Committee to ponder future use of library space

The University appointed two administrators last week to head a committee investigating how libraries could help solve a campus space crunch in the digital age.

As heads of the Future of Libraries Committee, Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Stephen Ehrmann and Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies Dan Ullman will examine over the next year how to balance the decline of printed books with the University’s space needs.

“The administration is looking seriously at the question of what kind of library the University will need in 10 and 20 years, so that concrete steps may be taken to support our collective future learning and research needs,” said David McAleavey, chair of the Faculty Senate Libraries Committee.

McAleavey proposed looking into the long-term future of GW’s three main libraries on the Foggy Bottom, Mount Vernon and Virginia campuses in February 2011 after he and University Librarian Jack Siggins said a stagnating Gelman Library budget had held it back from buying more digital subscriptions, which tend to cost more than the 20,000 print ones it buys each year.

Gelman Library will partner with the Library of Congress in June when it hosts a conference about the digital future of libraries, which as a whole, have looked toward digitizing collections to catch up with 21st century reading habits.

Michael Castleberry, chair of the Faculty Senate’s executive committee, said he pushed in the fall for the University to form a planning group because Gelman Library currently holds six floors that would be untapped if physical books become obsolete.

He said the committee should look into whether moving most of the book stacks to an off-campus site would alleviate student space and classroom space concerns.

“Our job is to say, look, we have all these space demands on campus, and we have this huge building where there is not enough places for students to sit,” Castleberry said. “We have all these stacks of books, and when you go into the library, no one is in the stacks. People are not fighting over books.”

Provost Steven Lerman said it has taken the academic year for the group to get underway, because administrators have zoned in on University-wide strategic planning and wanted to set the foundation for the upcoming Gelman Library renovations first.

The group’s formation comes just months before a planned $16 million upgrade to Gelman Library that will shift the building’s entrance up to the second floor through Kogan Plaza and add collaborative study space for students through 2014.

The group will take another year to propose concrete plans.

Operating separately from the upcoming overhaul of the 39-year-old building’s first two floors, the committee will instead try to look far into the future to determine how the University should map out plans for the rest of the library, which will not see a facelift by 2014.

That could mean drastic changes to the University’s intellectual hub, but Ehrmann said its mission will stay the same, adding that more resources for librarians is helping libraries become even more effective resource tools.

GW added study space to Gelman Library this year by moving 40 percent of the periodicals in circulation on the third floor to an off-site storage facility in Upper Marlboro, Md.

Meetings of the group will begin in May, with 15 to 20 members from across the University joining the committee to work toward producing a spring 2013 report.

This article was updated on April 18, 2012 to reflect the following:
Due to a reporting error, The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Vice Provost Stephen Ehrmann said: “While information is increasingly online and the number of services from reference librarians is decreasing, the library as a place will remain for students. The University needs to provide more places to study if a library were smaller, fully functional and online.”

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