COUNCIL Report on the April 25 Agenda

Committee on Libraries Final Report, 2000-2001

April 18, 2001

I. Introduction

Council bylaws state that, "The Committee on Libraries shall advise the vice provost and director of libraries on the policies, development, and operation of the University libraries."

In addition, this year's Committee was specifically charged as follows to:

  • Monitor the Library's response to the authentication burden that will be placed on its proxy server when the modem pool is closed.
  • Advise Library staff on the design and oversight of implementation of a user survey.
  • Work with the Library staff to continue the improvement of outreach services to students.

The Committee met five times to consider these and other issues which arose during the course of the year. Among the additional issues we confronted were: 1) Allocation of library resources to digital vs. print media; 2) The role of the library in facilitating the electronic classroom at Penn; 3) The role of the library system in support of the University's research mission.

II. Deliberations

A. Monitor the Library's response to the authentication burden that will be placed on its proxy server when the modem pool is closed. This issue was addressed several times during the year. Last summer, free remote access to the Internet via PennNet by telephone was severely restricted, and students, faculty and staff were encouraged, and ultimately required to obtain access to the Internet from third party Internet Service Providers (ISP's). While this policy has a number of consequences for the Penn community, there are particular problems associated with the library which required monitoring and resolution.

The principal library-associated problem resulting from this change in connectivity is that access to proprietary material, which is freely available to Penn students, faculty and staff when connected directly to PennNet, requires authentication when connecting via an outside ISP. For example, searching the Lexis/Nexis database from a PennNet connected computer only requires accessing the appropriate link in a web browser. Accessing the same database from home, via an outside ISP requires the user to 1) have the right web browser installed (The AOL browser, Netscape 6 and Internet Explorer for Macintosh and version 5 for Windows are difficult/impossible to configure); 2) configure the correct browser to access the library's proxy server; 3) know the authentication procedure (last name and last 10 digits of your Penncard number). This quite complicated procedure has been in place for some time, but most people were unaware of it until forced to use it because of the change in connectivity.

The complexity of the authentication procedure suggested that users might experience significant difficulties. The Committee considered a number of questions associated with this issue: 1) how serious is the "user unfriendliness problem"? 2) how has the library system anticipated and dealt with these problems? 3) How can the procedure be improved?

1. User problems with the proxy server: Both the Committee on Communications and the Committee on Libraries have conducted informal surveys seeking to discover the extent of user dissatisfactions resulting from the change in the modem pool. The result of these unscientific investigations supports the suggestion that user problems are neither numerous nor widespread. Instead, there appear to be a small number of very dissatisfied users, who are experiencing specific problems in connectivity. The reasons for this somewhat surprising result are not fully apparent. Some students and colleagues report that they restrict use of proprietary material to those times when they are on campus and can benefit from the easy access PennNet affords. In addition, the Library has attempted to make the configuration process as easy as possible by providing extensive information on their open access web pages (e.g. Also, colleagues report that local service providers (LSP's) and knowledgeable friends have been able to coach them through these arcane procedures. Despite generally positive results, a small group of users remain disaffected and unhappy. Reports reached the Committee of petitions from groups of colleagues, but there is little in the way of published protest in the Almanac or Daily Pennsylvanian. Both the Committee on Communications and the Committee on Libraries concur in finding that the transition to the new remote access system has gone remarkably smoothly, and that any remaining deficiencies can be remedied by increasing the information available to the user community, and by increasing public awareness of these enhanced help facilities. Both the Library and ISC are working to implement these enhancements.

2. The response of the Library to the remote access challenge. Two specific issues were discussed with respect to how the Library is coping with the modem pool problem: one involves the increased demand for proxy service and authentication, and the second, discussed above, involves user education and support. Since the phase out of the modem pool began, the Library proxy server has experienced a 200-400% increase in proxy server activity. However, the Director of Information Systems for the Library, Roy Heinz, assured the Committee that the current proxy servers had adequate capacity to handle the load, and that proxy service capacity could easily be increased, if necessary. Thus, like other anticipated problems resulting from the new policy, this one did not seem to materialize. Moreover, Mr. Heinz reported to the Committee that he and his staff were working hard to resolve the remaining configuration issues, and pledged to make himself and his staff available to help users with difficulties, resolve them. It seems likely that users with specific configuration or access problems can resolve them, and that the Library has been responsive to user needs in this area.

3. The future of remote access and authentication. The ultimate solution to the authentication problem is to create a simpler, more transparent authentication system. Mr. Heinz reported that the Library is already testing a new proxy system, which does not require user configuration. Users are encouraged to try the new system and comment on it to the Library staff. The system can be accessed from the Library's home page. In addition, the Library is working with ISC on a campus wide authentication, which will replace all current authentication systems. These developments promise to both alleviate the problems discussed above and create new ones. Resources need to be continuously made available for user support and education.

B. Advise Library staff on the design and oversight of implementation of a user survey. This issue, which was also part of last year's charge, was not acted on by the Committee, since the Library was participating in the LIBQUAL project of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), which was specifically aimed at developing such a survey. Briefly:

LibQUAL is a research and development project undertaken to define and measure library service quality across institutions and to create useful quality-assessment tools for local planning. Service quality has always been a value for libraries; LibQUAL provides a measure of that value. LibQUAL currently tests a tool for measuring library users' perceptions of service quality and identifies gaps between desired, perceived, and minimum expectations of service. The project will continue as an R&D endeavor based at the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) in collaboration with the Texas A&M University Libraries through 2003, by which time LibQUAL will evolve into an ongoing service quality assessment program at ARL.

As a participant in the LIBQUAL pilot project, the initial survey was administered to some selected Penn undergraduate students(N=900), graduate and professional students (N=600), and faculty and staff (N=600). While some interesting indications were discovered (see below), the Library staff and the Committee were critical of the LIBQUAL instrument, which is too long and redundant, and focuses too much attention on users perception of the Library as a quiet haven for introspection. The length of the LIBQUAL survey may be responsible for the low number of respondents, which averaged about 13%. At the last meeting of the Committee, Vice Provost and Director of Libraries Paul Mosher presented a draft survey for comment, which he and his staff believe address these problems. His plan is to fine tune the survey based on the comments of the Committee and others, test it here, and then coordinate with peer institutions to create a cross institution service quality tool which will allow us to measure our own performance, and relate it to that of sister institutions. The Committee supports these efforts, and suggests that this issue continue to be monitored next year.

C. Work with the Library staff to continue the improvement of outreach services to students. This issue also continues from last year. The focus of the issue is to make sure that students are comfortable with the Library, know how to use it, or at least how to find out how to use it, and find it a positive factor in their experience at Penn. As the LIBQUAL survey discussed above was aimed at discovering just such information, the Committee looked at the results of the survey to see whether this issue needs more attention. Based on the preliminary data from the LIBQUAL pilot, undergraduates rated Penn's Library the best of the 11 Libraries participating in the pilot. Graduate and Professional students rated the Library lower, and the data indicate that a predominant factor in lowering our scores was the low rating of the physical facilities by those in the life sciences. While these data are too preliminary to be wholly reliable, they are a wake-up call to pay more attention to some library facilities, and to collect more reliable data on these issues.

In addition to the survey information, student members of the Committee raised similar concerns. One specific concern raised by undergraduates is the issue of their access to graduate and professional libraries. Specifically access to the Law School Library is restricted to Law School students, although undergraduates and others can obtain permission to use the facility when necessary for their research needs. Upon further discussion, the nub of this issue seems to be about quality study space, and the proximity of that space to student living spaces. Thus, for example, students from Sanson Place (grad towers) prefer to study in the Law Library, which is proximate to their location, rather than to use those libraries associated with their discipline. The effect of these preferences is to overwhelm the available study space in some libraries, making it impossible for students in that discipline, who require access to special collections, to complete their work. This issue was vigorously discussed, with some concrete outcomes: 1) the Law School may be able to adopt a more open door policy in the future; 2) the improvement of study space in other libraries (e.g. BioMed) may lower the pressure on specific libraries to provide space for "outsiders"; 3) encouragement for wider use of dorm based study space could also help relieve the pressure on the libraries.

Another topic brought forward by undergraduate students was the issue of co-mixing food for thought with actual consumable food. Students suggest that they would like to eat in the library, and Vice Provost Mosher indicated that he would like to serve them in the cybercafé he planned to open, as part of the Undergraduate Study Center. According to Dr. Mosher, this plan is currently on hold, awaiting approval from the Provost. The Committee did not have sufficient information on the pros and cons of this issue to make a recommendation, and suggests that it be revisited next year.

D. Allocation of library resources to digital vs. print media. The Committee devoted significant time to this issue, at several meetings. There are a number of ramifications to this issue. For example, Dr. Mosher reports that despite efforts to balance acquisitions between print and digital media, the cost of digital resources has increased much faster than that of print media. There are discipline specific issues: some disciplines require accesses to the latest information, which is currently being supplied in pre-publication form by several scholarly journals, while other disciplines require high resolution images and access to documents not presently available in digital form. There are archiving issues: print is expensive to archive, but remains accessible over millennial time scales, while digital material is cheap to archive, but is of uncertain access life, as hardware and software evolve rapidly, and digital storage media age rapidly. The Committee reached the following conclusions: 1) to remain competitive with our peers, and to maximize the scholarly activity at Penn, plans for the digital library must go forward; 2) point 1 notwithstanding, our print collections and archives must be maintained and strengthened; 3) Penn faculty should press forward with and support national schemes such as "Public Library of Science", "PubMed Central", and support and create new online, open-access scholarly journals (e.g. Organic Letters) to decrease the costs associated with obtaining online access to scholarly publications; 4) Penn should enhance support for broadband data communications required for the transmission of high resolution digital images.

E. The role of the library in facilitating the electronic classroom at Penn. Over the course of the last two to three years, Penn faculty have begun to utilize online course delivery systems for teaching. The three most utilized systems are Blackboard, the predominant system (7 schools), webCafe (Wharton), and eCollege (School of Dental Medicine). Typically, these course delivery systems accept digital media from faculty, and then mount it on a web server under a consistent student user interface. The responsibility for creating the digital material rests with the faculty. One key issue revolves around the creation of digital versions of reserve material not already in that form, such as older journal articles and textbook snippings. Faculty have increasingly turned to the Library for assistance in scanning and uploading this material. The Library has begun a program to provide this service for the Blackboard system, at a substantial cost in resources. These have come from the schools and central administration, as well as the Library. The anticipated growth in this activity is high, and it is likely that even more funding will need to be diverted to this activity. The Committee also raised the question of how other non Blackboard systems will be supported. In general the Committee was supportive of this activity. The faculty need support in moving toward electronic teaching, and the Library appears to have the appropriate expertise and equipment to do the job.

F. The role of the library system in support of the University's research mission. It seems almost silly to formally discuss the role of the Library in the research mission of the University; no one would dispute that it must play a central role. Nonetheless, in this rapidly evolving digital information world, the traditional roles of the Library in supporting faculty and student research have been enlarged. In particular, there may be divergent views of the priorities for library services from different Penn constituencies. To ensure that the Library is properly and fully supportive of research, the Vice Provost for Research, Neal Nathanson, addressed the committee on his view of the role of the Library. The primary issues addressed by Dr, Nathanson involve his perception that some libraries need to evolve as a result of the shift toward digital publishing, particularly in the BioMedical areas. The Committee was impressed by his presentation and expressed an interest in adding his expertise to the Committee's resources. Accordingly, the following resolution was introduced and unanimously voted:

The interests of the Penn research community in the function of the Library would be well served if the Vice Provost for Research were part of the Council Committee on Libraries, and the Library would benefit his council. We therefore recommend that Council take the necessary steps to appoint the Vice Provost for Research as an ex officio member of the Council Committee on Libraries.

III. Recommendations

  • The Committee should continue to work with Library staff on the creation of an appropriate Service Quality survey tool, and monitor the data produced from these surveys.
  • A Library open door policy should be a encouraged, where possible, to increase access for Penn students and faculty to all Library resources on campus.
  • We recommend that the central administration reconsider the Library's proposal for a "cybercafé" to allow students to fortify themselves for the rigors of academic pursuits, and that consideration of this issue be continued next year.
  • The Committee should continue to advise the Library on issues relating to digital publishing, and the acquisition of online journals.
  • To encourage faculty to support and contribute to online journals, the Provost may need to develop policies relating to the weight given to digitally published material in consideration of scholarly activity for faculty promotion and tenure.
  • To enhance faculty migration to electronic teaching methods, the Library should continue to provide digital reserve materials for online course delivery systems; resources from the Schools and the Central Administration need to continue to be applied to this effort.
  • The Vice Provost for Research should be appointed as an ex officio member of the Council Committee on Libraries.

IV. Membership

The Council Committee on Libraries acknowledges the contribution of Elizabeth Slusser Kelly, Biddle Law Library Director and Professor of Law, who is retiring this year. We all wish her well in her new endeavors.

--Ellis Golub, Chair

2000-2001 Libraries Committee Members

Chair: Ellis Golub (biochem/dental); Faculty: Patricia D'Antonio (nursing); Barry Eichler (Asian & Mid Eastern st) Leif Finkel (bioengr); Edward Peters (history); David Stern (Asian & Mid Eastern st); Lilliane Weissberg (German); One to be named; Graduate/professional students: Elizabeth Gelfland (WHP); Shafi Rahman (GEP) Undergraduate students: Dan Gonen (COL' 02); Jake Kraft (COL' 03) PPSA: Barbara Grabias (Annenberg); A-3: Andrea Helzer (VPUL); Ex officio: Elizabeth Kelly (dir, Biddle Law Library) ; Paul Mosher (vice provost & dir, libraries).

Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 31, April 24, 2001