UC Davis Summary
UC Davis Summary
The Davis libraries continue to adapt their operation in the face of severe budget cuts from the university and the prospect of future uncertainty due to the state’s shaky economy. In February 2010, the library administration announced imminent cuts to personnel, effective at the beginning of June. But these were suspended due to favorable projections from the governor’s May revise and confidential personnel information. Currently the libraries are engaged in a search for a new University Librarian (UL) to provide direction.
1. Reference Consolidations has dominated changes to the reference service. Within the last three years, the Davis libraries eliminated a separate government documents department and redistributed the personnel to other departments: humanities, biology/agriculture, and special collections. The physical collection remains in place on the lower level of the Shields Library. Student staff retrieve items that are paged, and the government documents librarians are available to answer questions from their new assignments. Following this change, another consolidation took place where the information desk and biology/agriculture staff were consolidated onto the former humanities reference desk that became the sole reference point for the library. The rationale for this is largely driven by a consolidation of library services in the face of the budget. The library, according to the latest announcement, will need to downsize its operation by 20% within the next two years. Consolidating the reference desks into one eliminates old positions from which staff have retired and from positions which will be frozen in anticipation of future retirements. The library has also instituted a chat reference program through Questionpoint.org that is staffed by the instruction department. Another chat program has been run independently by the Physical Sciences and Education Library (PSE) for some time. The instruction program has revived an older program of consulting with students over their research papers. Students sign up for free half hour appointments with the instruction staff. The service has moved from a room in the lower level to the second floor for greater visibility, and demand has increased rapidly. There has been no official assessment of the new reference arrangement although an extensive assessment of the entire program is underway starting with focus groups for the university community that have commenced in May 2010. Staff have expressed dissatisfaction in losing their subject specific reference assignments. Job satisfaction has been eroded, and there is a sense of loss of responsiveness to their departments. One staff member claims a higher incidence of misplaced referrals and general inefficiency in the consolidated system in routing the right question to the right person. Staff called for a reassessment and articulation of the purpose of reference within the framework of the library’s service and a specification of which population they are supposed to be serving. These categories include the university as whole, the local community, the state, and even the world. Many also called for surveys to identify user needs and a more sophisticated analysis of data from such surveys. There have been no assessments of the chat service although some librarians report frustration in working mostly with patrons from other campuses (UC) whom they cannot serve properly. Usually, librarians end up referring patrons to librarians at their own campuses. Some librarians report patron satisfactions from the individual surveys that are built into the technology. No other technologies are being contemplated for reference service. The paper consulting service is still in the pilot mode and has not yet In an optimized future, librarians look for a more fully-articulated policy of reference service with a clearer sense of user populations and their needs; increased integration of reference with other library departments (such as instruction), and a return to subject-specific reference assignments.
2. Relationship with Information Providers Librarians discussed the need for a reassessment of the relationship with database vendors to include • the role of finances • interface design • additional usage data from vendors Librarians must also arrive at a better sense of the types of pressure to be deployed on vendors to gain better service and products. One example is working on the advisory board of a product which can be fruitful according to the experience of some librarians. It was noted that Davis has a large cluster of liaisons with vendors. Other concerns about the relationship with vendors include the claim that the parties involved in contract negotiations on both sides—library and vendor—are those who have least to do with user interaction or product development. Furthermore, the interest of the negotiators does not coincide with vendors wanting more money and libraries wanting better service. The role of open access material with their free content is a complicating factor defined by a tension between the free vs. good. Specifically, there is a tendency for quality sources to be disregarded in favor of free ones. Moreover, popular sources such as Google and Wikipedia have a lack of permanence and control of resources. The ongoing debate on the merits of Google digitization and the UC’s role in it is relevant here. Nevertheless, the trend in information providing appears to be moving towards outsourcing with its pluses and minuses. This has implications for the future of interlibrary loan. For an optimal future, librarians describe increased influence with vendors to make them provide more user-friendly products at lower prices. An ideal would be a single interface for all databases. The role of ILL will be modified with the increase of e-books with their restricted access. The libraries need to advocate and preserve fair use. To this end, libraries should work to turn the university itself into more of an information provider through e-scholarship. The library can play a role in marketing and best practices of information providing.
3. Personnel As a result of budget constraints, UC Davis has not hired new librarians for a little over two years although there have been some staff hires since that time. The library has been claimed to the lowest-staffed among the UCs. As a result much of the literature on this topic attempting to forecast the changing role of personnel and alter job descriptions accordingly is irrelevant. The library’s goal is to shut down positions in order to avoid layoffs. The thinking on this topic, accordingly, is much more practical and short-term in its focus. Librarians observe that more work is expected as a result of downsizing and subject divisions are being eroded as staff are used to fill vacant positions. Some have observed the creation of new intermediate classes of employees such as the “library professional” whose implications are unclear. While the UCDavis libraries, at some point in the past, have used non-librarians to serve at least an elementary reference role, there has been no sign that this will be resumed in future despite trends in that direction in the profession. To improve the situation, librarians suggest increased mentoring and succession planning as staff are moved into new position as well as efforts to evaluate when rehiring is better for the organization than retraining. Librarians also caused for increased education and professional opportunities. These include Principal Investigator (PI) status for librarians on grants and facilitated pathways for coursework and additional degrees. Otherwise, librarians suggested an increased awareness and effort to manage the tension between the generalist and specialist. For an optimal future, librarians wish to see an increase of staff to support its growth in doctoral programs. Librarians claim that even now the consolidated staff system results in bad referrals and inefficiency. There needs to be greater ingenuity in utilizing staff and attempts to support staff with formal training and certification.
4. Technology This is such a far-ranging subject that technologies were grouped into three areas. First was “communications technology” which included such tools as libguides, Second Life, chat reference, Skype (for bibliographer groups) and the often referenced “social networking tools” such as Facebook and YouTube. A call was made for new hardware to support communication and the mobility of users: headsets, microphones, webcams for live video and a choice of laptop vs. desk computers. Related to this was a need for support for training for new equipment and an environment that encouraged new project initiatives and creativity in a “sandbox environment.” In view of the budget crisis, this would require reallocation of budget and time resources and a new level of coordination with the Systems department. Certain issues of security and permissions stand in the way of experimentation with new technologies. Alternatively, some have suggested, in response to the ubiquitous call for social networking tools that these may not have much value after all or that their use may be restricted to publicity rather than to the actual delivery of information to patrons. In response to the administration call for tutorials to substitute for in-person interaction, librarians claimed that these tools are limited by the rapid change of databases which make the tutorials irrelevant. An alternative may be to link to tutorials maintained by vendors. Regarding the library chat reference system which is in the pilot mode, librarians expressed dissatisfaction with the large pool of questioners from outside the system who cannot be helped by the resources available. A call was made to route questions to the local campus as much as possible. There was also a call for chat to incorporate text messaging. A major technology throughout the system as a whole is the revision of the systemwide catalog into Next Generation Melvyl. The interface was changed to resemble Google in hopes that it would be more familiar to patrons. The new interface was criticized for flooding users with information. A call was made to retain aspects of a local catalog with local notes to increase the precision and accuracy of a search. A second category of technology had to do with preservation/archiving technology such as that supporting the many efforts towards shared repositories now underway. This falls partly under the purview of the Next Generation Melvyl Technical Serves (NGMTS) initiative which remains in a preliminary stage. The claim was that there are benefits to a shared workflow in cataloging and preservation throughout the system. However, there should increased infrastructure to support digitization (both production and access) at the campus. The point was also made that shared cataloging through CDL is being overwhelmed. A suggestion was made for a “SWAT Team” approach of coordinated action among the campuses to reduce backlogs. It was noted that the withdrawal of funding from CDL by the system was particularly unfortunate with the prospect of increased digitization ahead of us. Instructional technology forms another category. EndNote bibliographic software, purchased through a site license by the campus some years ago, is taught exclusively through the library both through instructional services and through a website, and the library also provides technical support for the use of EndNote (as opposed to just its installation). EndNote offers radical new capabilities for storing and accessing research, and, as such, offers new opportunities for the library to participate and assist in the research of all campus members. The use of clickers as a participatory form of technology in instruction has been discussed but not implemented. An optimal future for the technology at the library would include support for hardware, training, and experimentation by librarians on all aspects of technology; shared cataloging among the campuses; the retention of a local catalog with mobile versions of the catalog; the investigation of social networking and small mobile applications (e.g. podcasts) to support general library research; the continued support of EndNote to participate in the extended research of patrons.
5. Collections Discussions about the collection are dominated the relationship between “collections” and “collection.” More specifically, the budget crisis has driven proposals to consolidate the system’s collection into one to eliminate duplication of copies. One slogan has been “one library one book” with the thinking that extra copies as needed could be ordered from the system through interlibrary loan. More extreme versions of this concept have called for a single collection for the system with campus libraries reduced to special collections departments for local or unusual materials. The Western Regional Storage Trust (WEST) is seeking to develop a repository that extends beyond the UCs to include other American universities as well as Canadian schools. Objections were raised to this program. It was claimed that books are core items for a local collection and that the consolidation scheme should only apply to journals. There was also the concern about the lack of permanence of digitized collections and of using them as the sole source for preservation of materials. There were also issues regarding the reduction of the local footprint. Approval plans are currently under review. Current trends in libraries are to evaluate print monographs the same as electronic resources. With changes in scholarly monograph publishing, some believe that approval plans will be altered to purchase materials in response to patron need. Some have argued that the footprint cannot be reduced but must be expanded to support the growth of programs at the university, especially with the book collection. On the other hand, the recent SOPAG collection space planning report claims that there is no more space available through the somewhat ambiguous claim that libraries “need to reach a 0% growth rate within five years to fit within available space”—exactly when or how fast the growth rate must drop to 0 is unsaid. In any case, this statement does impose definite restrictions on growth. Another issue raised in connection with the reduction of the collection is the additional strain on the preservation and binding department. Without the purchase of additional copies, more work must be put into repair of the collection, but resources are not forthcoming with the budget crisis. Additional money and resources will need to be found to maintain the collection that we have. An optimal future would consist of streamlining the collection and shaping it around local needs that are identified.
6. Buildings Issues of consolidation that affect reference service and collection size affect library buildings as well. In correlation with the SOPAG space collection planning report, physical space at the UCDavis libraries is limited even before the proposed closure of the Physical Sciences and Engineering Library (PSE). This proposal is still under study. Unlike other campuses, the library has not reduced its hours, but it is claimed that they are lower than most other UC campuses anyway and that the hours need to be restructured to match the patterns of student use. Another issue is the rearrangement of space available to make it more efficient. It is claimed that an information commons is already forming on the first floor when there are no reference desks, plenty of study space and computer access. It has also been suggested that the library build a visual media commons with space, hardware, software, and library assistance. More group study rooms are needed to accommodate group study sessions, and more outlets for the increasing number. The building has another purpose as a source of fundraising. Contests have been held to determine the best architectural design for the courtyard. There have been suggestions to rent out the courtyard, main stairway, and other picturesque spaces. Other ideas include a café selling food or drink, but this recurrent proposal is always defeated by the preservation department and the security staff. An optimal future envisions preserving the space currently available and redesigning it for efficiency, an enhanced study environment and the sale of products to generate funds for the library.
7. Campus Roles Instruction can be characterized as the element of the library operation that is dedicated to reaching out to the campus, and as such it is the first area of consideration. The instruction staff of the UCDavis libraries focuses on instruction for the college writing course, University Writing Program (UWP). Subject specialists provide instruction to higher level courses in their area. The instruction department also has begun a paper consulting service called Re:Search Start whereby students sign up for half-hour appointments with instruction staff to receive research assistance for their papers. More specialized topics are routed to subject specialists for consultation. The Re:Search Start service has experienced rapidly growing demand and has switched locations from a somewhat isolated room on the lower level to the second floor near the reference desk. Other instruction activities include teaching classes for the campus Learning Skills Center that include sessions for the STEP summer program and term paper workshops on request. The instruction department runs orientations each year for new students and subject specialists hold similar events for graduate students in their department. Consistent with the library’s effort to shrink its operation, one online tutorial is under development to relieve the burden on in-person instruction sessions. In addition, the instruction department heads instruction in EndNote bibliographic software by providing some of the instruction and most if not all of the technical support through web materials, and consulting by phone and email. As another initiative, subject specialists have been given new flexibility to design subject guides to make them more responsive and interactive with users. The problem of outreach to the campus is an ongoing one that is prominent in professional conversations about the library. Much of it at Davis is implicit in the liaison work of subject specialists to departments. There have been overt marketing efforts consisting of advertising fliers, ads to dorms, and posters in the university bus system (since discontinued). Some have argued that reference service itself constitutes a form of outreach although this is such a traditional component of library work that it is unlikely that it contributes anything new to the library’s image. The webpage is seen as another platform for outreach to the community. Redesigning it for efficiency and ease of is an ongoing concern. Some have proposed embedding social networking tools, and currently the homepage hosts a library blog. Technical services is also available for consulting with other campus units in relevant areas such as meta-data, preservation, and business practices related to the workflow of information. Archives and special collections are also available for consulting on specialized material and its preservation. An optimal future for the campus role of the library would consist of continued robust activity in existing areas together with imaginative ideas for expanding the library’s visibility and engagement. These could include sponsored seminars with an academic focus and cultural events held in the library’s space; library research awards such as writing contests; formalized instruction in information literacy in credit classes; innovative technologies such as mobile bulletin boards; the use of EndNote to assist the research and writing process at a deeper level.
8. Library Networks The UC libraries are immersed in system-wide networks for almost every aspect of their operation. These include interlibrary loan and cataloging and the shared NextGen Melvyl interface. The most ambitious networking effort underway is the attempt by Next Gen Melvyl Tech Services to make a system-wide revision of technical services within the UC system to include new technologies and changes to the workflow that these technologies make possible. This ambitious plan is still in the preliminary stages and has not yet produced any results to assess. The California Digital Library (CDL) is an institution designed to coordinate digitization within the system. Chat reference networks the UCDavis Libraries with others. The trend is toward increased networking with progressively large groups even at the international level. The Western Regional Shared Trust (WEST) is one example.
The networking effort as a whole is driven by cost savings, but it has limitations and adverse effects on institutions at the local level. Perhaps the most visible networking process is the effort by Google Books to digitize and disseminate books. However, it does not process books which have individual copyright which makes for huge omissions. This and other networked efforts pose problems in areas of preservation, omission, and poor-quality work. An optimal future would consist of expanding the scale and cooperativity of networks while preserving the local specificity of collections.
9. Organizational Cultures In the general discussion of library culture, there are many references to an entrenched conservatism and unwillingness to change. At UCDavis, there are more specific issues. One recurring set fall under the heading of a lack of communication between the staff and the administration. It was observed that the structure of library bureaucracy needs to be examined and that it is atypical of academia in being fixed and hierarchical while deans and department heads elsewhere rotate. The call was made for quicker responses to issues and concerns of the staff. The administration has responded to these claims by stating that initiatives to communicate were ignored; that there needs to be timely communication from the staff to administration that observes the Principles of Community; and that difficult, unavoidable decisions resulting from the difficult budget situation should not be blamed on administration. Regarding solutions, it was observed that there was a danger among staff of turning dissatisfaction into a toxic, self-perpetuating culture of negativity and inaction. Another observed the desirability of free-form committees where members could express themselves more easily rather than rigid agenda-driven ones. Previous discussion on this topic pointed to an information bottleneck in the practice of filtering communications from administration to staff through department heads. Some suggests were to publish the minutes of all meetings; and to use notion that clearly indicated action items. But these measures have been unevenly adopted. Some suggested a consideration of ways to create an innovative and proactive environment as well as create community. Examples included ice cream socials and planned retreats. The communication between the library and the Systems Department is another ongoing area of concern. Librarians have claimed that Systems restricts access to technology and does not respond adequately to all requests. Systems has claimed that it acts to maintain system security and that the technical challenges it must deal with are not apparent outside. For an optimal future, it was suggested that there be regular face-to-face meetings among the parties involved as well as a “Velvet Revolution” that dismantles perceptions of hierarchy through frequent social activities.