An iterative approach to space planning

In the Foster Business Library, we were excited to recently welcome the first students into our newly developed Business Research Commons. Modeled (very modestly) on the UW Research Commons, the new space allows us to offer topical events and programs, separate from classroom visits, for all business researchers — whether or not they are business majors. Our first session was an introduction to citation management tools, with about a dozen highly engaged business Ph.D. students in attendance.

Library graduate assistant delivering an information session to business Ph.D. students.
Library graduate assistant Mariah McGregor teaches business Ph.D. students about citation management tools.

While we business librarians had long aspired to carve out space to expand our business instruction offerings, making the case and articulating our vision became clear by aligning our efforts with the Libraries Strategic Plan. Developing this venue marks the beginning of our contribution toward key strategic goals in “evolving library spaces” and “investing in sustainable teaching endeavors.”

Right now, the Business Research Commons is small but utilitarian. The space includes a new instructor’s podium, TV monitors on wheels and 30 new chairs. But with pilot programming underway, we aim to launch a fall series bringing together business students and campus-wide business researchers to discuss information resources, software and tools, and hear from related speakers. Our objective is to sustainably expand Foster Business Library’s outreach and impact through this designated venue.

Launching the Business Research Commons has required a systems-thinking approach and a budget. Our Libraries Information Technology Services (ITS) colleagues helped us understand the challenges and opportunities of creating a new technology-enabled space, but our talks with ITS also built connections with UW Classroom Technologies and secured collaborative funding from the UW Student Technology Fee. (Other funding came from Libraries operations budget and the business library’s designated gift fund.)

While our next steps will focus on creating a series of engaging events and programming, we are only getting started. As we bring more people into the space to see what works and what is missing, we plan to develop a longer-term vision for expanding the footprint—offering more seating and set-up options, adding videoconferencing and installing a divider wall to preserve the quiet that our patrons appreciate.

For now, though, we are fortunate and excited to have begun. If our first students in attendance were an indication, we anticipate an active new learning space that contributes to our Libraries-wide effort in helping students reach their full potential as learners.

For the public good: our values in a changing scholarly communication landscape

This is a collaborative post by Lizabeth (Betsy) A. Wilson, Vice Provost for Digital Initiatives and Dean of University Libraries; Denise Pan, Associate Dean for Collections & Content; Chelle Batchelor, Interim Associate Dean, Research and Learning Services; Director of Access Services; Tania P. Bardyn, Associate Dean & Director, Health Sciences Library; Corey Murata, Director, Collection Analysis & Strategy; Gordon J. Aamot, Director, Scholarly Communication & Publishing; and Elizabeth Bedford, Scholarly Publishing Outreach Librarian.

Like many of you, we have been following the negotiations between the University of California (UC) and the giant commercial scholarly publisher, Elsevier. UC’s announcement that they have broken off talks with Elsevier has sparked a wave of interest and commentary reaching beyond the walls of the academy. In a blog post by our colleagues at Duke and Iowa State University, they called this a movement, “closer to a tipping point in the ongoing struggle to correct asymmetries in the scholarly information ecosystem.”

Librarian consulting with students, looking together at a laptop computer.
Librarian Reed Garber-Pearson (left) consults with UW students in the Research Commons.

There is a disconnect in the scholarly publishing ecosystem between the creators of scholarship and the ownership and distribution of scholarship, especially with mega-publishers like Elsevier. Researchers publish their findings without the expectation of additional compensation in the interest of advancing human knowledge and building careers. Researchers also evaluate each other’s work for free by doing peer review. But the results of this scholarly output are almost always controlled by publishers and usually hidden behind paywalls.

While the breakdown of the UC/Elsevier negotiation is big news, it is just the latest in a growing list of cancellations by our peer institutions of publisher “big deal” journal packages. In its Big Deal Cancellation Tracking list, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) provides the names of institutions and the packages they have recently cut. These cancellations are a reflection of the widening gulf between for-profit publishers’ demands to continually increase package cost well beyond the rate of inflation, and the ongoing erosion of support for higher education. In her annual address to the University of Washington last fall, President Ana Mari Cauce highlighted the unsustainability of the funding model for higher education in our state. While UW Libraries has been fortunate to receive strong support from the faculty and University, we can see that gulf forming.

With the Libraries in the implementation phase of our recently developed 2018-2021 Strategic Plan, it is valuable to step back and reflect on our values as we think about this changing landscape of scholarly communication and our future negotiations with publishers. Among these values are a focus on sustainability, equity and user-centeredness.

  • Sustainability: While we are committed to providing collections and resources  for our students, faculty and researchers, we are unwavering in the knowledge that we must be good stewards of allocated funding to support research and teaching at the University of Washington. In our negotiations with publishers, we continually balance researchers’ needs with fiscal responsibility. Working collaboratively with our campus community to build collections can accelerate scholarship and learning through responsive collections.
  • Equity: We believe the current proprietary, closed, for-profit scholarly information ecosystem is broken, exclusionary and undermines the democratic ideals of liberal education. We view access to information as a social justice issue, and for-profit publishers’ unsustainable pricing models, demand for nondisclosure agreements and insistence on paywalls hinders the pursuit of knowledge, impedes our support of an informed citizenry and restricts research for the public good.
  • User-centeredness: Our commitment to users remains at the forefront of our collections strategy and decision-making. We know that scholarship is a conversation — and that research progresses only when scholars have an understanding of what has come before and are able to share new knowledge. Because our library collections form the lifeblood of this conversation, we are keenly concerned with ensuring UW scholars have access to the materials they need to progress their research.

The negotiations between UC and Elsevier are part of an accelerating, worldwide movement to transform scholarly communication, to ensure knowledge is shared broadly and without barriers, and to further enhance inquiry and discovery. We applaud UC’s attempt to explore new and different models for providing access to scholarship. And we stand in support of finding new pathways to build and negotiate transformative models that create collaborative and sustainable long-term solutions. As stated in our Strategic Plan, UW Libraries works to advance research for the public good because we believe that “UW research attains its greatest impact on our most pressing global challenges when we advocate for open, public and emerging forms of scholarship.”

Change the title, change the work

card catalogWith cataloging work essential to strengthening our users’ ability to find information, catalogers have begun exploring new ways of working to meet the challenges of evolving university needs. With seemingly one small naming tweak to a standing committee, we have established a new venue for staff development that will directly inform our ability to improve user access and discovery of our collections.

The new Cataloging Policy and Practice Committee (CPPC) was convened last fall to holistically address Libraries cataloging practice. Formerly only a policy committee, the restructuring group now serves as a forum for discussing our work and priorities. What we are we doing and why? Where are we spending our time ? And what are we not doing? The CPPC will serve as the forum for these considerations as we balance the need to manage backlogs, maintain quality, and participate in national cooperative programs.

Restructuring the new committee involved a new charge, new membership and stakeholders, and new guidelines for collaboratively working. With feedback from former committee members and Libraries catalogers—and a shared understanding of what it means to be a learning organizationwe moved set our sights on long-term impact and without fear of failing along the way.

CPPC’s first endeavor has been the development of a Cataloger Training Checklist that anticipates the recruitment of cataloging librarians and specialists in East Asia Library and in Cataloging & Metadata Services, and prepares for the possibility of other future staffing needs. Developing the checklist so far has involved CPPC member collaboration on an initial outline, pulling together existing training materials, and identifying trainers and methods, and articulating future needs.

By providing a common cataloging training plan that may be reused by multiple Libraries departments, implementing the training checklist advances the goal of investing in staff development to provide new skills in support of changing university needs. We also aim to make our checklist available to the professional cataloging community beyond the the UW, demonstrating our commitment to collaboration and sustainability, two key Libraries values.

Following the implementation of this training plan, CPPC will be better positioned to take on other pressing issues that will allow us to further strengthen our users’ ability to efficiently find and use Libraries collections. Cataloging backlog strategies, retrospective enhancement of existing records to add faceted data, and discussing strategic application of minimum and maximum cataloging standards, are among the issues we will engage.

A team-based approach to supporting UW research and learning needs

Research & Learning Services staff discuss Libraries Strategic Plan
Strategic Plan discussions at the Research and Learning Services All-Staff meeting, September 13, 2018

To enhance our support for faculty and student research, teaching, and learning, UW Libraries Research & Learning Services embarked in 2018 on a significant restructuring of staff reporting relationships. Directly aligned with the Libraries strategic goal of transforming working practices to enable collaboration and efficiency, the portfolio now functions across 5 departments:

  • Responsible for circulation services, library accounts, interlibrary loan and document delivery, Access Services now also directly involves branch libraries staff to share in the staffing and operations at the Art, Built Environments, Drama, Engineering, Foster Business, Music, and Math Libraries. The move has expanded opportunities for branch staff to gain experience in other libraries, to collaborate across campus, and to share the work of scheduling, training, and communication.
  • With the newly defined Research Services department, the Seattle upper-campus humanities, social sciences, and sciences librarians now convene in teams to improve collections and services that align with interdisciplinary needs. The newly defined department also encompasses physical and virtual information and reference services, Friday Harbor Library, Government Publications, Maps, Microforms and Newspapers, the Media Arcade, and the Research Commons.
  • Learning Services brings together the Libraries’ student success endeavors, curricular instruction and basic research-help functions, instructional design and outreach for professional and continuing education programs, and Odegaard Undergraduate Library’s access and building services.
  • With nearly two years in operation, Scholarly Communication & Publishing is responsible for copyright, electronic theses and dissertations, open access initiatives, research data, digital scholarship, and outreach to Libraries staff and the University on matters relating to scholarly publishing.
  • The form and function of Information Technology Services & Digital Strategies hasn’t changed as a result of the recent reorganization, but the department has embarked on key priority projects that will establish more predictability and sustainability for delivering IT support and facilitating Libraries projects.

While the new RLS structure has been in place for some time, we still feel like we are in the early stages, getting acclimated to new reporting relationships and refocusing on new and emerging student and faculty needs. Through these new ways of working, we aim to expand our support for student learning, emerging forms of scholarship, and researcher workflows.

Learning new skills through collaboration

Less than a year after our first meeting, the Staff Learning Opportunities for Technical Services (SLOTS) working group is proud of what we have accomplished to date. Comprised of staff members representing divisions of the Libraries Collections & Content portfolio who are collectively responsible for the development, discovery, and management of the Libraries resources, SLOTS was issued a somewhat vague charge with an open-ended timeline to organize learning and sharing events that would advance two key Libraries strategic goals:

  • developing sustainable models of collection development and technical services operations;
  • improving working practices to enable collaboration and holistic perspectives.

Luckily, our group has been enthusiastic, enjoying the freedom to find a variety of methods for sharing information. Aligned particularly with the Libraries’ “Creativity” and “Collaboration” values statements, we have begun to engage in exploration, experimentation, and reflection to refine our work practices in a way that will strengthen our users’ ability to navigate our collections.

Much of our first year has been a learning experience while we lay the groundwork for how this group will operate in the years to come. While we initially established guidelines for selecting hosted events, we have been open to trying as many ways as possible to reach as much of the Collections & Content Portfolio as possible and determining what is received well. Some of our activities so far:

  • We created a list of educational links to improve communication about new-skills and professional-development opportunities.
  • We will introduce a blog of tips and tricks for making our jobs a little bit easier.
  • We have hosted and co-hosted webinars, and coordinated “edutainment” sessions at portfolio staff potlucks
  • We are collaborating with our peers at Cornell University Library on videoconferencing meeting series that compare and contrast the ways we do similar work.

While our goals are broadly defined and our activity is somewhat experimental, SLOTS acknowledges the need to measure the success of our ventures. So far, we have solicited feedback from participants in the UW-Cornell sessions (unanimously positive), but we realize that mere attendance and responsiveness may not be sufficient. Ultimately, along with staff interest and buy-in, we will will measure success by the impact that our learning collaborations have on work—work that corresponds with our users’ evolving needs.