Library town halls explore future of a campus essential

University of Utah Libraries are essential to campus life.

A series of town halls to discuss the future of the libraries has established that fact. What is less certain is their path to the future.

Dozens of staff and faculty joined the first two town halls on Nov. 17 and 19 to share how they use library resources. Be sure to register for the final two town halls on Dec. 7 and Dec. 9.

WATCH RECORDINGS OF THE PRESENTATION AND DISCUSSIONS FROM TOWN HALLS #1 AND #2.

The Library Futures Taskforce—co-chaired by Harriet Hopf, a professor in the department of anesthesiology, and Richard Preiss, associate professor in the English department—has been charged with reviewing how members of the campus community use library resources, gathering input and recommending service changes or new ideas for funding.

“Without libraries, we literally couldn’t do our jobs,” Preiss said. “Our libraries’ mission makes the university’s mission possible. Frankly, they make a university what a university is.”

Historically, the libraries have provided the traditional essentials: stacks of books, more than 215,000 scholarly journals, and special collections of rare books. The rapid change in how information is shared, however, has led libraries to re-evaluate what “collection” means over the past few decades and to update their collections to include multi-media, virtual access, and more spaces for collaborative work. Modern demands have also turned them into jacks of all trades—with 3-D printers, video game stations, and devices for checkout (graphing calculators, HDMI cables and GoPro cameras among them).

With journal subscription costs increasing 4-7% each year, library budgets are being squeezed to the point of breaking; new book purchases have been severely restricted. “Except for a few notable exceptions, we are not buying new books,” Preiss said.

That alarmed faculty members at the Nov. 19 town hall.

“I’ve really been feeling the lack of books. I thought I was being paranoid,” said John Wynne, a classics professor and coordinator of the Religious Studies Program. “Paper books are still very important in my field—old books, which I need to be able to check out in the original.”

Some faculty questioned whether the libraries are engaging in mission creep by providing gaming stations and cafes to serve coffee and food—something previously verboten in traditional libraries of the past. Still, others questioned the allocation of space resources, noting the cramped quarters at the Writing Center, but the cavernous ProtoSpace.

What do you think the library of 2030 should be? What should the library keep doing, what should they transition out of, and what new collections and expertise should they provide? Join us to learn about library challenges and share your observations and ideas at one of the two remaining scheduled town halls:

  • Monday, Dec. 7, 2020 | 9:30 a.m. | Register here
  • Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020 | 4 p.m. | Register here

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.