ACRL Excellence in Academic Libraries Award

Wellesley College Library Application

"…the reason that Wellesley College is here-all of your teachers and all of the people who administer and support this institution-is to take care of the library, the library and the laboratories, and all of the accumulated human understanding that they represent. After all, the books are bigger than we are in some important senses. They were here before us, and they'll be here after us, and they embody a range of experience far wider and more various than ours. We need them. But at the same time, they need us. This caretaking job is a job that should humble us, but it isn't a humble job. The books need to be read and understood and challenged and extended and added to, and they live on only in the lives and minds of those who engage and value them."

~ From the inaugural Distinguished Professor Lecture, given by Timothy Peltason, Professor of English, September 1999.

For the past 125 years, the Library has been an integral part of the educational experience of students and faculty at Wellesley College. The quality of the Library is due in part to the foresight and dedication of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Fowle Durant, the founders of the College, who saw the Library as central to the mission of the institution and took personal care in forming, from its very opening in 1875, a rich library collection. Their dedication inspired faculty, librarians and alumnae to participate actively in the building of the Library's collection through the donation of personal collections and through the establishment of endowed funds to support the purchase of library materials.

Use of the Special Collections to Support Academic Programs

Many of these donated personal collections of the faculty and alumnae formed the nucleus of what is today an outstanding collection of rare books and manuscripts (see attached Special Collections brochure). Wellesley students and faculty actively use these materials to support research and instruction, due to the efforts of the Special Collections Librarian and her staff. Between 40 and 50 class sessions and lectures are presented in Special Collections each year for courses offered in a wide range of disciplines, including Astronomy, History, Art, French, Classical Civilization, and English. Students have chosen topics for theses and seminar papers that require extensive use and study of Special Collections resources. Each year Wellesley sponsors a one-day symposium that showcases selected undergraduate research projects, especially work done at the advanced undergraduate level. Three of the projects chosen for the 1999 symposium were based on research conducted in Special Collections.

In addition, the Library has actively collaborated with the College's Davis Museum and Cultural Center on a number of exhibitions that make use of the Special Collections holdings. These exhibitions are often directly linked to courses being offered concurrently. Students in these courses may prepare associated materials for the exhibition (e.g., labels, gallery brochures) as part of their coursework. Students have also designed and prepared exhibitions of Special Collections holdings for display in the Library, as part of the fulfillment of course assignments.

The Wellesley College Library has offered a Book Arts Seminar since 1944, using examples from Special Collections as illustrations of the history of the book and making use of the Book Arts Laboratory, a facility that houses a variety of presses. In 1998, in recognition of the intellectual substance and the richness of the educational experience, this formerly not-for-credit course was designated as a for-credit course, listed as part of the Applied Arts courses within the Art Department curriculum. It is highly unusual for a course taught by a person without faculty rank to be offered for credit-there are only two other courses within Wellesley's 800 course offerings that are in this category. Two Special Collections staff members team-teach the course, which includes lectures on printing history and sessions in the Book Arts Laboratory for students to learn to set type by hand and print on hand presses. Because the course is offered for credit, students are required to complete a course evaluation questionnaire. Below are selected comments from students who completed the course:

" I loved the hands-on component of the course, which allowed us to practice some of the techniques we were learning about in the lecture. The lecture portion was valuable because it exposed us to what Special Collections has to offer, giving us an overview of the history of the book."

"Wellesley has such a great collection, and they used it! I also loved actually MAKING a book; what a great way to have it hands-on."

"I would recommend this course to anyone because it is a unique opportunity in this day and age for people to learn how to hand print books. Also the opportunity to view the Rare Books Collection was amazing!"

"The knowledge that I gained from [the instructor's] lectures has already helped me in various classes where Book Art and the History of Books have become pertinent discussion topics."

The departmental courses directly supported by Special Collections resources and the Book Arts Seminar are noteworthy examples of the ways in which the Library is integrated into the educational experiences of the students. At many undergraduate institutions, these unique and irreplaceable resources are viewed as analogous to museum collections-to be seen, but not touched. This is not the case at Wellesley. As further recognition of the Library's commitment to maintain and expand these intellectual partnerships with faculty and students, the recently-renovated Special Collections area includes a new seminar room, to provide a teaching space which promotes the use of these resources. (see brochure regarding the Library's 1999 renovation).

The Library Liaison Program

The Library has established productive relationships with all academic departments and programs through the Library Liaison program. Library staff members serve as liaisons to selected academic departments and interdepartmental programs; each academic department appoints a faculty member who serves a faculty library liaison. The Manager of the Library Collections Group serves as a member of the College's Committee on Curriculum and Instruction, strengthening the linkage between the academic programs and the Library. As the 1999 Reaccreditation Evaluation Team report for Wellesley College states, "The long standing library liaison program to academic departments and programs is working, and faculty report that their needs for new courses and programs are met and often anticipated." (Reaccred.,p.12) As part of the process of reviewing proposals for new courses, library and technology needs are identified by the faculty member submitting the proposal. "Resource requirements for [library] materials, equipment, infrastructure and space are a routine part of the consideration of new courses and programs." [Reaccred., p.12] This ensures that the information resources are available for students when the course is first offered.

Analysis of Journal use Leads to New Service Offerings

Building upon the productive working relationships between the library liaisons and the faculty, the Library recently initiated a highly successful and substantive dialog with the Science departments regarding the high cost of serial subscriptions that resulted in the introduction of new delivery mechanisms for journal literature and net cost savings of approximately $65,000. The approach taken to prepare for this conversation illustrates the Library's innovative strategies for meeting the needs of the academic community.

Several of the challenges related to serials -storage, preservation, and most notably, subscription price escalation-have engaged academic libraries since the 1970s. In 1989, Wellesley College Library, like many other academic libraries, undertook a serials cancellation project. Since that time, Wellesley's expenditures for serials have continued to outpace those for monographs, with increases of over 100% for journals in most of the science disciplines. It was clear that another round of serials cancellations alone would not resolve this continuing problem. We determined that our approach would be to identify and introduce alternative methods for providing access to journal literature, and that these methods should be more user-centered, flexible and cost-effective.

However, we faced the problem of convincing faculty that these new methods would adequately support their research and teaching and would effectively substitute for the traditional means of subscribing to and owning the desired serial titles. We determined that our discussion with faculty would be considerably more productive if we could engage them in a cost/benefit analysis of our subscription base, with their evaluation informed by data gathered about Wellesley's patterns of use. In 1996, the Library began a study of the use of approximately 600 journals shelved in the Science Center Library. When the study began, library staff communicated the following goal to the community: Data collected during the study will help Library staff plan and provide effective services in the face of some of the challenges currently confronting science libraries.

The service model we envisioned consisted of three primary components:

  • ongoing needs assessment based on demonstrated use of journals and consultation with faculty
  • options for subsidized document delivery, interlibrary loan, and other networked resources
  • maintenance of a high-use, curriculum-center local journal collection

The central premise underlying the model was that articles from little used subscriptions are obtained more cost effectively through high quality, subsidized document delivery or ILL services, while frequently used, high demand materials are more effectively provided through locally maintained journal collections. The basic questions addressed by this use study were:

  • which journals are used and with what frequency
  • is there a continuum of low and high use titles within disciplines
  • what is the relative cost of various journal titles in relation to frequency of use

The study's method of counting use captured occurrences of use by having staff retrieve volumes and issues of journals found off the shelf and record them before reshelving. The project employed features of the Library's Innovative Interfaces system to collect and store data and an EXCEL database for managing and displaying the data. The report analyzed usage, subscription prices, and holdings in the aggregate and for each of the seven science disciplines served by the Science Library. The analyses were complemented by data on enrollments, courses, and number of majors, which provided the context for evaluating information on usage and holdings.

None of the analyses attempted to determine absolute cost effectiveness, a problem which remains controversial for the field generally. Instead a price/use ration was computed for each title as a way of approaching relative cost-effectiveness. By joining price and usage, such computations highlight the disparities represented by, for example, an $800 title that is used 250 times and a $400 title used only twice. The distinction is helpful in making title-by-title comparisons and in highlighting subscriptions where document delivery services might reasonably substitute for local ownership. In such cases, funds saved by canceling titles with high-price ratios could be re-deployed to subsidize document delivery and to purchase new subscriptions that will receive more use. (See attached examples of data from the study).

From the beginning, this systematic and thorough approach was designed to yield not only data but to create an effective forum for library staff and faculty to discuss information needs and to share perspectives on the role journals play in support of research and instruction. As mentioned above, nearly 50 titles, selected by faculty in collaboration with library staff were canceled, resulting in significant cost savings. In 1998, the Library launched a pilot program for unmediated document delivery for science faculty, using CISTI's SWETSCAN service. The pilot ran successfully during 1998/99 and has now become part of the Library's array of service offerings, with plans to expand the document delivery options to address specific needs within the science disciplines and to explore the potential of applying this method to meet the information needs of social scientists.

Cost-effective Strategies Maintain Buying Power

This project joins a number of other Library initiatives undertaken to meet the challenges of sustaining the buying power of the available funds during this period of rapid cost inflation and the infusion of new electronic formats. "Unlike some institutions, Wellesley has not tried to finance its move to the information age by reducing its commitment to print collections." (Reaccred. p.11) During the past decade, the Library has aggressively negotiated discounts provided by our primary vendors of monographs and has continued to refine the profiles of our gathering plans. As another way of stretching the dollars, the Library has maintained the policy of purchasing paperbound editions that are simultaneously published with the hardcover edition, because the costs of binding these paperbound editions is considerably less that the price differential between the paper and hardcover edition.

Consortial Relationships Support Resource Sharing

The Library has entered into cooperative collections agreements developed by member institutions of the Boston Library Consortium (BLC), a group of academic and research libraries dedicated to resource sharing of which Wellesley is the only liberal arts college member. These cooperative agreements outline institutional responsibilities for providing shared subject coverage of fields such as biology, chemistry, Latin American women's studies, film and music. (For an example, see attached "Boston Library Consortium Agreement on Cooperative Resource Sharing in Music.") These agreements are effective because of the over 25 years of resource sharing experience of the BLC, based upon a strong commitment and a mutual understanding of the benefits of cooperation in the delivery of library services.

Most recently, the BLC member institutions have agreed to deepen this commitment to cooperation by initiating a virtual catalog/direct distance borrowing project which will allow authorized patrons to directly request and borrow monographic materials that are held by other BLC libraries. While other liberal arts college libraries have participated on a statewide basis in similar initiatives, most if not all of these projects are based on a common integrated library systems platform (e.g., Ohiolink). Within the BLC member institutions, there are at least five different library vendor products in use, which makes the project somewhat more challenging because of the requirements for integrating the data from these various systems. Convinced of the benefits for the Wellesley community, the Library has volunteered to be among the first group of four BLC libraries that will implement this new functionality, expected to be fully operational by fall 2000.

"The College has a distinguished library with historically strong collections and annual additions of new information resources that place the institution among the best liberal arts colleges in the country. Faculty members report strong collections that serve them, and a high level of services in traditional library functions and in the array of services that deliver technological support along with materials." (Reaccred., p.10).

Library and Computing Join to Form New Information Services Organization

In 1994, the President and other senior officers of Wellesley College decided to form a merged organization, combining library and computing services to create Information Services. While there had been organizational experimentation occurring at other academic institutions, most earlier efforts to create this new hybrid structure had not achieved success, with some instances of once-merged organizations being separated. However, interest in the merged organization was being rekindled because it was viewed as a potential model for effectively coping with the rapid changes brought by the convergence of the availability of powerful desktop equipment, high speed networks, the advent of the WorldWideWeb, and the expanding array of digitized information resources.

Perhaps because the timing was right, many institutions began to reconsider the potential of the merged organization concurrently with Wellesley. Because Wellesley was among the first liberal arts colleges to gather library and all technology services (including administrative and academic computing, networking and telecommunications, media services) in one organization led by a librarian, Wellesley became a national leader for this model. Wellesley hosted many visits by other liberal arts colleges engaged in this exploration of organizational design, including Mt.Holyoke, Connecticut College, Vassar, Bowdoin, etc. Because this was the frontier, expertise was built and measured in terms of months rather than years of experience. Members of the Wellesley staff were invited to give presentations at both library and computing conferences, as well as consult with other institutions grappling with these choices. The Wellesley model, with the librarian as leader and serving as a member of the senior management team of the College reporting directly to the President, has been a reference point for many other academic institutions.

In the five years since the restructuring occurred, there has been validation that this approach was the right one for Wellesley. "Library and information services at Wellesley are provided by a single administrative unit under strong and imaginative leadership…The Information Services staff in both library and technology areas provide resources in all media to support intellectual and cultural development both inside and outside the strict limits of the curriculum.." (Reaccred., p.10) "The staff and management of the IS organization are both exceptionally strong. There are currently 85 FTE staff and 53 FTE student help. This staffing pattern includes more than average use of student workers, who are deployed in a variety of imaginative ways that extend library and technology support into the dorms and into the evenings. IS employs about 15 percent of the student body each year. This provides a pool of labor that is both highly skilled and considerably less expensive than comparably skilled professional staff. It also provides a mechanism to move technological skills into the student body and help build a culture of technological sophistication among students. Student workers in IS report that their work experience is a significant component of the educational benefit they receive from the College." (Reaccred., pp.12-13)

An example of the value of this new structure is the Betsy Wood Knapp Media and Technology Center, a facility that combines advanced technology resources with the more traditional library services such as course reserve support. The Knapp Center, located in the main library building, is the embodiment of the merged organization, bringing together staff to provide a wide array of services to the community. "The Knapp Media Center is a showcase for high quality service and intelligent design. It is also packed with users and functions as an intellectual commons for students." (Reaccred., p.10) The Council on Library and Information Resources selected Wellesley College as one of the case studies for its 1999 publication entitled Innovative Use of Information Technology by Colleges, using the development process of the Knapp Center as the example.

Most recently, in preparation for discussions related to the design of a new campus center, members of the Wellesley community were asked to identify spaces on campus that "worked", or as the process was described, to "find the places that make Wellesley home…" The Knapp Center was selected by students and included in the Student Photo Journal, with the following caption: "This place has it all-nice open spaces and windows, great lighting, comfy chairs, lots of computers, not to mention, quite a social scene."

In addition to this physical manifestation, the new organization has provided expanded opportunities for service improvement. "Throughout the organization, there are orientation and training programs in place to promote effective use of information and technology. A wide array of classes, including a new half-credit class in computer science, along with help services, focused help sessions, e-mail tips and one-on-one instructional sessions are available for students, faculty and staff. The [IS] staff have adopted a culture of assessment that builds routine evaluation instruments into all classes, and there is evidence that they use this information to add services, change courses, and delete things that do not work." (Reaccred., p.13)

The half-credit course in computer science mentioned above is jointly taught by librarians and computer specialists and is entitled "Introduction to Internet Research and Resources." This course was designed to address the needs of those students who enter Wellesley with limited exposure to technology and Internet resources. As the course description states: "Students learn to search, access, and critically evaluate information available on the Internet. Topics include an exploration of copyright, privacy, security issues of digital data and electronic communications, together with the basic computer science underpinnings of these issues." This course would not be as valuable a learning experience for the over 100 students who enrolled in 1998/99 if the course was not jointly taught by both librarians and computing specialists.

Customer-focused Work Redesign and the Introduction of Shared Leadership

One of the opportunities presented by the creation of Information Services was the chance to review and redesign, as needed, the organizational structures of each part of the whole, including the library. In May 1998 we began a process to engage the Library staff in an examination of services, organizational structures and workflow patterns. The goal of this process was to ensure an organization that supports the educational mission of the College through the provision of outstanding library services. The process centered around the development of a shared vision of the Library of the future, predicated on the empowerment and commitment of all staff to help build this future.

During the past 18 months, the Library has, in effect, reinvented itself by developing a new vision statement (see attached), completing a work analysis, and creating a new organizational structure that is based on a shared leadership model. Five work groups have been formed (Access Services, Acquisitions and Cataloging, Digital Technologies, Library Collections Management, and Research and Instruction) and each group has a manager who serves on the Library Management Group. (See attached description)

The new structure has been in place since October 1999 and we are beginning to reap some of the anticipated benefits, including increased staff accountability and collaboration, and an emphasis on the "customer". Our work has been supported and informed by a parallel process initiated by the College to redesign the job classification system, as well as to establish new performance management practices. Among the compensable factors for the job classification structure are accountability and responsibility, collaboration, and service to constituents, reinforcing the goals established by the Library's process. Though the results of this substantial organizational change process will not be fully known for years, it is clear that Wellesley is breaking new ground by promoting this approach for valuing work.