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September 13, 2012

ULS outlines library changes

ulsChange is the name of the game for the University Library System.

ULS is starting the new term with some redesigned spaces and new services aimed at better serving its faculty and student users.

In an Aug. 30 presentation, ULS director and Hillman Librarian Rush Miller said that the library is going to be “more out there” in the University community with redefined roles for librarians.

“Libraries are changing. Users are changing. Information-seeking and knowledge-seeking behavior of faculty and students is changing,” Miller said.

“Our role as librarians is changing. We have to adapt and move forward differently from how we’ve operated in the past.”

Usage patterns are changing, Miller said, noting that more than half of the use of the libraries is electronic “and that number is increasing, so most of our focus in building collections and serving users is related to electronic resources and services.”

With those trends in mind, ULS is improving off-campus access to library resources and repurposing its spaces “because libraries that serve primarily as book warehouses are no longer relevant to the students and faculty of the University,” Miller said.


Change is coming to Hillman Library and a host of University Library System services. “Our role as librarians is changing. We have to adapt and move forward differently from how we’ve operated in the past,” said ULS director and Hillman Librarian Rush Miller.

Leading the change process is Karen Calhoun, who was brought to ULS a year ago to help develop a new strategic plan. What has resulted is an ongoing assessment process that is based on an annual life cycle. “We are trying to be a more agile organization,” Calhoun said.

The ULS reorganization and changes in how its spaces are used are rooted in the work of planning and user services task forces that were established a year ago.

Key in the ULS strategy was first to align with the University’s mission to provide high-quality graduate and undergraduate programs; to support the collaborative advancement of knowledge and creative endeavor and to ensure organizational efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness to University communities.

Meeting the needs of the library’s user communities is of prime importance. Faculty, graduates/researchers and undergraduates share some similarities yet have differences in how they use library space and resources, she said.

Faculty value the library system’s world-class collections and need seamless access both on and off campus. They also desire personalized help and assistance that frees them to focus on their research, writing and teaching, Calhoun said. Likewise, grad students and researchers desire quality collections and access on and off campus. They also need quiet workspaces as well as the availability of research consultations and workshops.

Undergraduates’ needs are somewhat different, Calhoun said. In addition to help honing their research skills, they need places to get their work done alone or in groups. Wireless access, plenty of computers and power outlets also are important.

Research and Educational Support unit

A new unit, Research and Educational Support, or RES, led by Paul Kohberger, has encompassed in one group the reference department, circulation, access services, stack management and media resources and reorganized and redefined the roles of Hillman faculty librarians and staff. The change supports a one-stop service desk that handles circulation, reserves, ready reference services and more. Eventually document delivery and interlibrary loan will be moved to the desk as well, Kohberger said.

The unit’s vision is that the library is about its users. “You can trust us as a partner and we will find the information you need, saving you time and transforming information into knowledge and learning and insight and action,” he said.

Staff have been retrained to provide reference services and to refer in-depth questions to approximately 25 liaison librarians, each of whom has been made responsible for specific subject areas.

“We’re going to be offering virtual reference services, not just walk-in reference services. … We’re going to go to wherever our users are and get them information where they’re working,” he said.

A software package called Knowledge Tracker will speed answers to frequently asked questions.

Working groups within RES have implemented the use of mobile devices to help liaison librarians assist users in real time out in the field; reorganized and broadened the information literacy program, and established a ULS presence in BlackBoard that will connect students directly from their classroom assignments to research help.

Changes at Hillman Library

One of the most visible changes at Hillman Library is that the Ask desk on the ground floor is gone, replaced by comfortable chairs and low tables.

Miller said that when he first came to Hillman Library 18 years ago, “This was one of the busiest reference desks in the world” with three or four librarians staffing the desk during peak hours and users lining up to ask questions.

Now information and reference services have moved to the lending desk, where librarians have been cross-trained in order to provide a one-stop service desk.

The number of group study rooms has been increased, Miller said, noting that rooms may be reserved online. More are to come. “One of our goals in the coming year is to increase even more the number of places where students can come and work together in a closed environment where they can collaborate with one another openly,” Miller said.

Two bays of lockers will give graduate students a place to store reference materials, Miller said.

The current periodicals room on the fourth floor is being transformed to hold about 70 carrels with lockable storage for graduate students’ use. “So many of our journals now are e-journals and the few that are left in print are out in the regular collection,” said Miller. “This room was really a waste of space the way it was configured.”

Miller said the adjoining quiet study room also is being redesignated for grad student users.

Changes in Point Breeze

At the ULS facility on Thomas Boulevard in Point Breeze, unfinished space is being put to use for archives storage, Miller said. He noted also that the storage facility at Thomas Boulevard, which is designed to hold 3 million books, now is more than half full.

Digitization update

Ed Galloway, head of the Archives Service Center, provided an update of ULS’s digitization activities. In 14 years, 85,000 digitized items (encompassing 2 million files from more than 125 collections) have been created, he said.

Among its recent projects, ULS has worked with Pitt’s Alumni Association to create a web site documenting the association’s history with an “ask an archivist” link to connect alumni who have questions about Pitt history with library experts.

ULS has digitized 700 University Press monographs, offering full-text access to out-of-print items. Materials continue to be scanned on a rolling embargo basis, he said.

Another recent project is the digitization of The Pitt News issues dating back to 1910, Galloway said.

Archivist David Grinnell said the University’s Archives Service Center partners with the Digital Research Library to put guides and finding aids online. Currently, nearly 1,000 guides to individual collections are available, he said.

The Archives Service Center houses the University Archives, University records management and the Archives of Industrial Society. While it hosts researchers from universities worldwide, some 45 percent of its users are from Pitt, he said.

Among the current projects are archiving the recently acquired papers of transplant surgeon Thomas Starzl.  “Be on the lookout for expanding ways this material will be useful to us,” he said.

Better off-campus access

Jeff Wisniewski of ULS’s web services group said the library system not only is seeking to improve the discoverability of library information through its PittCat+ catalog search function but has initiatives aimed at making off-campus access to library resources easier.

Wisniewski said ULS is increasing the number of electronic items it collects and has moved to a more user-friendly EZProxy system to simplify access to licensed materials.

Certain resources (such as EBSCOhost, JSTOR and Lexis-Nexis) recognize authorized users on campus, but not off campus, Wisniewski said. EZProxy recognizes when users are off campus and prompts them to log in once with their username and password, replacing the more complicated S-Remote, which required users to log in on a special page before using library resources.

Open-access initiatives

Tim Deliyannides, director of the Office of Scholarly Communication and Publishing, said the office is continuing its efforts to help faculty navigate new waters in scholarly communication to maximize visibility and impact of their work.

The University’s open-access policy, rooted in a 2009 University Senate plenary session, is making its way through school-by-school approvals. Under the policy, the Office of Scholarly Communication deposits Pitt authors’ peer-reviewed journal articles in the University’s repository, making the material freely available.

ULS has established a fund that will pay some author fees on behalf of non-Schools of the Health Sciences faculty who wish to publish in open-access journals. Information is available at

It also is piloting a new “Altmetrics” project to measure the combined impact of scholarly research published both through traditional journals and on the web.

While traditional impact counts track an author’s citations in published journal literature, he said, “Increasingly scholars are working on the web. There’s more scholarly work taking place outside the journal literature. … We feel the traditional measures don’t tell the whole story and that’s going to be increasingly true as we go forward.”

Deliyannides said ULS now publishes 33 peer-reviewed journal titles, three of which are subscription-based with the other 30 open-access.

In addition, last month ULS acquired the journal-hosting organization Scholarly Exchange and now provides hosting services (but is not the publisher) for about 40 other open-access journals.

Special Collections events

Jeanann Haas, head of Preservation and Special Collections, said the University’s Audubon Day, introduced last year, will become an annual celebration.

This year’s event is set for Nov. 16.

More than 20 prints from the University’s Audubon collection will be on display in Hillman’s Special Collections reading room.

Audubon expert Roberta Olson, curator of drawings at the New York Historical Society, is scheduled to make a presentation and sign copies of her book, “Audubon’s Aviary: The Original Watercolors for The Birds of America.”

The reading room’s current exhibit, on display through Dec. 17, celebrates the work of Charles Dickens and includes rare Dickens first editions from the Darlington Memorial Library collection. Pitt’s holdings are among the nation’s largest collection of Dickens materials, Haas said.

An upcoming exhibit, “Eyes on the Future: World’s Fair Images in the Collections of the University Library System,” is planned as a companion to the Carnegie Museum of Art’s “Inventing the Modern World: Decorative Arts at the World’s Fairs, 1851-1939,” on display at the museum Oct. 13-Feb. 24. Pitt’s companion exhibit, which will include holdings from the University’s collection, will be on display in Frick Fine Arts and in Hillman Library’s second floor exhibit cases.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 45 Issue 2

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