Taylor alters traditional meaning of libraries

By Richard Lam

As construction for the Taylor Family Library project approaches its completion, plans for moving in are being formulated.

“The move in to the building is probably one of the most complex any library system has ever done before,” said Tom Hickerson, vice-provost of libraries and cultural resources at the University of Calgary. “In the same general time frame, [we will be] moving a large collection of books and journals from six different locations in two different cities.”

The majority of the MacKimmie Library block and tower contents will be moved out and into the upper floors of the Taylor. The texts will be joined by the Nickle Arts Museum, which will occupy its new home in the first two floors of the TFL.

The convergence of services means that the bulk of university archives, special collections and university press will now be under one roof. A new Centre for Student Success will also attempt to streamline support offered to students, from academic advising to tutorial assistance with writing and information literacy.

“A lot of organizations that have archives, museums and libraries all together realize that their collections aren’t talking to each other,” said program manager Jackie Bell. “[We] are trying to combine the collection in ways that the user — the student or faculty member — can find out what the collection is in a richer detail … Our librarians and our curators will have a greater depth of knowledge in terms of the richness of the collection and the depth.”

Local and international surveys and focus groups were conducted by the university, consulting with students and faculty members regarding what they need in their libraries. Requests for study space, group rooms and technology resulted in three floors of various types of student space that include multimedia labs with editing suites, screening rooms and even touch tables.

“Librarians also feel that there is a need to get to know what the new technology has to offer,” said Ali Shiri, a professor of digital libraries at the University of Alberta. “It opens up new horizons. The traditional view of libraries, where you sit at the back of the desk and you hand in a book or receive a book, that is not anymore the case.”

“One of our main challenges is to find media that is presented in a way that students can make of use of it in a secondary way,” said associate vice-provost for collections Helen Clarke, describing resources that combine, reuse or remix media for presentations or student use.”We’ve been able to acquire new media that people can sort of experience in the same way that people experience a journal or a book of text.”

Construction of the High Density Library will be completed off campus in June with resources moving shortly after. Used to store lower-demand books and journals, students will request items from the facility to be delivered to main campus.

“We do intend to be able to deliver for pickup, in the Taylor or elsewhere on campus, any book or journal in the high density facility within one service day,” said Hickerson, addressing student concerns that delivery times may impede quick access for research. “So it’s not that that material is in any way limited access.”

In determining what items would go to the high density storage and which would stay in the Taylor, a variety of considerations were taken. For journals available in digital form, the physical copies would be considered low-demand. Circulation patterns were analyzed and the least popular items were assigned to move to the HDL as well.

Bell added that the HDL will have a reading room where students can visit the facility, located at Spy Hill next to the new veterinary medicine facility, and request books to browse while there. However, they will not be able to physically enter the warehouse.

With the move towards digital content and off-site research, students face a fundamental shift from traditional methods of browsing and flipping through see move to digital Library, page 6

books, Clarke is among those responsible for making the change as easy as possible.

“We’re trying to make sure that we keep as good a monograph collection in the Taylor as we can, and then we’re looking at technology to be conducive to that browsing experience, outlining the ongoing enhancement of catalogue records to contain indexes and previews as well as having an effective user interface,” said Clarke.

Technology seems to be the key in modern libraries, with Shiri predicting more visual user interfaces and features as they move toward interactive and information-rich systems. But Shiri warned that simply digitizing information isn’t enough for users.

“You may have the largest, the most authoritative, the most comprehensive digital collection but a very bad user interface, so users are not going to be able to find information,” said Shiri.

In the end, it comes down to more efficient and thorough keyword retrieval techniques and algorithms that are centered on the user’s needs.

Another student concern is the reduction of library resources due to budget cuts across the university. Clarke admits that cuts have been made, but said they were focused on print journals already electronically available and databases that had low use.

“We are sheltering things that actually have content at the expense of things that are more reference-type tools,” said Clarke.

Any potential cancellations to journals or books are dependent on the state of the Canadian dollar in the fall 2010 semester. Database re-acquirements, such as the fairly popular but expensive Scopus database that was recently cut, are also dependent on the future budget.

Concerning future plans for the MacKimmie and Nickle Arts buildings after their moves, campus infrastructure vice-president Steve Dantzer said the university will be working with the Students’ Union, the Graduate Students’ Association and a consulting group to examine the future use for these buildings.

“We don’t know what the future of the Nickle Arts building is at this point,” said Dantzer.

Major renovations for the MacKimmie tower are planned, but may be slow to implement because of reductions in provincial support due to the recession.

Shiri said buildings like the TfL are the future of credible information sources, a statement echoed by the university.

“I think it’ll be really a building focused on being a centre of learning for the 21st century,” said Hickerson. “And I think we’re realizing that while balancing traditional interests and traditional values as well.”

The MacKimmie tower is set to close May 2011, with the Taylor Family Library beginning to offer services immediately afterwards, before its official opening to the public September 2011.

Leave a comment