The Information Union: the WSU Libraries of the Future
Introduction and Background
As a key department, integral to supporting teaching, learning, research, and scholarship at WSU, the WSU Libraries must continue to bring our expertise to bear to build programs, collections, and services, thereby meeting the community’s changing needs for information. The Libraries are part of the academic infrastructure, providing support for undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, researchers, and staff throughout the University, regardless of location. The concept we have developed is one in which the WSU Libraries will function as an "Information Union" for the community. We will unite users with information they need, we will provide spaces where students, faculty, and staff can interact one-on-one or in-groups, we will provide technology that will enable users to manipulate and create information, and we will teach students, faculty, and staff to be knowledgeable, skilled users of information. The Pullman Libraries will also serve as a hub to collaborate with and support geographically dispersed library collections and services across the state. The Information Union concept incorporates key elements from all four strategic goals identified for WSU.
Like all research libraries, the WSU Libraries are in a period of transition that will continue for the foreseeable future. The climate for libraries contains many issues:
- Technology has already greatly changed the way libraries do business, and we expect this trend to persist and accelerate. These technological changes require different organizational approaches to selecting, acquiring, and managing electronic information resources. At the same time, the Libraries must continue to acquire print resources and to sustain traditional operations that allow us to manage the acquisition, cataloging, and storage requirements associated with print.
- Library users will have different expectations for access to information; they will continue to expect more to be available in electronic formats, and they expect that access will be provided 24x7. They will also expect to use wireless and/or handheld devices to access scholarly materials.
- Library facilities must continue to provide an intellectual environment that supports learning and research outside the classroom and laboratory.
- Methods for disseminating the results of scholarly and research activity will evolve. Different disciplines will adopt models that best suit their needs and cultures, and, simultaneously, universities will grapple with new approaches to peer review and publications that have the potential to change radically the way intellectual output is controlled. While this change will take longer than 5 years, we anticipate that there will be significant widespread debate in the near term.
- The mix of on-site library services and those delivered to users in other locations will shift as new technologies become available and as distance learning programs evolve.
- Outside fundraising and building endowments to supplement the materials, facilities, and operating budgets will be increasingly important.
- Changes in the way libraries function will require different skills in the staff. In some cases new job descriptions will be developed while in other cases staff will need to be retrained.
All of the issues enumerated above have been factored into the planning process for the WSU Libraries. Because many of these changes will come from external forces, the Libraries will be in a constant mode of monitoring, influencing, and adapting. Service, program, and collection strategies will be re-evaluated on an ongoing basis so that we can be sure we are using our limited resources as efficiently as possible. Our overarching goal is to create an Information Union that will support all WSU undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and researchers, and that will be a virtual and physical library of the 21st century.
The Libraries’ planning process has been informed by the results of the LibQUAL+ survey taken in fall 2000. A representative sample of students, faculty, and staff responded to a questionnaire that established minimum and desired expectations for collections, services, and facilities and then asked respondents to rate their current state.
The "Information Union" Concept
The WSU Libraries will contribute to meeting the University’s strategic plan by transforming traditional services and facilities into a new Information Union configuration. The Information Union will focus on providing enhanced access to information and state-of-the-art assistance in finding, using, manipulating, and creating information. Key components of the Information Union will be:
- Services and facilities that support face-to-face interactions among students working on projects, between students and information professionals, for students to work with faculty to create digital information resources, and for faculty to work with information professionals.
- Facilities that offer equipment so that students can use the network and multimedia authoring hardware and software to build presentations and multimedia projects.
- Facilities that offer laboratories for digitizing print information.
- Facilities that offer a range of work spaces that promote collaboration as well as quiet, contemplative study.
- A networked, widely available information environment to support research, teaching, and learning by all members of the WSU community. This includes a broad range of networked databases and electronic full-text resources, linked to facilitate users’ natural information discovery processes, and real-time assistance in navigating these resources from trained librarians. Together these leverage the Libraries’ investments in both scholarly information and in highly skilled professionals.
- An information environment that promotes the adoption and adaptation of new models of scholarly communication as a means of preserving and disseminating the results of research, scholarship, and service activities carried out at WSU.
- An information environment that nurtures undergraduates in developing lifelong information literacy skills.
- Assistance from information professionals to help members of the WSU community manage the information they need for teaching, learning, and research.
The Libraries have identified the following action items that will enable us to create an Information Union:
Goal A: Continue to adapt technology to meet undergraduate needs and expectations for access to information. Create information commons areas in several facilities as part of the larger Information Union. Expand the project to provide digital reference services, electronic reserves capabilities (including text, images, and audio), and apply enhanced electronic finding tools as they become available. Link, leverage, and integrate new and existing services within the Libraries and throughout the University. Continue to invest in IT infrastructure and participate actively in development of IT plan for WSU.
Goal B: Focus on delivering programs and services that have high value for undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and researchers in Pullman and across the state by establishing an assessment program that enables us to understand who and where the Libraries’ constituents are and how best to help them.
Goal C: Forge collaborations with other departments and units at WSU, including working with the libraries and other units at the branch campuses. Strengthen liaison activities and outreach to teaching faculty.
Goal D: Continue to improve facilities. Develop a comprehensive space plan for the WSU Libraries that takes into account the decentralization of collections and services as well as the changing expectations users have for library spaces. Garner support for the plan and for necessary renovation and construction projects, especially renovation of Holland Library. If construction or renovation projects move ahead, plan for transition so that impact on users and library faculty and staff will be minimized. High priorities are facilities that are safe and secure, comfortable and inviting, and that offer spaces for group and individual study and research.
Goal E: Enlarge the reach and impact of the information literacy program to ensure that it spans the undergraduate and graduate curriculum and gives students the lifelong learning skills they will need to navigate the growing and often confusing array of information resources.
Goal F: Continue to strengthen collections, acquiring materials in the most appropriate and cost-effective formats, enhancing users’ ability to find and use information 24x7. Support interdisciplinary programs and new programmatic areas such as the growing biotechnology program. Participate in consortia to leverage our resources. Actively seek out and participate in resource-sharing programs that deliver materials in a timely and cost-effective manner.
Goal G: Build endowments and obtain external funding to support the growth and management of collections, improvements in the facilities, and enhancements to service programs.
Goal H: Develop, sustain, and promote specialized services and facilities for graduate students, faculty, and researchers that will enhance scholarship and research. Provide training in use, manipulation, and management of information. Collaborate with the Graduate and Professional Student Association and other groups.
Goal I: Take a leadership role in helping Washington State University adopt and adapt new models for scholarly communication. Assist in capturing, archiving, and providing access to WSU-generated intellectual output, building on the success of the electronic theses and dissertations program operated in conjunction with the Graduate School. Increase participation in cooperative efforts to provide alternative models such as the Association of Research Libraries Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) and the Greater Western Library Alliance (GWLA) BioONE program. Participate in the GWLA exploration of local e-journal publishing software and provide such a service to University faculty.
Goal J: Develop and promulgate models for effective knowledge management techniques that can be used by members of the WSU community.
Goal K: Enhance timely and effective communication within the Libraries and between the Libraries and members of the WSU community. Encourage input and participation in decision-making processes by including all stakeholders but balance need for involvement with need for streamlined processes.
Goal L: Implement concept of "learning organization" within the Libraries. Create an open environment in which library faculty and staff can take risks and learn from past experience. Encourage systemwide thinking and dialog. Re-examine and make adjustments in the Libraries’ management model and organizational structure. Review roles, membership, goals, and lifespan of groups to ensure efficient and effective decision making and accountability. As positions become vacant or as user needs and library responsibilities change, rethink the job responsibilities and descriptions. Encourage innovation and development of sustainable programs that meet the Libraries’ and WSU goals.
Goal M: Implement changes in annual review processes so that goals are set in accordance with the WSU and Libraries’ goals, and performance is evaluated against progress toward these goals.
Goal N: Continue to invest in the ongoing development of library faculty and staff so that they can learn new skills. Increase funding to support professional activity and to send faculty and staff to conferences, workshops, and seminars.