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Posted on Oct 6, 2014

Unified Library Management System: The tech to make services simpler

Unified Library Management System: The tech to make services simpler

In the California State University system, most libraries have three, four, sometimes five different systems for managing their collections, analyzing use, sharing resources with other libraries, and giving users the ability to search and find books, journal articles, and other research data.

“Most of these systems were built over the last ten years to help manage the growing number of electronic resources, and they’re all pretty good at what they do, but there are like four of them,” said CSU Director of Systemwide Digital Library Services David Walker.

And the systems used at one campus don’t necessarily communicate with the systems at other campuses. It is up to people to fill the gaps, transferring information between systems.

The whole process is repetitive and inefficient. “It’s a lot to keep up-to-date,” Walker said.

But CSU libraries are in the process of pursuing a whole new system, a next-generation platform that will bring all functions together into one place for the libraries. It’s called the Unified Library Management System, or ULMS, and Walker, along with library directors and staff from across the CSU, are preparing to send out a request for proposals so that the libraries can start unifying.

Working towards immediate access to the right materials

Currently, the different systems create a lot of duplication of work, Walker said.

The Chancellor’s Office purchases e-journals and e-books for all campuses as part of the Electronic Core Collection, for example, and negotiates for even more content on behalf of campuses on an opt-in basis. But each campus manages that collection information separately in their local systems so that users at their campus can find and access those resources.

“There’s a lot of duplication of work because we have all these systems that don’t really know about each other, or really talk to each other,” Walker said.

Having multiple systems also means it can take library staff more time to add and update information in each system. Errors are often introduced, like in a system-wide telephone game, said Brandon Dudley, interim library director at Sonoma State and a member of the ULMS steering committee.

“A package is made immediately available in the Chancellor’s Office management system, but then there’s a time lapse between when that information is turned on in the system and when it is downloaded and configured in each local system,” Dudley said.

The ULMS would give library users immediate access to those materials, as well as give libraries the capacity to manage their individual collections and coordinate loans.

Better assessment means better collections and more savings

In addition to helping users find resources more efficiently, the ULMS would give the Chancellor’s Office the opportunity to easily analyze how students and faculty use the collections.

Currently, each library does assessment to the best of their abilities, and in their own manner, Dudley said. None of that information is collected in one place, however.

“In negotiating how many users should be licensed to access a title, it’s difficult to gather usage data from each of the campuses and factor that into the decision, whereas with a centralized system, it would be cake,” Dudley said.

And that cake would lead to greater benefits for library users, because libraries need to assess which materials are in high demand, and negotiate contracts with publishers to get the best resources at the best price possible. The data from the ULMS could potentially be leveraged to purchase more resources in groups and at a discount, Walker said.

Making it happen

This summer, the CSU libraries were given $1 million from the Chancellor’s Office to invest in initiatives to keep library services moving forward.

The ULMS steering committee is preparing to hear proposals and “kick the tires” on several systems, Walker said.

Then, it’s a matter of creating a process and timeline for getting every campus on board and online.


Our story on the ULMS continues in “One platform, 23 campuses.”


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The Electronic Core Collection

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Posted on Sep 15, 2014

Space to collaborate in the learning commons

Space to collaborate in the learning commons

Libraries have always been a part of learning. For decades, scores of college students and faculty have turned to the library for research expertise, books, articles and microfilm to support their scholarship.

Now, students still need resources, but instead of studying quietly in a corner of the library, many work in groups to create collaborative projects.

As learning has changed, so have the demands on the modern library.

Across the CSU, students, faculty, staff and architects are redesigning spaces to create learning commons, or collaborative spaces designed to support group work.

A modern update for modern demand

San Diego State University’s Malcolm A. Love Library, for instance, has a recently revamped 24-hour room, as well as new study spaces throughout their two library buildings.

“Our library has an original building that was opened in 1971, and it’s this brutal architectural style. It was really created for a time when most scholarship was paper-based, when students worked alone and would work with print collections,” said Gale Etschmaier, SDSU’s dean of library and information access.

Though spaces had been redesigned before Etschmaier’s arrival as dean in 2011, the changes were piecemeal and disorganized, she said. The floor plan was confusing, and student seating was in high demand.

“When I would go through the building, I would see students sitting on the floor, they’d be grouped in front of offices, and that’s not really supportive of learning,” Etschmaier said.

It was obvious that the library need more student seating, collaborative space, and a design that would bring the library’s special collections into public view.

So she collaborated with library architecture experts Pfeiffer Partners, and created a new design that gave students more space and access to technology, as well as featured exhibits and collections.

The 24-hour room now features more space for students to work on their own time, including group study rooms with media:scape tables from Steelcase, which allow students to plug their computers into a shared screen. They’ve added various types of seating for students to work alone or in groups, as well, Etschmaier says.

And the response?

Students embraced the changes immediately.

Etschmaier points to one space that originally “looked like a 50s factory floor.” It was unattractive and unappealing to students. But the library painted the walls white, added splashes of red for school spirit, replaced the flooring and brought in tables, chairs and diner-style benches in bright colors.

“And as soon as that furniture started to arrive, students were coming in and sitting in it,” Etschmaier said. “And during finals week it was one of the most heavily used areas of the library, and it was really a last choice in the past because it was so unattractive.”

A place to collaborate

At Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo’s Robert E. Kennedy Library, simple changes have also created new, appealing spaces for study.

In 2008, the library moved all of their books off the second floor of the five story building, through careful elimination of materials and reorganization. The result was stunning, said Cal Poly university librarian Anna Gold.

Because of the library’s many large windows, the floor was bright with natural light, and extremely spacious. It quickly became a popular area for students and what once had been storage became a meeting space, Gold said.

“A lot of other learning commons had been created elsewhere that just housed people sitting at computers. Cal Poly’s learning commons was different because it really was a people-centered space, a place where students could collaborate, with technology on the side,” Gold said.

The library worked with the Cal Poly Corporation to open a café on the floor, and added new carpeting and furniture. The library has since worked with another architectural firm, Shepley Bulfinch, to plan a redesign of the whole library, creating new seating and collaborative spaces on almost every floor, Gold said.

Feedback and fixes

But responses are not always 100 percent positive, as both Etschmaier and Gold know from experience. Despite the best plans, when students get into a redesigned space, they inevitably discover details that don’t work quite as imagined.

In SDSU’s “factory floor” remodel, chairs without wheels quickly became a noisy problem, Etschmaier said.

“We did not put wheels on the chairs because we were afraid of students have long rides through that area on the chairs,” Etschmaier said. “And within the first day, we realized that was a mistake because when students would move on that linoleum floor, as they described it, it sounded like ‘lots of baby seals squealing.’”

At Cal Poly, the furniture staff liked felt too institutional to students, Gold said. They asked for more variety in seating, and they also wanted more vibrant colors.

“We started with what we thought were beautiful, warm earth tones and we heard right away that they wanted red and yellow and bright colors,” Gold said.

In both cases, the libraries heard the feedback and produced solutions. Wheels were ordered and put on the chairs within a week, and a colorful variety of furniture has made its way into Kennedy Library.

Both fixes may seem small, but are part of libraries’ process of constantly responding to feedback and working to improve user experiences.

“Curators of learning experiences”

Even as learning styles and floor plans change, the university library’s role remains the same, Gold and Etschmaier said.

“We have a mission to provide a place where students can study, can reflect, can learn together or individually, and all of that is the same, but I think pedagogy has changed,” Etschmaier said.

As models shift from a guided experience with print materials to a collaborative experience with print and electronic collections, it is up to the library to keep up, Etschmaier said.

The library is the perfect place to encourage that creative, collaborative learning, Gold said.

“The role of the library has always been to support learning, and one of the beautiful things about the library is that it allows (students) to take control of their learning in a way they can’t in a classroom,” Gold said.

And librarians? Where do they fit in all this?

“Think of us as curators of learning experiences,” Gold said.


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Posted on Aug 27, 2014

The Electronic Core Collections: Leveling the playing field for all students

The Electronic Core Collections: Leveling the playing field for all students

Across the CSU, students working on research papers know where to turn. They open their laptop, log in to their university’s library website and then use the dozens of databases at their disposal to search for relevant articles.

The databases are part of the Electronic Core Collections, a system created to provide students at every CSU campus access to the same journals, articles and e-books. This means students have access to the materials they need to succeed, whether they’re at a large, wealthy campus or a smaller one with fewer resources.

For CSU Bakersfield, the system is a vital part of the library’s offerings.

“We’re very dependent on the ECC for resources,” said Curt Asher, interim dean of the Walter W. Stiern Library at CSU Bakersfield.

Prioritizing equal access

The core collections allow universities with smaller budgets and smaller programs to access the same set of publications as students at larger universities, putting students on equal footing.

The priority is to make sure every student has the same opportunities, Asher said.

“All students should have equal access to materials throughout the CSU,” Asher said.

In addition to the core collections, each campus can buy their own subscriptions, but the materials available can vary from campus to campus, depending on a university’s funding or programs, said Eddie Choy, director of academic technology services contract management.

“A student going from one campus to another might not have access to the same resources to do their research,” Choy said.

Flexing their purchasing power

The system not only allows students access to the same materials, but also allows the CSU greater purchasing power when bargaining with publishers. Because the CSU sets aside $5 million for materials, they’re able to buy more materials at a discount from publishers, Choy said.

“When we get together as 23 campuses, we buy a lot more and we get discounts, sometimes 80 percent,” Choy said.

As a group, the CSU campuses can buy more resources than they could individually, benefitting all students in the end.

The case for expanding the collections

But the ECC is not a perfect system. More than a decade ago, $5 million was set aside per year for purchases for the ECC. Over the years, the cost of materials has risen, but the amount allotted for digital acquisitions has stayed the same.

Until now.

Choy has asked the Chancellor’s Office to increase the amount of funding for the ECC by $10 million, to a total of $15 million. That money would not only compensate for inflating costs, recovering resources that had to be cut out, but also allow the CSU to further expand its core collections.

That means that students at every campus will have equal access to the same vital resources. For CSU Bakersfield, that opens up a whole realm of resources to students, Asher said.

“It would bring equity of resources and allow our students to have the same sort of research opportunities as students in other schools have,” Asher said.

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