UB Today Alumni Magazine Online - Fall 1999
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Extensive user services are key to the success
of the University Libraries

By Barbara von Wahlde
Associate Vice President, University Libraries

     One of the most important issues facing not only the University Libraries but the whole academic community is the future of scholarly communication-how faculty members will produce and disseminate their research. Until now, traditional printed monograph and journal formats have predominated. However, we are seeing a steadily accelerating increase in the number of electronic journals available. At the same time, there is a movement in some disciplines to offer early research results to colleagues through the use of Internet-mounted preprints, research reports and studies. Indeed, possibilities exist for radically changing the whole process of scholarly communication and, therefore, the role of libraries in the institution.
     Equally awesome are the changes taking place in copyright and intellectual-property laws. The ease with which printed and digital materials can now be duplicated and disseminated using computer technology is prompting information providers and libraries to reexamine practices that worked well in the paper-based world but are rendered hopelessly outdated in the environment in which we are now immersed.
     In the past decade, we have seen a considerable loss in buying power for materials, due to the fact that scholarly information has become an important commodity. Large publishing conglomerates have been gobbling up established producers of information-journals, books and newspapers-and creating multimillion-dollar information corporations. This trend has created a steep rise in prices as conglomerate owners seek the greatest possible return for their shareholders on their investments.
     The question looms: What is the proper role of the library and librarians as we move toward a more electronic-oriented environment that can be effectively and conveniently used without entering our doors? Libraries will remain necessary physical spaces for decades to come. We have large historical collections of past information acquired since UB was founded more than 150 years ago; this important capital resource will continue to require preservation and housing. At the same time, however, the physical library must become a more interesting and flexible space to meet the ever-evolving needs of students and faculty.
     Here are two UB examples: 1998 saw the appearance, in the basement of the Undergraduate Library, of a coffee cart
from which various espresso drinks and pastries are served. In this respect, the library is following a direction taken by bookstores that make their facilities inviting, comfortable and convenient for browsing and that also provide a little food and drink. Last fall the libraries, in partnership with University Facilities and the Computing Center, created several new areas in three different facilities-the Lockwood, Science and Engineering and Undergraduate Libraries. These areas, which we elected to call the Cybraries, are now hugely popular with our users. Of the total of the Cybraries' approximately 170 PCs, almost half are available for 24-hour use; the remainder reside in areas that also enjoy significantly extended hours.
     This fall, as the university implements an important initiative requiring freshmen to have access to-preferably, own-a computer, more courses will be employing computer technology as an important part of instruction. To help in this area, librarians are working closely with faculty in many disciplines to offer advice on website development and on linking the best information resources available to those sites. We are especially proud of our role in the new Educational Technology Center, which is housed in the Science and Engineering Library.
     The growing expectations for the "virtual" and "digital" library and the rapid influx of computers and electronic resources into research libraries have prompted some to jump to the conclusion-offensive and scary to many-that the traditional library will soon be dead, to be replaced by a paperless environment. On the contrary, as UB archivist Christopher Densmore points out, we know that under the right conditions paper lasts at least 500 years, while we have no idea how long the information on a CD-ROM, computer disk or hard drive will be retrievable-but we know it's only a matter of decades, if that.
     Our goal in the University Libraries is to care for the legacy of resources we have gathered and organized meticulously over the years, while at the same time continuing to experiment with promising new technologies, materials and approaches to storing and transmitting information, implementing them when and where appropriate.
     If you haven't been in the UB Libraries recently, we enthusiastically encourage you to pay us a visit. If you are unable to come to Buffalo, please visit our website at http://ublib.buffalo.edu/libraries to learn more about our services and resources.

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