Library Issues

Help me build a new library

Ok, library gang: I need some help.

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re building a new library here at UTC. We are in the planning stages now, and are in the process of putting together a program plan.

Here’s the rub: the program plan that we’re coming up with is based on, of course, current processes.

My challenge to you, library bloggers (and feel free to answer on your own blogs, just linkback so I can follow): if you had a new building, 16-18 full time librarians, and roughly 20 staff members, how would you put together the best academic library possible? How many people doing what? How do we deconstruct “Systems” into something useful? Same for “Reference”? We’re not tied to existing paradigms, and are looking for radically out of the box thinking…give me your best shot at a library for the 21st century.

The point is to ignore existing skillsets of the people here, and instead build the ideal set of positions…we can fill them afterwards. But that’s hard to do from the inside. Give us your best shot!

By griffey

Jason Griffey is the Director of Strategic Initiatives at NISO, where he works to identify new areas of the information ecosystem where standards expertise is useful and needed. Prior to joining NISO in 2019, Jason ran his own technology consulting company for libraries, has been both an Affiliate at metaLAB and a Fellow and Affiliate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and was an academic librarian in roles ranging from reference and instruction to Head of IT at the University of TN at Chattanooga.

Jason has written extensively on technology and libraries, including multiple books and a series of full-periodical issues on technology topics, most recently AI & Machine Learning in Libraries and Library Spaces and Smart Buildings: Technology, Metrics, and Iterative Design from 2018. His newest book, co-authored with Jeffery Pomerantz, will be published by MIT Press in 2024.

He has spoken internationally on topics such as artificial intelligence & machine learning, the future of technology and libraries, decentralization and the Blockchain, privacy, copyright, and intellectual property. A full list of his publications and presentations can be found on his CV.
He is one of eight winners of the Knight Foundation News Challenge for Libraries for the Measure the Future project (, an open hardware project designed to provide actionable use metrics for library spaces. He is also the creator and director of The LibraryBox Project (, an open source portable digital file distribution system.

Jason can be stalked obsessively online, and spends his free time with his daughter Eliza, reading, obsessing over gadgets, and preparing for the inevitable zombie uprising.

5 replies on “Help me build a new library”

“The point is to ignore existing skillsets of the people here, and instead build the ideal set of positions…we can fill them afterwards.”

Wow. I have always wanted to do that, even without a new building. Unfortunately it does not seem possible, because you have to wait for people to retire. As much as the logical, manager-type part of me would like to believe otherwise, people are not plug-ins. In my experience, unless you have a high turnover rate in your staff, you have to adjust expectations and try to work with the people you have. (Or work around them.)

Having made that comment above, I think the exercise of designing this idea set of staff and positions and space is exciting and though-provoking. One question– how much IT support are you including within the library. Is IT separate at UTC or merged with the library? That arrangement will make a big difference in how you envision services and staff assignments.

I’d ask what impact the Library should have on learning, living, and scholarship on campus (might be good to ask more than just people in the Library what the impact should be) and design from that. A Library can play many roles on a campus – which roles are needed on a given campus might be very contextually determined. What roles and impact the librarians should have on campus should also drive design decisions ….

I would incorporate technology as much as possible into a library. If you have a nice budget… touch screens, and no physical books. 15 flat computers mounted in the wall to save space. Library visitors will not sit, they will stand, and keyboards will come out from the wall, you save a lot more space and can have a lot more cool looking library.

I was privileged to attend the ACRL Leadership Institute for Academic Librarians in August. During one of the days of excellent teaching in a room filled with my peers, I had a flash of inspiration that I wrought into a personal mission for my library (the term may seem to contradict itself, but I see it as a place from which I work and hope to lead and meld the library into an organization that also sees these words as meaningful):

SERVICE to students
ACCESS for scholars

Service to students includes timely, appropriate and easy-to-use information resources, regardless of format or means of delivery, where and when they need them; instruction in becoming discerning denizens of the information age, with respect for the scholarly process and intellectual property; research help available in whatever medium and space used by students; space in which to grow as scholars and as people, with engaging and meaningful events that help them learn and grow as human beings.

Access for scholars necessitates appropriate discipline-specific library materials that support teaching and research; rapid acquisition of items not owned by the library; delivery of items to the user’s location (regardless of format or locale); and integration of library service into the faculty and university culture, including discipline-specific research help available from afar, from an office or from the library, including the location of published data used in research.

Meaningful work for staff includes providing strong, knowledgeable leadership with a clear vision that is nimble enough to change with the times without sacrificing quality of service. The leadership of the library must trust its staff, particularly those who work most closely with users, provide opportunities for 360-degree feedback and be willing to implement suggestions made by staff for changes in services or, even better, empower staff to make those changes themselves.

The new academic library organization must be flexible enough to change as user needs changes yet provide enough structure to support staff in their work and to facilitate adequate communication up, down, and across the organization. More technical expertise must be grown in our existing staff, and processes must be analyzed across the organization to determine what we “have always done” that can be stopped or outsourced in order to do the new things better and to allow us to be flexible enough to accommodate further shifts and change.

We must begin to think in the context of web 2.0: given that the web is now all about participation and user-generated content, what can the academic library of the future become that will embrace and facilitate this? We collect scholarship published by our and other faculty; how do we begin to collect works generated by other members of our community? How do we enable the creation, description, storage and preservation of that content for posterity? How do we capture the scholarship process and collect the data and papers that are being generated but not published via traditional means? What does the support structure look like for this? The technical infrastructure? The administration? Its future?

Jason, I know this probably isn’t the answer you were looking for, but I hope it’s food for thought.

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