of libraries on the policies, development, and operation of the University libraries." In addition, this year's Committee was specifically charged as follows:
The University has undertaken a multi-phase renovation of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library's physical facilities and a substantial upgrading of its computing and research capabilities to serve the research needs of students and faculty. With the renovations of the Rosengarten, evaluate how the renovations of the library meet the needs of the University community. Assess the adequacy of access hours, especially to those libraries containing specialized materials of particular relevance to graduate student research, and compare with operations at peer institutions. Evaluate the orientation and outreach to students to inform them about library services. Consult with the Communications and Student Affairs Committees on recommendations to increases students' knowledge of the resources available to them.
During the course of four meetings, these topics were discussed, as well as two additional major issues: 1) the impact of the proposed changes in the modem pool on faculty, student and staff access to electronic library resources, and 2) the results of the Library External Review Committee (LERC). As a result of the modem pool issue, and the last statement of the charge, a joint meeting with the Communications committee was held.
A. Assessment of "how the library meets the needs of the University community..."
1. Report of the University of Pennsylvania Library External Review Committee. Vice Provost & Director Paul Mosher reported on the results of the External Review Committee which visited the Penn campus in late October, 1999. The External Committee consisted of:
The committee's report was extremely favorable, stating, "that the University can take pride in its Library." LERC cited our library as:
The External Committee concluded, "In short, we found a Library that is well positioned to move in the directions that the University has charted in its ambitious plan." In additional to these laudatory general conclusions, LERC presented a formal analysis of Library operations, and made a number of specific recommendations. Several of these were also concerns of our Committee and will be discussed further below. Overall, LERC found the State of the Library to be sound, and recommended that the University provide adequate levels of support to maintain the high level of the Penn Library System. Vice Provost & Director Mosher also reviewed the Libraries response to the LERC report. The Library basically accepts the recommendations of the External Review Committee, including its favorable review of the Libraries Strategic Plan.
2. The renovation of Van Pelt-Dietrich Library's physical facilities and upgrading of its computing and research capabilities were discussed only briefly. Vice Provost Mosher reported that the Library has transformed major portions of the physical library while optimizing the growth and management of information. Dr. Mosher also stated that the Library has reengineered functions to improve service, reduce costs, and adapt the Library to the changing information needs of its clientele. In the future, resources will need to be allocated to finish rehabilitation of the existing space, without jeopardizing the acquisition of information resources, while also providing means for the retention and recruitment of library staff (see II D below).
3. Development of tools for quantitative assessment of performance. Both LERC and our Committee were tasked to address the question of assessing library performance. Originally, the Library staff proposed to construct a user survey of Library performance, and our Committee was to help with the development of this tool, and the analysis of the data. Before this effort got underway, it was superseded by a major initiative of The Association of Research Libraries to develop such a measure. LERC recommended that Penn become an active participant in this effort, and we have. In February, members of the University community, including several members of the Library Committee were interviewed by a team from Texas A & M University which is involved in the construction of a new library performance assessment tool. As a participant in the development of the survey, we will get an early version to try out and evaluate. If this tool looks promising, we will use it in the future to assess library performance. If we find that the new assessment tool is inadequate, the Library and the Committee will proceed to develop our own performance assessment tools.
B. The impact of the proposed changes in the modem pool on faculty, student and staff access to electronic library resources.
Briefly, as announced in Almanac and on the University main web page, "...effective July 1, 2000, Penn will begin to transition from the Internet Service Provider (ISP) business by charging for access to its modem pool services with the intention of eliminating the dial-up pool altogether by July 1, 2002." The Committee expressed considerable concern over the impact of this proposed policy on the ability of faculty, staff and students to access proprietary databases which require authentication for their use. There was also considerable consternation expressed by members at the rate at which these changes will be implemented. To gain a better understanding of the proposed policy, and its impact on the Library, a joint meeting was held with the Communications Committee, at which representatives of ISC and Library IT personnel described the technical aspects of authentication under the proposed policy. As explained by these experts, ISC proposes to operate an authentication system which any campus server can use to verify user access rights. This system, which is not yet fully operational, will not further load, and may actually replace the library proxy server, which currently provides authenticated access for users not logged in directly to PennNet. The Committee proposes to monitor the development and deployment of this system, and to assess its impact on user access to library materials.
C. Collections. Library Committee members, LERC and the Library Strategic Plan all addressed the question of how the library should balance its acquisition of digital vs. print collections. Some members of the Committee expressed concern that too much emphasis was being placed on electronic material at the expense of traditional collections. Vice Provost Mosher explained that the Library is seeking to balance its resource allocations so that information in both types of media will be available to the Penn community. This sentiment was echoed by LERC. The Library Committee was positively impressed by these assurances.
D. Library staff salaries. Concern was expressed by the Committee and LERC about the ability of the library system to retain and recruit talented staff as the marketplace drives salaries for these skilled workers to values beyond what can be sustained under the present salary structure. The Library acknowledges this as a significant problem, and has pledged to seek new mechanisms to enhance professional salaries. The Committee endorses this position.
E. Student access to library resources. Despite persistent efforts by Library staff, student library advisors in the dorms, and a wealth of instructional information on the Library's web site, students feel a gap in their knowledge of how to use the Library. Upon discussion with the Communications Committee, it was decided that access to information on how to utilize Library resources needs to be available to students when they need it, as opposed to blanketing incoming students with reams of "how to" literature during orientation. The library's web pages are a suitable place for this material to reside, and a substantial amount of it is already found there. It may be possible to create interactive tutorials which lead students through the steps necessary to find and access the materials they need.
In addition, the Committees discussed the idea of encouraging instructors, particularly in writing seminars and introductory courses, to assign projects that would require students to utilize basic library resources, thus motivating them to learn how to access those materials. This suggestion also appeared in the previous Committee report.
The Committee will continue to be concerned with this problem. Instructors will be contacted to explore the feasibility of building library skills education into writing courses, but decisive action will be postponed until performance assessment data is available to provide insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the present system.
In the future the Library Committee should:
As the result of the Library Committee and LERC deliberations the University should:
--Ellis E. Golub, Chair
Chair: Ellis Golub, biochem/dental; Faculty: Patricia D'Antonio, nursing; Aravind Joshi, CIS; Philippe Met, Romance languages; Ann E. Moyer, history; Edward Peters, history; Lilliane Weissberg, German; Barry Eichler, Asian & Middle Eastern Studies Graduate/professional students: Heidi Hiemstra, GAS, sociology; Jennifer Chen, GAS, English. Undergraduate students: Kyle Dyer, COL '01; Michelle Tucker, COL '00. PPSA: Pamela Emory, alumni relations. A-3: Loretta Miller, Univ life facil, tech & info svcs. Ex Officio: Paul Mosher, vice provost & director of Libraries; Elizabeth S. Kelly, director, Biddle Law Library.
Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 30, April 25, 2000