Virtually Unique

Interesting developments in the last few days.  Grad school buddy Susan alerted me to a conversation happening on a listserv (to which I do not subscribe) discussing virtual academic libraries.  I thought it was interesting that it was a topic of conversation but didn’t think much of it.

Today, I got an email from Frank Bridge, who is the Technology Management Administrator for the Chesterfield County Public Library in Virginia.  Would I be willing to talk to him about the virtual library?

Those of you who know me know that getting me to talk is hardly a difficult task.  Of course, I said yes.  And we had a very interesting conversation.

We talked about the library, how having a virtual collection is just fine, and how the paradigms need to change for many of our library brethren.  We also had a great conversation about how things are changing in the world of the public library, and how we can help our respective staffs keep up with the new skills our patrons will expect them to know.

Frank plans to check back with me in a year, to see how things are going.  (Couldn’t convince him to visit Minnesota, though.  Too cold.  Always.)

After our conversation, curiosity led me to the listserv.  One guy started things off by asking about a virtual library being planned:

I need to track down some information.

Some time ago there was some writing and discussion in web4lib about a college or university that was planned or built without a physical library, it was supposed to be fully electronic. I have been trying to track down if this was just
1) rumours of being planned or
2) actually planned or
3) actually built.
and, if any of these, where?

A few folks responded, including a librarian from the Rochester Public Library, which is two blocks from here and an invaluable resource.  She informed the group of our existence, and then was kind enough to elaborate after one guy asked, “If they don’t have a physical library, where do they keep their books?”  (Kind of missing the point, hon.)

Susan replied,

People have asked me where the U of MN Rochester, which opened in 2008, keeps their books. [Really?  I had no idea people were asking!  MB]  They do not have a library in their new facility and at this point I don’t believe they intend to add a library.

This has info on their “information commons” – as you can see from the photo – computers only. UMR students have access to all of the University of Minnesota Libraries’ online resources for their academic programs, including the catalog, periodical indexes and full text articles. Books and other printed materials may be obtained from the University of Minnesota Libraries through document delivery or interlibrary loan. Students should contact the Information Commons staff to assist them with their requests.

Couldn’t have said it better myself.  (Thanks, Susan!)

The thread ended with the original author informing the group that after the research, he found only two virtual libraries: ours and the Kingsport Center for Higher Education, which is under construction and isn’t planning a library.

I was floored.  I knew that our library model was a bit new, but I had no idea it was that revolutionary.

I may have to think about how to document all that has been happening as we create our new campus and its associated library.  In the meantime, I’ll start posting a bit more on how this all works.  (Frankly, I didn’t think it was that big a deal.  Who knew?)  For those of you who are interested in this whole thing, feel free to contact me.  I’ll be glad to chat!

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4 Comments

Filed under Libraries and Librarianship, Me and mine

4 responses to “Virtually Unique

  1. Tara Brigham

    Very neat! I did not realize that the library at UMR was pretty much sans physical materials and a truly ‘virtual library’. That is pretty new and exciting!

    Since I come to Rochester often, I have been meaning to stop by to see what the library is like, but know realize that there is probably not much to tour. (I have always been interested in libraries as spaces- their architecture and aestics and how that affects their patrons, etc.). I think it is an interesting approach in the UMN system to set up this type of library. Since most journals (especially medical and science ones) seem to be forgoing print editions, this type of set up is pretty practical for the UMR campus. Do you have a lot of ILL requests for print material that need to be sent down from UMN?

    I am a librarian in the Twin Cities and I found your blog awhile ago while sniffing around the SELCO website. Being from southern MN myself, I was interested to learn who became the librarian for UMR. I enjoy reading your blog and hearing about the various libraries things and the development of the UMR campus. Thanks for being that voice!

  2. Thanks, Tara! And please stop in anytime and visit – I can give you a tour of the campus. It’s pretty cool.

    So far, I have about one ILL request a week. However, we are still in the process of hiring faculty for our new degree program. I’m guessing once we have a number of faculty and post-docs doing research that may increase. We just arranged for UMR to be on the location list for the “Get it” button in MnCAT, so that will help, too.

  3. Leesa

    You were floored? I’m floored that there are actually TWO of them! Wow. Hard to believe. Is it really necessary to be totally virtual? Totally? Can all your students afford a computer to get access to your materials? I can’t afford a computer right now and I imagine I’m not the only person in the world with that problem. So, I wouldn’t have access to your collection? Hmmmm. A virtual library around here would go over like a lead balloon. So many people would be cut off. But, if it was right for your market, than so be it. It’s an interesting concept, for sure! Just don’t forget that many libraries will never be virtual – don’t write us off as old fashioned! We just know our market, too!

  4. Hi Leesa,

    As a new campus, we created the Information Commons to be a room full of computers, so students have access here on campus. The whole building has wireless access, too, so if they do have a laptop they can access information from wherever they happen to be.

    So you would have access to the collection if you came to the library – just like in the “old days!”

    I don’t know that a virtual library is for everyone. I can’t imagine a virtual public library – though I can see public libraries offering access to reference materials virtually. And I’m a woman with 14 bookcases of books at her house, so believe me when I tell you that I Love Books. But in our situation and with our particular majors, virtual works.

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