With Gibbons at the helm, library makes strides

Yale’s libraries amassed new physical and digital holdings and expanded their influence on academia during the 2011–’12 academic year, University Librarian Susan Gibbons said in an annual report posted on the library’s website last week.

After working at the University for nine years, former University Librarian Alice Prochaska announced in June 2009 that she would be leaving Yale for a position at Oxford. Over the next two years, Yale’s libraries faced a rapidly changing digital world and significant cuts to library budgets under two interim University librarians, Gibbons told the News. But the library gained a measure of stability in July 2011 when Gibbons took over Prochaska’s position, and Gibbons said in her annual report that Yale’s librarians took great strides last year toward meeting modern needs for digital content while balancing their simultaneous roles as librarians, educators and teachers.

“This first year felt as if we were trying to reset ourselves, adjust to the new economic realities and chart a new course forward,” Gibbons said.

Yale libraries in 2011-'12

Gibbons said in the report that academic libraries can no longer assume that their importance is universally understood in an age of computer brands and websites like Google, Amazon and Apple. Yale’s libraries not only preserve knowledge, Gibbons said, but also play an active role as a partner to Yale in research and academic excellence through teaching and working with students and faculty. In the 2011–’12 academic year, the library provided 1,337 instruction sessions to more than 5,000 total students, compared with 746 sessions the year before, and established initiatives like the Traveling Scriptorium and Teaching Collection — two portable teaching tools for classes learning about the history of books and bookbinding.

Though the challenges of digital preservation can be “intimidating,” Gibbons said in the report that the library’s increasing focus on digital resources will not replace its commitment to Yale’s physical collections.

“The tension between the physical and digital libraries is an unnecessary and false dichotomy,” she said in the report, adding that the library must honor its “stewardship responsibilities” while also bringing digital resources to the Yale community.

Gibbons said planning and designing the Center for Science and Social Science Information, which opened in January 2012 in the basement of Kline Biology Tower, was an exciting project because it posed unique challenges for the library and for Information Technology Services. CSSSI, which includes a 24-hour study space and a library with 180,000 volumes, required the creation of a team of library and ITS staff members with different job descriptions and skill sets, Gibbon said.

“There were a lot of ‘firsts’ with CSSSI,” Gibbons said, adding that the resulting merge of the former science and social science libraries and the former statistical laboratory, known as StatLab, has exceeded her expectations.

The report highlighted numerous notable acquisitions the library made during the 2011–’12 academic year, including approximately a million documents and objects belonging to Nobel laureate Henry A. Kissinger, who served as U.S. secretary of state under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford LAW ’41.

Librarians completed a three-year project to catalog hundreds of endangered African languages, 20 of which had never been collected and processed by a library before, and also launched Chinese Rare Books, a searchable online database of uncommon Chinese books, most of which were published before 1796.

Gibbons said she hopes the current academic year will be remembered for new and improved services, including Scan and Deliver — which allows patrons to order and receive book scans by email — and for the “thoughtful planning” of impending construction projects such as the restoration of the Sterling Library nave, which will begin this June.

Librarians interviewed said library staff have been meeting this spring to plan the construction in a way that will inconvenience patrons as little as possible.

The library spent $103.2 million during the 2011–’12 academic year. Endowments made up 60 percent of the library’s revenue, while general University appropriations made up 35 percent of the budget.

Correction: March 10 

A previous version of this article misidentified StatLab as the former social science and statistical laboratory, when in fact it was only the statistical laboratory.

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