UC Merced Library bills itself as “Not what other research libraries are, what they will be.” This library is designed to be a model for future libraries. Traditional libraries may be envious of its sleek design and model for operations: 65% of the budget is used for collections development, and only 35% goes toward operations. The staff is purposefully slim, utilizing library assistants and student workers to help keep the operations budget down. The staff is available to answer questions in person, and via text, chat, e-mail, and phone.

The library staff has been energetic in their outreach efforts, conducting many classes to teach the customers how to use the library resources. From August 2007 – July 2008, over 100 classes in library instruction were taught to over 3000 participants. Given that there are 2,718 students on campus, and 898 faculty, if each participant attended only one class, then the library staff taught a class to virtually every student and faculty on campus. While that “if” is unlikely, it should be acknowledged that this level of outreach is outstanding.

The library collections are a mix of digital and print. It is interesting that the library collection features 70,000 books, but 150,000 eBooks. Online journals, databases, and online course readings also feature prominently in the collection. UC Merced Library has also assumed a leading role in digitizing personal collections. For example, “[t]he Library used a grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services to create hundreds of digitized images of unique works of Japanese art belonging to the Ruth and Sherman Lee Institute for Japanese Art at the Clark Center in Hanford, California. High quality images of these artworks, enhanced with searchable metadata, are (or will soon be) available to anyone with an internet connection.”

The library itself features collaborative workspaces with comfortable sofas, private rooms with whiteboards and office furniture, and a quiet reading area on the fourth floor. The entire library has wireless and wired network access. The building is a modern glass and metal design with clean lines and windows for walls. The pictures on the website are beautiful; the library appears to be the antithesis of cement libraries with dark corners and dusty stacks. The library was also awarded LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Gold Certification, which means the building is as energy-efficient and economical as it is beautiful.

Because this library concept is still fairly new, it will be interesting to see how it develops, particularly with the economy in California facing steep budget cuts. Will the library thrive with their budgeting design? If the University is forced to cut their budget, where will it be trimmed: the digital collection development, print books, database licensing? Or perhaps the current budget is perfect for maintaining quality service to its patrons without sacrificing anything in the collection. After the library has been in operation for a while, does the library see a need to add to the staff, and if so, would they continue to add library assistants or degreed librarians?

As a model for future libraries, it would be interesting to review customer satisfaction surveys from UC Merced. The results of those surveys would certainly point the way toward whether an all-digital library is feasible.

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