Campus community weighs in on proposed library changes

L.A. Cicero David Como

David Como, associate professor of history, spoke at the town hall meeting on Nov. 6.

L.A. Cicero townhall keller

University Librarian Michael Keller spoke at the Nov. 6 town hall meeting.

L.A. Cicero Professor Michael Marrinan

Professor Michael Marrinan, professor of art and art history and a member of the Committee on Libraries spoke at the town hall meeting Nov. 6.

The Committee on Libraries will ask the Faculty Senate on Thursday to analyze the cost and feasibility of revitalizing Stanford's library system by improving the Socrates digital catalog, renovating Green Library to provide rooms for research projects, and building a state-of-the-art library—a home for digital as well as print media—in the center of campus.

The proposed study, which contains more than a dozen recommendations, would pay special attention to the need to find a new home on campus—temporary and permanent—for the East Asia collection housed in Meyer Library, which is slated for demolition in about 10 years.

"During this process, Stanford University Libraries should consult with the Budget Office, the Capital Planning and Management Group, and other relevant offices of the university," the committee said in a four-page proposal released last week.

Under the proposal, the committee would monitor the progress of the study, advise Provost John Etchemendy and University Librarian Michael Keller on implementing the recommendations, and present a report to the senate at the end of the 2009-2010 academic year.

The proposed study is the latest development in a saga that began about a year ago, when university officials announced plans to tear down Meyer Library and replace it with a smaller building devoted to academic computing—a decision that prompted calls for more input from faculty.

At the time, university officials said it would move some of the East Asia collection into Green Library—displacing some of Green's collections—and the rest into storage in Livermore.

At a one-and-a-half-hour town hall meeting last week, Michael Marrinan, professor of art and art history and a member of the committee, described the decision to break up the collection—more than 550,000 volumes in Chinese, Japanese and Korean—as a serious problem that puts the East Asian Studies program in jeopardy.

"Nothing seemed to have been thought through to ensure that [the East Asian Studies program] would have continuity," Marrinan told the 165 faculty, students and staff who gathered in Cubberley Auditorium last week to hear the committee's presentation.

"The key word is continuity. We all do research that takes many years, and if you don't have continuous access to materials you're going to be in trouble. Forget about the assistant professors who need [continuous access to materials] to get tenure—that's the worst-case scenario. Then there are the old guys like me who would like to write another book before we die. That's the other end of the spectrum. But in East Asian Studies it's a real problem, because they were immediately affected by the [future] destruction of Meyer."

Marrinan served as chair of a subcommittee that was established in 2007 to investigate the issues raised by the potential demolition of Meyer Library. The group, whose charge was later expanded to include the impact of digital technologies on the research environment at Stanford, presented its 100-page report to the Committee on Libraries in early September.

The new proposal is based on the findings and recommendations in that report.

During the town hall meeting, Chao Fen Sun, director of the Center for East Asian Studies, announced that its steering committee had unanimously endorsed the committee's recommendations. So had the faculty of the Asian Languages Department, he said.

Marrinan, who clicked through a series of colorful slides as he presented the committee's recommendations, began the meeting by noting that the challenges facing Stanford extend well beyond a decision about what to do with the collections housed in Meyer.

"What we're going through at Stanford is part of a much larger process worldwide in how one deals with what is, essentially, a paradigm shift in the storage of knowledge," he said. "It has to do with digital technologies in every branch of the library. We are not alone in this."

Marrinan said the committee would urge the university to focus on creating a "hybrid" library.

"Let's start thinking about the fact that for the next 10, 20 or maybe 75 years, most of us are going to be doing research in print and digital media. Let's make the seamless interconnection of those two media the goal—not some kind of bookless library."

Marrinan said the situation at Stanford is complicated by the fact that construction of new buildings on campus is limited by the university's agreement—known as the General Use Permit—with Santa Clara County.

Shelley Fisher Fishkin, a professor of English, asked if the committee had addressed problems with searching indexes using Google Book Search. Often, she said, the indexes are reproduced incompletely, or are reproduced with huge gaps.

In response, Marrinan read the principle the committee developed to govern decisions about transferring materials to storage in Livermore—a topic of great concern among faculty.

"We recommend that no book is to be transferred to SAL 3 [the auxiliary storage library in Livermore] until its cataloging has been updated and deepened when necessary, nor before its title page, table of contents, and index are scanned and fully searchable," he said, reading directly from the proposal. "As a corollary, any book recalled from SAL for use on campus must pass a catalogue review and scanning of its title page, table of contents, and index before being returned to off-site storage."

In its proposal, the committee also recommended improving the delivery of books from Livermore. "A one-day turnaround must be delivered by any means," the proposal says.

David Como, an associate professor of history, expressed concern about the committee's recommendation to move about half of the book collection out of Green Library in order to create space for research modules, saying it seems like a "huge sacrifice" to lose space for 1.5 million books. "It's not entirely clear to me what we would be getting back," he said.

Marrinan said that under the committee's plan, most of those books would go "next door" into the new proposed library, which would hold about 4 million books.

"One of the things that we heard, particularly from humanities faculty, is that the places to do work are relatively limited," Marrinan continued. "You have an office in your department. You have maybe a study at home. You have a table in the library, or a carrel. In the case of a research project that might involve a couple of graduate students and the faculty, or maybe even a seminar of eight or 10 students, this gets to be a little funky.

"So the idea is to build temporary little libraries within the library where you can bring together books that are in storage and on the shelves, where you would be able to have a computer base, and where you would be able to work on a project for six months or a year, and at the end of that time, give the space back."

University Librarian Michael Keller, who gave a brief presentation about Stanford's support for a proposed legal settlement that could allow the university to digitize millions of books through the Google Book Search project, applauded the committee's work.

"We think that every one of the findings and every one of the recommendations are ones that are, first of all, supportive of what we have been trying to do, and supportive of what we would like to do," he said.