I spent some time today at Georgia Tech’s library. While I had an interesting and informative conversation with the Dean, Dr. Catherine Murray-Rust, I forgot to ask permission to print her side of the conversation. This, then, will just be some observations I had of the library.
Overall, I was disappointed. It didn’t come across as a critical resource center for a world-class research University. It was large and it had a lot of materials, but there were these weaknesses.
The biggest problem I saw may be a personal itch rather than a real weakness. There was, in my opinion, a shortage of visible staff. There are wings with no staff available. Now in some regards a research library does its duty by making students learn how to research library materials. The problem is that this reinforces the idea that “we don’t need librarians, we just need people to maintain the materials.” Were there money for staffing, every floor if not every wing (except the first, which has a LOT of staff spots) would have a roving reference librarian or library assistant.
That’s someone with a clear indicator that they are STAFF, roaming the stacks and areas looking for people who look lost or confused. They’d be armed with a hand-held system for fast reference to the library’s materials and assets, and the ability to call or text the reference desk for additional assistance. After a semester of this, students would begin to learn that if you need help look for the roving STAFF.
The age of the materials also bothered me, but that’s been true of most academic libraries I’ve seen be they research or not. There’s a research requirement to chase original sources. If you toss books and other materials using public library collection management rules, the ability to chase the original sources goes away. At the same time, the library is still facing the fact that paper ages, especially paper that’s not kept in archival conditions. Georgia Tech has a digital program that’s converting materials to another hopefully longer-lasting media, but it’s obviously lacking funding. I say obviously given how much of the library collection still consists of older print materials.
The main problem is one faced by most libraries – money. It takes money to maintain a world-class collection, especially as journals become more and more expensive. It takes money to digitize a collection. It takes money to have enough staff to provide full support. Yet it’s a matter of public record that the library budget has been cut every year for several years even though the student body has been increasing. (A point of fairness here. The library is not the only place taking hits. It’s not been a good time for anyplace in Georgia that is even somewhat reliant upon tax revenues.)
Georgia Tech’s engineering program has consistently placed in the top ten in the nation. A major supporting tool has been its library. The decline in the library will have an inevitable effect on the quality of the system it supports. I hope some people realize that if the state wants a continued top quality program, it’s going to have to pay for a top quality program. TANSTAAFL; if you won’t pay for it you’ll get what you pay for.