ALA Midwinter Meeting, New Orleans,  January 18, 2002

  Proquest University PreConference
Program III -- Changing Spaces: New Library Design
The Louis Stokes Health Sciences Library, Howard University, Washington, DC

Why a New Library?
Mohamed Mekkawi, MA, MLS, MA, Director of Libraries, Howard University


[Presentation highlights]

Why a New Library?

One may advance a number of arguments to support the library's case to convince administrators, the state legislature, etc. that a new building or a renovation/addition is needed. An article in College & Research Libraries News (Alice H. Bahr, CRL News, July-August 2000) summarized ten such arguments:

  • New functions of libraries in the digital age--including space for networked technologies, collaborative learning, multimedia production, teleconferencing.

  • New library buildings can shore up an institution's aging technologies.

  • Libraries are retreats from the world--an integral part of a student's well-rounded education and the social-intellectual experience of a college education.

  • Not all materials are going digital.

  • Cost of extensive digitization is prohibitive.

  • Electronic storage [and services] may not be reliable--the storage medium has to be refreshed as technology changes. Can you trust your contents providers?

  • Problems of intellectual property.

  • Reading books on a computer is unsatisfying.

  • Many programs are deficient.

  • Books and libraries provide contexts.

These are library-centric arguments. Strategic planning is a political process, and libraries are but one of many contenders to the limited resources of the institution. Extra-library reasons that may lend political support to the case statement for a new library may include:

  • Academic program accreditation reviews.

  • Demands/pressures by faculty and students.

  • Feedback from top prospective researchers/faculty.

  • Feedback from top quality prospective students.

  • Sharing resources (incl. prized real estate) with others.

  • One big donor (e.g. $60m from Peter B Lewis to Princeton Science Library).

Now, why bother, one may say given the decline in the number of physical visits to the library in recent years. Consider the following factors:

  • Digitization of resources.

  • Acquisition policy--"just-in-time" vs "just-in-case" resources.

  • Distributive technologies--The more we rely on distributive technologies, the lesser the need to visit the library physically to obtain the information you need. Think about the myriad of Web-based services we provide and promote--all via remote access: Online OPAC; online renewal and hold functions for books; online ILL requests; electronic document delivery to the patron's desktop; online reference; electronic full-text course reserves; online conferencing; and others.

  • Customer-focused service--Libraries have rightfully adopted customer-focused principles and practices--to deliver what the customer wants, when he/she wants it, where it's most convenient for him/her to receive it. Not surprisingly, turnstile statistics have been adversely affected by this rend. So, what about those "creative" approaches adopted by some library managers to shore up sagging "library use" statistics?

Mocha Lattes &
French Bistros

"These days, more and more students are entering libraries not through turnstiles but through phone lines and fiber optic cables... Some librarians are fighting back--with plush chairs, double-mocha lattes... Colleges have to do something to attract students back to the physical structures.."

"The Deserted Library: As Students Work online, Reading Rooms empty out--leading some campuses to add Starbuck" The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 16, 2001

Image source:

The buzz word in academe in the last few years has been learning outcomes and methods to assess them. College administrations as well as regional higher education accrediting bodies and government agencies are asking for outcomes assessment indicators--library ones in our case. Certainly, turnstile counts, especially those raised as result of coffee and donut stands inside the library, are no indicators of successful library contributions to learning. Furthermore, to compare such "originalities" with marketing arrangements at large chain bookstores, as some library managers have proposed, is very flawed thinking. The respective patron populations are very distinct. When I walk into a bookstore I do so because I want to; most students visit the college library because they have to. The CHE's article mentioned above reports that traffic at Texas Christian University library doubled after the installation of a $40,000 coffee shop.... During the same time, book circulation dropped by 30%!

  • Problem of consistent/comparable/independent digital resource usage statistics--Turnstile and book circulation statistics are clearly defined and easily captured. Not so with electronic resources usage. There is confusion about what to measure in the networked environment. Definitions are not standardized and are differentially reported by database vendors--number of searches, logins, views, retrievals, connect time, turnaways, abstracts, texts only, texts and graphics, citations, page images, & so forth. Cynics would also contend that vendors-maintained statistics are not independent or entirely unbiased metrics.

    There are have been good attempts at standardization of e-metric, though, such as those undertaken by the International Coalition of Library Consortia. Research libraries are trying to identify ways to measure 'e-Metrics outcomes'. For current activities regarding the measurement of the use and value of digital resources, see ARL Statistics and Measurement Program, Special Projects.

Information age technologies, market forces, and continually evolving needs and expectations of information consumers are re-shaping our thinking about the allocation and use of library space. While incurable nostalgics continue to suggest building concepts of yesteryear as viable concepts, the pragmatics and visionary among us have adapted to the new forces and recognized the many opportunities for symbiotic relationships between library and non-library activities within the physical structure. Thus, while they continue to provide plenty of room for traditional resources, new library buildings contain new spaces that are responsive to current and envisioned campus needs: Collaborative learning/problem-based learning rooms; digital media production laboratory; information commons; consultation services; smart classrooms; video-conferencing facilities; centers for excellence in teaching/learning to assist faculty in technology-enhanced instructional methods. Regretfully, these are the very new spaces that the 900-page 1999 edition Planning Academic & Research Libraries casually discourages as "non-library facilities. Never mind what this library bible says, "follow your convictions," wrote the French paysagist Corot, "when you follow someone, you're always behind."

How Did Howard University Get to Build Not One,
But Two New Libraries at the Same Time?

  1. Howard University's leadership is strongly committed to providing the best opportunities for life-long learning, leadership and service.

  2. Accreditation review reports have urged the University to correct severe deficiencies in library and information technologies serving the health science complex (College of Medicine, College of Dentistry, School of Pharmacy, Nursing & Allied Health, and the Hospital) and the School of Law.

  3. The University is committed to greater financial independence: turning off prospective high-caliber students and faculty because of poor support facilities means missed opportunities for revenue.

  4. The University wanted to resolve library as well as academic needs through a judicious use of space. Thus the Steering Committee for the new building included representatives from every academic and clinical department in the health sciences complex, library management, students, representatives from the community, as well as experts from the National Institutes of Health and private industry.

  5. For the faculty, the benefits of the new building and its configuration of new spaces for research and collaborative learning far outweighed the loss of a convenient parking space.

  6. The immediate residential community was convinced of the dramatic impact that the development of the parking lot will have on the quality of the environment

  7. The wider community stood to gain substantially from the new facility's health information and awareness outreach programs, which the University considers as part of its leadership mission in the community.

_______________ . _______________

View LSHSL images Set A, Set B, and the following articles:

Library Starts New Chapter for Howard University: Building Seen as Part of School's Renaissance
By Amy Argetsinger, Washington Post

Two for the Books: Howard University's New Libraries Are Studies in Excellence
By Benjamin Forgey, Washington Post



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