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COUNCIL 2001-2002 Year-end Committee Reports


Scheduled for discussion at Council on October 2, 2002

I. Introduction

Council by-laws state that, "The Committee on Libraries shall advise the 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:

  • Continue to identify alternatives to libraries as study space for those who do not require access to the libraries' collections.
  • Continue discussions with library staff of the appropriate allocation of resources to digital vs. print media. Incorporate students' apparent strong preferences for off-site access to digital sources.
  • Monitor improvements in the authentication system.

The Committee met five times to consider these and other issues which arose during the course of the year. Additional topics covered during these meetings include: the survey on service quality, the library cybercafe, electronic journals and electronic publishing, need for strategic reviews of specialized libraries, the new Borrow Direct service and information literacy.

II. Deliberations

A. Monitor improvements in the authentication system. In the past year, the library has implemented a vastly improved authentication system, EZ Proxy, for off-campus use. Unlike the previous system, the present product does not require browser modifications, and seems to work well with most versions of most popular web browsers. The authentication process is based on the user's last name and an 8-digit password which is digits 7-14 of the 16 digit PennCard number, also known as the PennID number. This system allows access to proprietary electronic journals and databases from off-campus locations; users have found it to be fast and easy to use. It is a vast improvement over earlier systems. At the fourth Committee meeting, Michael Winkler, the library's web manager, met with the Committee to inform us of the system's plans for even further improvements. Among the goals for future development are a "one login" system which would allow a user to authenticate from off-campus once a session, and then use multiple resources without further challenges. This effort will probably be interfaced with the Kerberos initiative, currently being developed by ISC for other campus authentication services. The Committee recommends that the library coordinate with ISC, so that users can utilize a single authentication process to access both library and other restricted campus electronic resources.

B. Continue discussions with library staff of the appropriate allocation of resources to digital vs. print media. Incorporate students' apparent strong preferences for off-site access to digital sources. This continues to be a controversial issue with a number of interesting side issues. Paul Mosher, Vice Provost and Director of Libraries, presented data on collection growth for the past five years. Over that time period, the rate of book acquisitions was relatively flat, with some decline last year, while additions of print–serials, e-journals and licensed information bases have increased markedly, the latter category demonstrating a linear rise from under 50 in 1997 to more than 200 in 2001. These trends continue to be viewed differently by different constituencies within the University, but there seems to be a growing campuswide consensus that the ease of access and currency of electronic resources justifies continued emphasis in this area. Of concern are the accelerating costs of acquiring these materials (see section E), the ease with which they can be misused (see section G), and the impact of their acquisition on the traditional collection. The Committee was reassured by Dr. Mosher that every effort is being made to maintain print medium resources, while boldly plunging forward with the electronic ones. This issue should remain on the Committee's agenda.

C. Continue to identify alternatives to libraries as study space for those who do not require access to the libraries' collections. The Committee discussed this topic at length, and soon realized that the issue was much broader and involved many other facets of University life and University institutions. At issue is the question of the availability of late-night study space before exams. Undergraduate students whose residence is proximate to one of the specialized libraries on campus (e.g. Biomed, Dental, Law) would like to have access to that library day and night, especially before exams. This is impossible because the primary users of these libraries become displaced, the costs of keeping the buildings open, staffed and secure is high, and there is no demonstration that, aside from the studious atmosphere, students are utilizing the resources that such a library provides. On the other hand, the Committee was in favor of taking all reasonable steps to promote student studying, and was happy to learn that the Van Pelt Library would extend its hours for late-night studying before exams, and that this was acceptable to most students. This would seem to finish this issue for now. The library system will monitor usage of the extended hours, and should be in a good position to evaluate how this new system is working.

D. Service quality survey. The library has undertaken a University-wide survey to ascertain how users view the quality of the service provided. The survey was conducted on the web in February 2002, and only preliminary data were available to the Committee this year. The Committee needs to look at these data in detail, and to use them to make recommendations to the library in the area of service quality.

E. Electronic journals and electronic publishing. The high cost of acquiring electronic media (see section B) prompted a discussion of how these costs could be ameliorated. One approach is to encourage faculty to preferentially publish in journals which are available online at no/low cost, and to encourage faculty to organize electronic journals in their disciplines. To this end, the library sponsored a Colloquium on Scholarly Communication on March 1, 2001. This is seen as an emerging issue, and the Committee needs to continue to be aware of developments on and off campus.

F. Need for strategic reviews of specialized libraries. The University of Pennsylvania Library spans the entire campus, and draws strength from the unification of library activities under one administration. Nonetheless, specialized libraries, located in the various schools have their own independent missions, which need to be addressed separately. Pioneering this idea was Vice Provost for Research Neal Nathanson, who voiced his concerns over the strategic planning at the BioMedical library in particular. Dr. Nathanson presented the case for a separate review process for specialized libraries to the Committee, which found the case compelling, and concurred with other segments of the University that such a review was warranted. The Committee was advised that a steering committee consisting of the Deans of SAS, Nursing and SOM was being organized to prosecute the review. The outcome of this process should be reviewed by the Committee.

G. Information literacy. Nick Okrent, library coordinator for information literacy informed the Committee about plans to provide increased information literacy among students and faculty. At the heart of the discussion is the question of how proper use of the expanded information sources available to us should be taught, and what measures need to be taken to prevent improper use. One approach is to educate faculty, so that they can incorporate information literacy concepts into regular course work. Alternatively, there are plans for an information literacy center in Van Pelt Library for faculty and student use. Major topics which need to be covered are critical evaluation of electronic information sources, and plagiarism. The ease of cutting and pasting text and figures from online resources dramatically increases the temptations for improper use of source material. Another idea in this is for the library to acquire plagiarism detection software, and make this available to both students and faculty. This idea was endorsed by the Committee. This topic needs continued Committee concern.

III. Recommendations

  • The Committee needs to monitor library resource allocation to make sure that all constituencies are well served.
  • The Committee should review the Service Quality Survey data and make recommendations based on its findings.
  • The Committee should continue to advise the library on issues relating to digital publishing, and the acquisition of online journals.
  • All segments of the University community are encouraged to increase their information literacy, and the library is commended for its efforts in pressing this important issue.

IV. Membership

Faculty: Marjorie Bowman (Family Practice/Med); Harold Dibble (Anthro) Barry Eichler (Asian and Middle Eastern Studies); Leif Finkel (Bioengr); Ellis Golub (Biochem/Dental); John H. Holmes (Epidemiol/Med); Edward Peters (History); David Stern (Asian and Middle Eastern Studies) Graduate Students: Katie Allard (GSAS); Jennifer Baldwin (GSFA); Hilary Smith (GSAS). Undergraduate Students: Aaron Levy (Col ‘03) PPSA: Deborah Bolton Stagg (Wharton Inst. Res.) Ex Officio: Edwin Greenlee (Biddle Law Library); Paul Mosher (Director of Libraries) Invited Guest: Neal Nathanson (Vice Provost Research) Staff: Alison McGhie (Office of the Secretary).

  Almanac, Vol. 49, No. 6, October 1, 2002