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September 26, 2013

ULS: Meeting needs of users in the electronic age

Six technology group study rooms have been added in Hillman Library.

Six technology group study rooms have been added in Hillman Library.

Staff and faculty looking for evidence of just how much the University Library System (ULS) has changed need look back no farther than 1995, said Paul Kohberger, who opened the ULS’s second annual Media Day preview of current library developments, held Sept. 18.

Not coincidentally, 1995 is the year when Internet browsers arrived on many computer desktops for the first time. Since then, said Kohberger, assistant university librarian in the research and educational support unit, there are many fewer libraries on campus and the number of volumes in Hillman Library has remained static.

“We’ve focused on our collections of electronic resources,” he said. “We started preferring them as a way to make content available to users.”

In fact, from 2004 to 2011 alone, the proportion of ULS budget devoted to electronic materials went from 37 percent to 73 percent.

And yet people still like going to the library — or need to be there in person, he said. From 2010 to 2013, attendance figures have continued to increase.

The library has responded by converting storage and staff areas to more study spaces: tables with electrical outlets, carrels and group meeting areas. Part of Hillman’s fourth floor has new carrels reserved for PhD students working on dissertations.

“It was booked the moment we opened it and we have a waiting list,” Kohberger said.

New on Hillman’s second floor, and also in heavy demand, is a space equipped with whiteboards and large screens for displaying materials for group projects. A redesigned ground-floor space has gained more walls for privacy of users and added more computers.

ULS also has just licensed the free application BrowZine, a tablet-friendly way for graduate students and faculty to build their own bookshelves of electronic journals and get alerts about new journals coming out.

“We’re going to assess what students need and redesign the library into a place that creates communities for learning,” Kohberger said.

Reaching out to faculty, staff and students

The library is reaching out more actively to faculty and groups of University staff to make ULS resources more widely and easily available.

Hillman has re-evaluated all subject responsibilities for its liaison librarians, who work with faculty on course- and subject-specific guides. Almost 300 guides now are available at, and library system personnel are asking faculty to help them create more.

ULS also is establishing new partnerships with other University offices and staff and student groups, including teaching assistants.

Improving ULS outreach this year meant revamping the main ULS website (, said Jeff Wisniewski, web services librarian.

The home page now is headed by a multitab search feature that allows immediate access to PittCat+ and the previous version of the catalog (PittCat Classic), as well as to e-journals, databases, guides and subject specialists.

The main ULS page also has a streamlined alphabetical list of services, a listing of the day’s hours and quick links to other ULS services as well as Pitt sites that often were sought or previously buried further inside the web page, including CourseWeb and MyPitt. Guides now are searchable by subject, course number and author.

The entire site also is more easily viewable on mobile devices, since it now can sense the type of device seeking access and reconfigure itself on the fly.

Not waiting for clicks to come to them, ULS librarians also have started a social media push, according to Heidi Card, social media librarian. She hopes the effort will provide “a human face for the library and really be more engaging.”

ULS focused first on Facebook, building links with campus groups and connecting with students and faculty already using the popular site. Plans for the future include building audiences for ULS special collections and archives, and branching out to Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram, Card said.

Collection additions and special programming

The past year has seen new acquisitions and digitization in the ULS archives, reported Ed Galloway, head of the Archives Service Center (ASC).

ULS has scanned 6,332 issues, or more than 44,000 pages, of The Pitt News, and will attempt to finish digitizing all the issues printed between 1910 and 2000 by some time in 2014. It also has digitized the Pitt Anatomy Snooze, which Pitt medical alumni typed and distributed to stay in touch during World War II. Nearly 200 images of this circular are online and searchable, including the April 1944 issue in which the author wrote that, if such frivolous communications were ever preserved for their great-grandchildren, the joke would be on them.

ASC recently acquired the 1801-03 journal of Joseph Larwill, a student at Pitt’s predecessor, the Pittsburgh Academy. It is the only surviving Pitt manuscript from this era, Galloway said.

In the next few weeks, ASC will scan and make available an Antonin Dvorak score based on a Stephen Foster song, which was acquired in the 1940s. It recently released the papers of Ramón Gómez de la Serna, the Spanish-Argentinian poet, essayist and novelist, acquired in 1967, and made available the papers of Hervey Allen, a writer and 1915 alum.

Jeanann Haas, special collections and preservation librarian, announced several upcoming ULS events, including the third annual Audubon Day on Nov. 22, featuring 20-25 prints on display in the special collections reading room, and a presentation by Joel Oppenheimer, an expert on the ornithological illustrations of John James Audubon.

The Leibniz as Cryptographer exhibit (see Jan. 24 University Times) has been extended to Dec. 13, and ULS plans a Ramón Gómez de la Serna exhibit and Latin American studies open house in October or November, as well as an exhibit of hand-set and hand-printed, limited-edition fine-press materials beginning in January.

Open Access Week at Pitt, designed to publicize the benefits of making research freely available without copyright or licensing restrictions, will be Oct. 21-27. Featured speakers will be Peter B. Hirtle, archivist and senior policy adviser to Cornell University Library, who will talk about intellectual property issues on Oct. 22, 4-5 p.m. in Ballroom A of the University Club, and Michael W. Carroll, professor of law and director of the program on information justice and intellectual property at American University College of Law, who will lecture on recent open-access developments Oct. 24 at the same time and place.

Measuring scholarly impact

John Barnett, scholarly communications librarian, said ULS is nearing a rollout of PlumX (Plum Analytics Altmetrics), an online tool that gathers, counts and visualizes citation data for faculty scholarly papers and charts the influence and reach of their work. A demonstration site, which debuted this spring, is available at (username “try,” password “plumx”).

—Marty Levine

Filed under: Feature,Volume 46 Issue 3

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