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A Warm Reception for Minority Prospects

Berkeley Researchers Head Team That Discovers New Species of Human Ancestor

New University Librarian Offers a Status Report

Faculty, Students Use Service-Learning to Address Real-Life Challenges

Symposium Explores Impact of Lesbian and Gay Parenting

Staff Profile: The (Long) Long-Distance Runner

Reaching Out to Southland High School Counselors

Construction Update: McCone Hall

Photo: Christmas in April

Parents of Murdered American Student Amy Biehl Carry on Their Daughter's Anti-Apartheid Legacy

Tamara Keith: A Gothic Tale

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Library Update
New University Librarian Offers a Status Report

By Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
Posted April 28, 1999

Photo: Gerald Lowell

University Librarian Gerald Lowell. Peg Skorpinski photo.

Gerald Lowell took the helm of Berkeley's troubled library system Dec. 1, leaving his UC San Diego post as university librarian and associate vice chancellor-academic information technology.

Just four months later, cheerful and relaxed in his roomy office overlooking the Campanile, he assesses his new job with an equanimity many would envy.

Q: Would you say you inherited a hornet's nest when you took on the job of university librarian here, or is that too strong a term?

A: No, that's not too strong a term. Berkeley's library system has probably been scrutinized more intently over the past two years than any other research library in the country. It has endured steep budget cuts that have damaged both collections and operations. There have been significant journal cancellations and a 40 percent reduction in librarians over six years. The library has been under siege.

All of this has been a big shock for Berkeley. The campus expects and deserves high quality library service and a level of collecting corresponding to the greatness of this institution. Faculty reactions have been very strong. Support of the library has become a primary problem at Berkeley.

Q: What has been done about the situation?

A: Chancellor Berdahl has allocated an additional $5.5 million for the library over the next three years, which means there will be no journal cancellations for three years and acquisitions will increase.

Q: What's new under your leadership?

A: First of all, I'm trying to emphasize our primary goal of providing effective public service to our users.

We're launching a visioning process for where we want to be in three to five years. We're acting on the recommendations of an undergraduate services task force to maintain a core collection of high-use titles at Moffitt and improve reference service. With the Free Speech Movement cafe going in, Moffitt should become an energized center for undergraduate life.

Student wages have been increased so we can compete with other campus employers. We'll be hiring more librarians over the next two years. The library budget is being restructured. We're revising the library's master plan for physical space. We're looking at what we should be doing in the digital arena.

Q: Speaking of digital, there's been a lot of talk about books getting short shrift in favor of the digital library. Do you see this as a problem?

A: It's unfortunate that we've pitted the print user against the electronic user. The most important thing is to get information to library users as quickly as possible. It's not a competition. Actually, books aren't getting short shrift. Relatively little, proportionately, is spent on digital materials right now.

We're in an extraordinarily fascinating time -- in the middle of an immense change in the way we collect, access and manage information. There are many complex issues and we don't know how these will play out. There are questions of ownership of scholarly information and how we make it available. The information explosion continues unabated. Information consumption patterns are changing and the library is caught smack dab in the middle.

It's a very difficult time to be working in the library. On the one hand, it's wonderful and exciting, but on the other hand, we don't have enough money to provide the breadth of service our users expect and our staff wants to provide.

Q: One of the complaints from "print people" has been the decline of browsing opportunities at Doe and Moffitt, exacerbated by the new compact shelving. What can you say to them?

A: I appreciate their frustration. You've raised two issues, really. One is the challenge of preserving browsing when we have a library collection stored in over 20 libraries supplemented by an extremely large remote-storage facility.

The second issue pertains to keeping as many volumes as we can on campus by using compact shelving, which many of our patrons find disgusting.

The Academic Senate library committee has suggested I review which categories of material are stored in compact shelves and which are stored on fixed open shelving to see if better decisions can be made based on use. We need to explore this issue further.

Q: How do you see your role at Berkeley?

A: My primary role is to make sure that Berkeley faculty and students have access to the materials they need to do their research, teaching and learning. I need to make sure that the library provides high-quality service and that we respond apropriately to user needs.

Given what the library has gone through, I also see myself as a healer and a team builder. The library staff has been demoralized. We are conducting a job stress/burnout survey of the staff and will be working hard to improve the work environment within the library. I'm also focused on getting a new management team in place and am recruiting for three new associate university librarians to oversee Doe/Moffitt, public services and collections. I've started formal meetings for all library and department heads and minutes of our management meetings are distributed online to all library staff.

Q: Have you had any surprises on the job?

A: Things have gone pretty much as expected. I'm very pleased with the faculty support I've received and the high caliber of the library staff.

On the other hand, I'm having to get used to the bureaucratic structure of an old campus, and the state of the physical plant is worse than I thought it would be. The physical conditions at The Bancroft Library and Optometry Library, for example, are deplorable and need to be improved dramatically.

Q: What prompted you to take this job?

A: I relish challenges and I like to work for premier institutions. And my skill set applies directly to this environment: I am very user service-oriented, an adept administrator, a great communicator and a creative risk-taker.


April 28 - May 4, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 32)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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