A turning point for the U’s libraries

University of Utah Libraries have changed over the decades.

For generations of U. students, Marriott Library’s main floor included a massive card catalog. The print room was upstairs, churning through reams of paper as students and faculty printed hundreds of pages of journal articles. And the writing and testing room shifted from typewriters to desktop computers requiring first floppy disks, then hard disks, and finally, flash drives.

Times have changed. This year, the services offered by Marriott and the Eccles Health Sciences Library included 3D printing of plastic face shields for university healthcare workers and managing checkout of hundreds of laptops for students learning remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Academic libraries have transformed, and the process of change is not slowing down. The future of academic publishing is in flux, as social, technical, and economic models reshape how researchers publish and disseminate new knowledge. Open access publication and potential shifts from pay-to-read to pay-to-publish models are transforming traditional journal publications. Federal mandates for open access and data preservation require rethinking resource allocations and compliance processes. Meanwhile, university presses are under increasing scrutiny and serial subscription costs are rising annually.

At the same time, academic libraries remain primary sites for collaborative student study and navigation of an increasingly diverse digital world.

To help guide the University’s strategic planning process through these shifts, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dan Reed has charged a broad campus taskforce—with faculty, staff, and student representatives drawn from across academic affairs and health sciences—to solicit community input and offer recommendations.

As part of that process, the U community is invited to a series of virtual town halls over the next few weeks. Four town halls have been scheduled to allow students, faculty and staff to share how they use the library’s facilities, services, and collections:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020 | 10 a.m. | Register here
  • Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020 | 2 p.m. | Register here
  • Monday, Dec. 7, 2020 | 9:30 a.m. | Register here
  • Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 | 4 p.m. | Register here

“The University of Utah’s libraries are unique spaces that provide equal and free access to everyone, leveling the learning, research, and teaching fields for all our students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians,” said Alberta Comer, dean of libraries. “From student success to research and teaching, our libraries support every University of Utah strategic direction.”

Comer urged university library users to actively participate in the upcoming town halls. “We want your voice to be reflected in these important conversations,” she said.

At the same time, a digital survey will be sent to all university users to determine use of the libraries’ collections. Four task force subcommittees will meet over the next few months to review the town hall and survey results. Using feedback from the town halls and surveys, the subcommittees will produce a report that will help determine future library strategies that best support the needs of students, faculty and staff.

“Our libraries are essential elements of the U’s academic culture, supporting the research, scholarship, and education that are the defining attributes of a great public research university,” said Reed. “As such, the libraries hold a central place in campus life—where the community gathers, students learn, and researchers gain critical knowledge for projects that will transform our lives.

“This strategic planning process will help us collaboratively ensure that our libraries remain beacons of excellence in a changing scholarly world,” he added.

To provide written input, email task force co-chairs Harriet Hopf at harriet.hopf@hsc.utah.edu, Richard Preiss at richard.preiss@utah.edu or the Office of Academic Affairs at svpaa@utah.edu.