Since the inception of e-books and other online resources McMaster’s library has been working to keep up.
One of the most practical modernization techniques, said University Librarian Vivian Lewis, is simply adding more electrical outlets.
“Outlets are huge for us. It is one of our main demands in study spaces. It is very different from when I started here 20 years ago,” she said. “We have to come up with all kinds of ways to get power to different study areas. We run power strips across tables…more and more this is what students are looking for.”
With the Library—Mills, Thode and Innis (The Health Science Library is run separately)—as the largest Wi-Fi center on campus, spaces within the actual buildings are forced to adapt to demand. That means, in some cases, allocating square footage once given to book stacks to study space instead.
In recent years, Mills has transformed much of the sixth floor into quiet study space and added the Lyons New Media Centre, allowing student to use resources like video editing software and green screen. Thode has also added more open study spaces.
The most significant player in the modernization of academic libraries is the move from print to electronic resources.
“The journals that we get have gone almost completely electronic because that is where the users are…where they can get the article they want at 2 o’clock in the morning, even if they’re on the other side of the country,” said Wade Wycoff, Associate University Librarian, Collections.
In 2001, the Library had around 11,000 journal subscriptions that were available to students and faculty only print. Because of the move to electronic publication, e-journals can be purchased in bundles and are more affordable than a decade ago. McMaster students can now access 80,000 different journal titles.
“It levels the playing field in a lot of ways. Now suddenly we’re getting subscriptions of volumes and journals available to our users, that rival U of T and Western,” said Wycoff.
The rise in overall journals does come at a cost, especially for researchers who seek a true print copy.
Wycoff said, “We still have about 2,000 print subscriptions, and those are mostly smaller publishers who just haven’t moved on to electronic versions of their journal yet.”
The same transformation is happening with books. In 2001, the Library purchased more than 40,000 books in print. In 2012, only 6,610 print books were purchased, in addition to 22,000 e-book titles. The combined total of 28,810 still falls more than 10,000 titles short 2001’s book purchases.
Wycoff says that this reflects a focus on serials that many libraries are making.
“More academic libraries are spending more on their journal collection. We have had to shift some resources around,” he said. “We are also seeing things, like in the sciences, how they are using those electronic resources, they are using journals more. So their usage pattern is changing, so the money changes to support what they actually want.”
Wycoff believes that the trend will continue.
“Ten years from now, we’ll still have a physical collection, but its footprint will be much smaller,” he said. “The longer-term trend in academic libraries is toward a collection that is almost fully electronic. In the near term, we expect that the Library’s collection will continue to be a blend of print and electronic materials.”
University Librarian Vivian Lewis sees a general move to a more service-based library on the horizon.
“It is also changing how we’re providing services in general. It’s not really just the collections—the libraries are places for service and so it is changing the way that we answer questions,” she said. “If students aren’t physically coming to the library to use the library, we need to support them where they are.”
She continued, “We have to be all about serving students now, even if they aren’t in the physical library.”
“Sometimes we hear someone say ‘I never use the library.’ Reality is that they are using the library all the time, even when they are just accessing Google Scholar,” she said. “Our students and faculty researchers use the library constantly, probably way more than they did a decade ago, when they physically had to put their hat and coat on and walk over.”
Photo credit: Yoseif / Photo Editor