“You simply don’t have to build a traditional library these days,” California State University Chancellor Barry Munitz told Newsweek in explaining why the new Cal State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) would not have a physical library.  The year: 1995.

Flash forward to December of 2008, when CSUMB celebrated the opening of its new 136,000-square-foot  library building.  The facility meets the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED silver standard and features “skybox study rooms,” an information literacy center, a writing center, auditoriums, and a café.  What happened to the vision of the virtual library?

Lucero Design, CSUMB Library

Lucero Design, CSUMB Library

Dubbed the “21st Campus (of the CSU system) for the 21st century,” CSUMB opened in 1995 on a former army base and aimed to serve about 10,000 on-site students and an additional 10,000 distance learners.  CSUMB’s Vision Statement emphasizes applying technology to education and embracing the future: “The university will invest in preparation for the future through integrated and experimental use of technologies as resources to people, catalysts for learning, and providers of increased access and enriched quality learning.” But administrators backed off from the idea of a virtual library, determining that many materials, particularly books, were available only in print and that the library is as much a place as a collection.

Nevertheless, the CSUMB library did prefer electronic over print delivery of information and focused on delivering “just in time” rather than “just in case” collections.  As John Ober wrote in an essay from 2000, “While many libraries feel that electronic resources are an ever more valuable supplement to print, CSUMB feels that print resources supplement electronic access, and that they probably will become a less important supplement as time goes by.”  Usage data from the 1990s showed that CSUMB students used electronic resources more than students at other campuses; while 72% of student library usage at CSUMB focused on online sessions and 19% on book circulation, the numbers were almost reversed at other CSU campuses across the state, where 71% of usage was for book circulation and 26% for online sessions.  (I’m not sure how “usage” is measured.)  One of the challenges faced by the library in the 1990s was ensuring self-sufficiency as users contended with a variety of search interfaces and content silos.  CSUMB also dealt with uncertainty about pricing models for digital information, ameliorated somewhat through its participation in the CSU purchasing consortium.  ILL costs and agreements posed another problem, as CSUMB was a net borrowing library and needed to negotiate fair agreements with lenders.

pollyalida, Study area

pollyalida, Study area

Until the new building opened at the end of the 2008, CSUMB’s library was located in an inadequate space, “half of a small former military building.” Now CSUMB exemplifies the idea of library as place, providing social spaces where people can learn, collaborate, and get help with their research.  In its web site promoting the new facility, the CSUMB Library addresses the limitations of the initial vision of virtuality: “its startup model must be modified to incorporate more print material, as access to electronic books is highly limited. While textbooks may ultimately be successful in an electronic format, the non-reference books suitable for academic libraries will not be replaced by a new format for some time to come.” CSUMB Library suggests that a significant print collection aids in recruitment of students, complements the idea of “library as place,” and is necessary for graduate programs.  In its vision of the library as “learning commons,” CSUMB emphasizes information literacy training, strong references services, and good technical support.

Now CSUMB Library positions itself as a hybrid library, which provides access to materials in multiple formats.   As library director Bill Robnett stated in an interview:

A lot of people ask me, why is a library so different now? Well in fact it isn’t. If you think about it, most technologies-and print is a perfectly fine technology-don’t replace one another. So we have the power of computing, and all our databases, and the World Wide Web, and Google, etcetera, at our fingertips when we sit at a computer. But you’ve also got the other technologies. You’ve got print sources, you’ve got media sources, you’ve got microfilm sources. So a library now is as much as it always has been, and more. The more comes from when you have such power at your fingertips to either find the print material and utilize it effectively, or find online resources and utilize those resources effectively.

Is the hybrid model forever–or for now?  In the 2009 edition of Provocative Statements, the Taiga Forum  predicts that “Within the next 5 years…libraries will have abandoned the hybrid model to focus exclusively on electronic collections, with limited investments in managing shared print archives.”  Moreover, “library buildings will no longer house collections and will become campus community centers that function as part of the student services sector.”  Fifteen years ago, the administration at CSUMB might have agreed.  Now the CSUMB Library insists on the continued need for print collections and promotes the library as a community center.

Work Cited:

John Ober, “Library Services at California State University, Monterey Bay,” in Building libraries for the 21st century : the shape of information, ed. Terry. Webb (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000), 122-137.