Academic Directions for Brown University, the report of the Academic Directions Committee to the Academic Council, was published in April 1993. The closing section of the report dealt with support of scholarship, and included the following: "...the building blocks necessary to all levels of the discovery process (by faculty and students) are the University's material resources: laboratories, libraries, computer equipment ... and other facilities, as well as the trained staff to support and operate them. If Brown is to maintain and improve its reputation for excellence into the twenty-first century, these resources must receive more attention in academic planning than ... in the past."

Why is it important to involve the Library in academic planning? First, libraries, even large ones, are as distinct as fingerprints. Because academic libraries frequently "mirror" the university which surrounds them, their collections are sometimes weak in areas which have not, in the past, been of interest to their parent institution. It is risky, therefore, to assume that "any good library" will have the resources necessary to support a particular field of interest. While it is certainly the case that basic titles should be in any quality research library, there can be wide disagreements as to what constitutes "basic", especially in a field which may have come into existence within the last decade. Faculty may wish to talk to a Collection Development Librarian about particular needs before any assumptions are made.

Just as there may be surprising weaknesses in a collection, an in-depth look may reveal unanticipated areas of strength. In common with most large libraries, the Brown University Library holds many resources which may not appear in the catalog, but which provide rich fodder for research and teaching. Often such materials have uses far beyond what may be thought of as the obvious. The John Hay Library, for example, holds 500,000 pieces of American sheet music, one of the four largest collections in the country. To quote our own Special Collections at Brown University (1988), the collection "is an unequalled resource for the study of American music and mores, for the investigation of fine color printing or the passing fancies of previous generations." One might not, however, think of it as a natural source for the study of the Civil War. Yet, one of the strengths of the collection is Confederate music, with a corresponding section of Union imprint music. Again, in constructing a new course or contemplating a different academic direction, there are treasures to be discovered by involving the Library in one's planning.

Yet another reason for involving the Library is that collections of any significance cannot be formed overnight. Most faculty, in assessing a library collection, look at the resources they need to develop their own lectures and pursue research, as well as at the materials they may want to assign to students. A faculty member hopes to see certain journal titles present, and, today, may expect the Library to offer specialized databases or other online resources. Many courses now rely on videotapes, slides or other sorts of "media." A graduate program requires not only sophisticated secondary sources, but primary research materials, as well. Even if one assumes that certain needs can be met via interlibrary loan, that presupposes that the basic resources are present locally. A faculty member who devotes considerable effort to developing a new program, without having investigated the Library's holdings, may find that there is more lacking than anticipated, and insufficient time or money to redress the problems quickly.

Finally, there is the matter of resources. Over the course of the last decade, the University has increased the Library's acquisitions budget by an average of 7.3% annually, a not inconsiderable achievement given other constraints. In most years, gifts from alumni and other donors permit the Library to spend slightly more than is budgeted. Nonetheless, during the same period, inflation in the cost of scholarly materials averaged 11.3% annually, more than three times the amount of the average C. P. I. increase, meaning that the Library dollar is steadily losing purchasing power. Furthermore, nearly 80% of the Library's budget is encumbered on July 1, leaving less than $500,000 to be distributed among 70 academic disciplines for purchase recommendations. The growing demand for more electronic publications has placed additional pressure on acquisitions funds.

In this climate, the creation of each new initiative requiring new Library resources results in spreading available funds even more thinly. Involving the Library in planning for a new direction means that an accurate estimate of start-up and continuing costs can be developed; faculty members may gain a realistic idea of how the information needs for their program may be addressed; and the Library can gather data which eventually may be of use in fundraising and budget planning. The University Administration is sometimes able to provide start-up funds for Library resources in new collection areas; while this does not address the problem of continuing support, it is very helpful in the beginning days of an academic enterprise.

Faculty members should contact the Library, starting with William Monroe, Head of Collection Development (x2406), when designing a new course or academic program, or when developing a grant proposal which may require additional Library support. In addition, Academic Department Chairs might consider informing their Collection Development Librarian when they intend to recruit a faculty member in a field new to the department. New faculty often appreciate the opportunity to apprise the Library of their needs, and to evaluate the existing collections before actually beginning their work on campus.

Merrily E. Taylor
Joukowsky Family University Librarian

[ Library Home Page | Library Publications | Back to Bibliofile 24]