University subcommittee proposes new library; town hall meeting set for Nov. 6

Saying Stanford's libraries "have not been funded with the largesse and vision showered on the research laboratories of the scientists and engineers in our midst," a university subcommittee has recommended building a new library—possibly underground—near Green Library.

Part of the proposed building, which would use state-of-the-art compact shelving, would become the new home of the East Asia Library, the group said in a report released Sept. 8.

The new library also would house about 4 million books, including about half of the present contents of Green Library, and all of the volumes currently held in the Stanford Auxiliary Library (SAL1 and SAL2), which is located on the eastern edge of campus near El Camino Real.

In its report, the subcommittee projected that the collections in the center of campus—in Green and the proposed new library—would grow to about 5.5 million volumes in 10 years.

"We believe a campus collection of this size, along with good paging procedures with Livermore [where Stanford Auxiliary Library 3 is located] and increased online electronic resources, will convince faculty and students across the schools and departments that Stanford's commitment to their research is deep and abiding," the report said.

The subcommittee is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6, in Cubberley Auditorium to discuss its proposals. University Librarian Michael Keller will be present at the meeting to answer questions.

The report contains two dozen recommendations divided into three categories: guidelines for a transition from paper to electronic resources; policy revisions and new directions; and a proposed sequence of events to mitigate the demolition of Meyer Library.

"We hope the town hall meeting will produce other voices on the topic of the libraries that will affect, first, the senate's debate and, second, any further consideration or reconsideration by the administration," John Bender, an English professor who served on the 14-member subcommittee, said in an e-mail message. The Faculty Senate is scheduled to hear the report and recommendations at its Nov. 13 meeting.

"Our primary goal is to open discussion of planning for the libraries to a new level of transparency and faculty/student participation," Bender added.

The group, convened last year by the Academic Council's Committee on Libraries, also included 10 professors from the departments of Art and Art History, Asian Languages, Biochemistry, Economics, Genetics, History and Sociology, as well as three students.

Its 100-page report is based on letters from individual faculty members and department chairs in the School of Humanities and Sciences; meetings with individual departments; and subcommittee deliberations.

The current discussion about Stanford's libraries was triggered by faculty concern over the 2007 announcement that the university planned to tear down Meyer Library—present home of the East Asia Library—in 10 years and replace it with a smaller building devoted to academic computing, rather than spend the $45 million it would take to seismically retrofit the building.

At the time, university officials said that part of the East Asia collection—about 516,000 volumes in Chinese, Japanese and Korean—would be moved into Green Library, and the rest would be stored in Livermore and available through a paging service.

At a town hall meeting last November, Provost John Etchemendy cited the university's General Use Permit with Santa Clara County—which limits the construction of new academic buildings on campus—as the reason for not building a new library to replace Meyer.

The subcommittee questioned that reasoning in its report.

"Using the General Use Permit as an excuse for slowing or stopping development of Stanford's on-campus libraries strikes our committee as wrong-headed and seriously short-sighted," the report said. "Limitations imposed by the General Use Permit have not stopped the expansion of Stanford's scientific laboratories and professional schools."

The subcommittee said it was "shocked" to discover that libraries are subject to the permit's limits on new construction, while housing and parking structures are not.

"Books do not contribute to local traffic congestion, do not pollute the soil with toxic wastes, do not place demands on water or sewage systems, and do not release hydrocarbons into the atmosphere," the report said. "By contrast, housing and parking structures—both excluded from the GUP building area cap—adversely affect all of these categories."

The report said several of Stanford's peers, including the University of California-Berkeley, Yale, Princeton and Harvard, have either just completed, or are planning, ambitious programs to build new libraries.

"We realize that comparisons with our peers do not make strong practical arguments, but choosing not to invest in the core campus libraries certainly places Stanford in a competitive position that is less than favorable, and will affect the choices of potential students and faculty in the years to come," the report said.

The subcommittee proposed that Stanford undertake "a broad-based initiative to incorporate as quickly as possible both non-Roman characters and non-textual media materials into the catalogue with meaningful layers of indexing."

The group also recommended adopting a new principle to govern the transfer of books to off-site storage: "No book is to be transferred to SAL3 (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. As a corollary, any book recalled from SAL3 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 addition, the group proposed creating research modules in Green Library that would be assigned to "classes or research projects, where off-site books can be stored and consulted, and where faculty and staff are able to work with the materials close at hand."

The subcommittee said faculty response to its inquiries revealed "robust insistence across disciplines that browsing books remains an integral part of a scholar's activity, both for specialized research and for general inquiries related to preparing courses."

While evolving information technologies will eventually alter how research is conducted in all academic disciplines, the promised "bookless" library will not arrive for most of them for at least 50 years, the subcommittee said.

"In the meantime, Stanford has an opportunity to lead the way on managing new research technologies without hindering or alienating large parts of its faculty," the report said. "In our view, a comprehensive program for the perfection of a hybrid library—with paper and electronic materials existing in a seamless research environment—will be the strongest possible magnet for attracting to Stanford the top students and the best faculty in every field."