Administration and Organization
University Librarian Gary E. Strong

A New Era at UCLA – Or NOT!:
Remarks at the 2004 LISAA Spring Dinner

April 20, 2004

Thank you for inviting me to join you this evening in your annual spring event. It is wonderful to see so many alumni, students, and faculty for a festive evening with great food and conversation. Let me add my congratulations to the student award winners and of the inaugural Alumni Service Award. For some of you this evening, I understand this event is an assignment, and I hope I do not disappoint you in my remarks. On the other hand, I don't recall many graduate school classes with this kind of food and celebration. But we did get together at the Library Bar near the North Campus at the University of Michigan to tip a few with faculty upon occasion.

It's great to be back in California and to be at UCLA. As I began my career, I had certain things set out that I wanted to accomplish, and these personal goals always centered on being in libraries. As an Oregon scholar, having been awarded an LSCA scholarship for graduate study, I was required to return to Oregon and serve two years of indentured servitude in a public library. That formed my early career path. But it was the foundation of my graduate study at the University of Michigan that gave me the background and focus that would guide me through posts beginning in public libraries, to state libraries, to an urban library, and now to UCLA as university librarian. That foundation and what I learned from some of the greats in library education have served me well.

Those of us here tonight have chosen to associate ourselves with an institution of higher education and library of unparalleled quality and excellence. The University of California is unique among public, land-grant institutions of higher education and really has no peer in the country (each of our campuses offers recognized academic programs of excellence); neither the University of Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, the Carolinas, Minnesota, etc., have comparable systems of quality and excellence, i.e., no more than one flagship campus. The University of California may not have an equal anywhere else in the world in terms of serving the public, providing quality access to students, excellence in its teaching and research, educational opportunity for the number and diversity of students, and the success of its faculty and graduates.

The UCLA Library is part of this remarkable system, but it is also in its own right a world-class research library. I could stop right there sit down and make this short. But I won't. Its excellence begins with the great collections, built in a relatively short few years by dedicated curators and librarians to support a world-class public research university. Some of the nation's greatest minds continue to be associated with the university, supported by chancellors and provosts who believe libraries are the core to the academy. You should know the names of John Goodman, Lawrence Clark Powell, Louise Darling, Everett Moore, Seymour Lubetzky, Francis Clarke Sayers, Andrew Horn, Page Ackerman, Robert Vosper, Russell Shank, and Robert Hayes, to only name a few. I have great respect for what each contributed to the building of the UCLA libraries. And, hundreds of librarians (many of whom were graduates of this school) and library staff have shaped the library as well.

As important as the collections are the buildings that house them. Libraries as a place are important architectural statements on this campus. They provide intellectual spaces for inspiration, quiet contemplation, study, creativity, and they contribute to a sense of community that enhances the overall academic and social experience for both students and faculty in ways that dorm rooms, study halls, classrooms, cafeterias, and food stalls cannot. Changes in pedagogy and research are reflected in new patterns for study and academic interactions, which in turn require our libraries to provide up-to-date facilities, such as varieties of seating and study environments from individual carrels to group seminar and study spaces.

Our libraries serve both faculty and students, unlike scholarships for students or individually endowed faculty chairs. The campus libraries are cross-cutting enterprises, serving all disciplines, departments, schools, and colleges. Dollars invested in our libraries effectively reach many faculty and students across the campus, because library resources are not restricted or saved for an elite few; they are accessible to all students and faculty.

Investing in our libraries is not supporting a fad or passing fancy or one faculty star or group of outstanding graduate students who may or may not still be here at UCLA in a few years. Libraries represent an investment in an ongoing, permanent enterprise at UCLA. Faculty come and go, academic disciplines and research emphasis rise and fall, but our libraries are perpetual stewards of collections, resources, services, and buildings. This requires a commitment to depth and breadth; we do not and cannot stock our shelves or fill our digital repositories with an ever-changing inventory like bookstore chains or malls. Our collections and staff are specialists that provide vital resources and services to demanding faculty and students. We build on the strengths and specializations that reflect the university's emphases in teaching, research, and service.

The UCLA Library, like all parts of the campus, is facing tremendous challenges to continue to meet its commitments. Budget constraints and cutbacks have seriously harmed the Library. In light of this situation, we are focusing our efforts in the following areas:

  • Build on UCLA Library's unique strengths and capitalize on the potential for innovation to enhance its competitiveness as a world-class research institution.
  • Initiate, promote, and improve services and resources that have the greatest importance and impact on our primary users.
  • Provide UCLA Library resources and services to our users ubiquitously and around the clock by creating a full-function, easy-to-use UCLA Electronic Library.
  • Examine the organization from a macro perspective – think strategically and systemically when allocating human and financial resources and seek efficiencies by consolidation of functions and intra- and inter-campus collaborations.
  • Enhance organizational and individual capabilities by retaining and recruiting the best and brightest and increasing opportunities for organizational learning.

As we crafted our budget goals for consideration by the campus administration, we have emphasized several key areas. The first is to build the UCLA Electronic Library to support 24/7 access. We must improve our Web presence and will debut our new Web site by summer. That Web platform will serve as the doorway to UCLA Library's electronic resources including the new UCLA Library Catalog (replacing ORION and ORION2). But it will also provide a user-focused and friendly platform for engagement with the Library.

I announced last week the creation of a new Digital Library Program unit with the following goals:

  • Expand our collection of high-use, high-impact digital objects through partnerships with faculty, campus departments, the California Digital Library, and national and international digital library efforts;
  • Establish procedures and best practices for Library digitization efforts;
  • Raise the visibility of our Digital Library Program through presentations, articles, and strategic partnerships; and
  • Seek outside funding to expand our ability to develop and manage digital collections.

Our intention is to direct our efforts toward collaborative projects that create digital content to be used in teaching and research. To this end, we have already received funding to work on two projects related to digital learning objects and integration with campus learning management systems.

Second, we seek to expand the Library's Information Literacy Program. Information literacy is the ability to identify an information need, locate information efficiently, evaluate information, and use information effectively and ethically. Our 1999 study discovered critical gaps in UCLA students' abilities in this area; it documented deficiencies in their understanding of resources and methods and assessed the general level of information literacy among students as low.

The Information Literacy Initiative was launched in late 2001 to organize a response to this challenge. We sought to take traditional bibliographic instruction to new levels by working with faculty to integrate information literacy skills into relevant courses and freshmen clusters. The initiative has proven so successful that we intend to expand our commitment by using what we have learned to engage every public service unit of the Library into supporting new directions of engagement with teaching.

Third, we will continue to re-engineer library operations and functions by looking for new service models for delivering subject reference and collections across the library and recognizing that we will have a reduced number of staff to accomplish our tasks. As we redefine our services and procedures, we will be careful to ensure that quality and academic library practice are maintained. As part of this effort, we recognize that more faculty and students do not enter our physical doors at all; they reach us virtually from their desktops and dorm rooms. Through our online reference service we will ensure that high-level professional advice and consultation is available wherever the user might access the library, in person or online. We will emphasize helping users find the answer rather than giving them the answer.

Fourth, we will continue to re-focus the development of our local collections within the context of mutually beneficial planning initiatives and shared collections supported by taking leadership with the other UC campus libraries. Our shared investments in resources for both electronic and print resources will help us maintain the strengths at UCLA. By ensuring that we not only license current access but acquire backfile content, we make sure that we have information and knowledge for the long term.

In opening our new conservation lab this year, we have expanded our commitment to protect the vast physical collections of the Library. Focused initially on conserving high-use materials, we will develop a program to give attention to the preservation of some of our most valuable and rare items as well. Further, we are expanding the attention toward digital archiving through our collaboration with the eScholarship Repository at the CDL.

The newly created Center for Primary Research and Training will provide new opportunities for students to have access to primary source material and at the same time process invaluable collections. The Center, housed in the Charles E. Young Research Library Department of Special Collections and funded by the Ahmanson Foundation, is the first in a series of initiatives to address the significant backlog of unprocessed materials. But the strength of the center is the engagement of faculty and students in a new way.

Fifth, scholarly communication continues to demand our attention and involvement. We are working to find solutions to the unsustainable system of scientific publishing through close collaboration with faculty and academic administrators on the campus. The new models need to be mutually beneficial to the processes of scholarly communication, faculty promotion, and tenure; the fiscal ability of the Library to acquire and maintain the breadth and depth of resources needed to support UCLA teaching and research; and easy and efficient user access to information. A major effort will be undertaken to assist faculty in the rights management of their own intellectual content. CDL announced last week that we will be collaborating to support a post-print repository as one step in a set of initiatives.

Sixth, we will work to create a user-centered and innovative library organizational culture. Learning organizations, according to Peter Senge, are organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together. Such dynamic, innovative organizations are better able to recruit and retain the best and brightest. By consciously creating such a culture, we will be better able to create the type of learning environment necessary to support the academic success of UCLA faculty, students, and staff.

Last, we will focus on the critical needs for library space on campus. We have had no major building for the general libraries in thirty-five years. In that same time our collections have grown sixty-two percent, student enrollment by thirty-two percent and faculty by seventeen percent. Loss of space has further compounded an already serious shortage; most recently, the Physics Library closed at the end of 2003. Two notable accomplishments have been the Management Library in the Anderson School and the renovation of the Powell Library Building. But although the renovation of Powell resulted in a spectacular library for undergraduates that combines the best of state-of-the-art technology and historic preservation, it did not yield more space. With 1.5 million visitors last year, this beautiful building is overused and crowded.

Keeping the Library in front of faculty and students is no easy task. Many of you come to the Library in a virtual visit. This challenges us to find ways to keep you informed that you are actually in the University Library when you visit an electronic database or consult the catalog, borrow a book, or request a journal article reprint online.

While we address all of these challenges, we must keep our regular, day-to-day operations moving along as well. At the same time, we are called upon to build an outside funding stream of new capital to enhance our capacity. In December we announced our new Library Associates and invite you to join us in keeping the UCLA Library one of the best in the country.

As I close this evening, I invite you to think about the UCLA Library in a new light. It is a great, tremendous resource both in our buildings on the campus and along the information superhighway. For the students here this evening, I hope you will consider a career in academic libraries and place us at the top of your list – the challenges are considerable, but the rewards are inestimable.

I look forward to many opportunities in the future for us to meet and talk together.

©2004. Gary E. Strong