Berkeleyan: A newspaper for faculty and staff at UC Berkeley
Berkeleyan Home Search Berkeleyan Berkeleyan Archive UCB News UCB Calendar

 Stories for April 22, 1998

Partnerships, Accessibility Are Keys to Library’s Future
Blue Ribbon Committee Calls for $4 Million Infusion to Reverse Neglect

by Kathleen Scalise, Public Affairs
posted Apr. 22, 1998

Easy access to books and journals even when ownership is not feasible should be a guiding principle for the Berkeley library system, according to the April 10 report of the Blue Ribbon Committee on the Library, which recommends restoring the library to its proper place at the heart of the campus’s intellectual community.

Released this month, the report calls for selective growth in Berkeley’s collections, coupled with building library partnerships that can complement what Berkeley owns. It also recommends budget increases on several fronts, stronger channels of campus communication about library needs and the retention of both a decentralized library system and Berkeley’s undergraduate library.

“We need to educate the campus about the changing role of the library in the next century,” said Anthony Newcomb, dean of Humanities and chair of the Blue Ribbon Committee.

Newcomb said the committee appreciated tremendous campus participation during the review process. All academic departments had the opportunity to meet with a committee member, and most accepted. Newcomb alone held nearly 200 meetings with faculty, staff and students. Other committee members were professors Henry Brady, Carla Hesse, Daniel Koshland Jr., Marc Rieffel and Robert Wilensky.

“The committee has produced an excellent report, which will help us address the challenges facing the library,” said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol T. Christ. “I thank the committee members and Dean Newcomb for the intelligence, effort and creativity they have brought to this task.”

Commenting on the analysis of the library, commissioned by Christ last fall, Newcomb said he knew the library faced “a triple whammy that has put research libraries everywhere in trouble”: inflation, the explosion of information available and the advent of digital technologies.

While all research libraries face similar concerns, “we’ve allowed these challenges to catch up with us a little more than most,” said Newcomb, due in part to state budget cuts Berkeley has faced in the ’90s.

Two years ago, the Association of Research Libraries ranked Berkeley second in the nation for overall library quality. New numbers out this month put Berkeley fifth, behind Harvard, UCLA, Yale and the University of Toronto.

“The campus in the past few years has rightly given top fiscal and intellectual priority to rebuilding the strength and stature of its faculty,” said the blue-ribbon report. “As a consequence the faculty is now well on the road to a renewal of its ranks and the recovery of its past distinction. But in these same years our library has continued to suffer from severe neglect.”

To reverse this trend, the report calls for adding $4 million to the library’s base budget, with at least $3 million going to collections and much of the rest for operations. The report also suggests ongoing annual increases in the collections budget.

Even should this funding be secured, “there is simply too much to be collected, and too few resources to expend,” said the report. “Comprehensive ownership and on-site availability, then, is a chimera. However, a library can seek to provide comprehensive access by ensuring that faculty and students are able to get the materials they need in a timely fashion.”

The report recommends maintaining a world-class research collection, particularly in areas where Berkeley has the most strength or need, while at the same time developing partnerships with other libraries both within and outside the UC system to maintain access to materials in other areas.

“We propose that the goal should not be to ensure that every book is always in the Berkeley stacks – an impossible goal in any case if books are to be used. Rather the goal should be to ensure that materials can be obtained quickly by anyone who requests them,” said the report.

“Once this is our goal, then the location and even the ownership of a book matters much less than the ability to get it, in some useful form, to the researcher.”

The report gave the nod to continued development of digital materials, but cautioned that technology will not in the near future mean significant cost savings. It also pointed out that while Berkeley spends approximately 3 percent of its collections budget on digital materials, the national average is about 7 percent, so the campus has some catch up to do here, as well as in print materials.

To help prioritize spending and plan for the future of library collections, the report calls for a new committee of faculty and administrators, perhaps built upon the base of the Academic Senate Library Committee, plus a system to formalize communication between academic deans and the library.

Many other recommendations are included in the report, which can be found on the web at

tvcp/new.html. Comments and suggestions are welcome and can be mailed to Executive Vice Chancellor Carol T. Christ, 200 California Hall, or emailed to

Christ and others will review comments for the next month and the blue ribbon committee will likely meet with Christ and Chancellor Berdahl in early May to assess actions the campus can take.

“I am quite hopeful that the campus leadership is aware of the library’s needs now and that we’re all pretty much on the same page,” said Newcomb.

[ Back to top ]

UCB Home
Copyright 1998, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
Comments? E-mail