From the Vice Provost and Dean - Winter 2014

Digital space and real space in Libraries

It may seem counterintuitive, but the more time we spend in digital space, the more we long to come together in real space. We see evidence of this in our libraries. Last year, a record five million people crossed the physical threshold of the library.

For many years, the Libraries has been re-conceptualizing its spaces and services. The vast majority of the Libraries collections and content can now be accessed from outside the library walls while individual and collaborative work within the library walls has never been greater. I invite you to visit the research commons in the Allen Library and the newly renovated Odegaard Undergraduate Library to see this phenomenon in action. We are planning more such spaces to bridge the digital and physical worlds in the service of research and learning.

In many ways, we have reshaped Henry Suzzallo’s “cathedral of books” into a 21st century any time any place library. Now, easy-to-use search engines providing access to vast content have changed our daily information expectations. Wonderful opportunities exist to create digital content from our library stacks and make widely available what had once been “hidden” away in our special collections and archives. The future of the University is inseparable from the future of the library; or as James Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan, has said, “The library of the future may in fact predict the future of the University.”

Yet how do we ensure that we offer the best learning experience possible, expand student access to excellence and use digital modalities in a meaningful way? Our future will be determined in large part by how our universities collectively respond to the networked world. Education and research will demand a complex, integrated and increasingly global information infrastructure.

Universities like ours will be measured by how well they disseminate knowledge. We will need to find new ways to share intellectual effort in order to advance discovery and educate students for a future we can’t even begin to imagine.

During this transformation, the mission of the UW has remained constant: the preservation, advancement and dissemination of knowledge. As a global university, the UW needs an open digital environment in which to do its work. Because long-term stewardship of digital content is critical to the future, the role of preservation is more important than ever, so we can continue sharing the world’s knowledge as we transition from paper to primarily digital.

Read the Winter 2014 Libraries e-news

- Lizabeth (Betsy) Wilson

Winter 2014