Stewart works to optimize Big Ten libraries

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Stewart works to optimize Big Ten libraries

Claire Stewart, Dean of University Libraries
Craig Chandler | University Communication
Claire Stewart, dean of University Libraries, is helping lead an innovative Big Ten Academic Alliance initiative to develop a highly integrated library system across the conference.

Claire Stewart, Nebraska’s new dean of University Libraries, will play a leading role in a Big Ten Academic Alliance initiative for a highly integrated library collection across the conference.

The Big Ten’s library collections represent 22 percent of print titles held in North American libraries. Library leaders in the Big Ten Academic Alliance have committed to what they call the BIG Collection, a strategic and coordinated approach to sustaining the scholarly content now held in Big Ten university collections and to broaden users’ access to that content. According to a report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, librarians at Big Ten universities recently wrote that they must move away from a mind-set of independent libraries and work toward managing their separate collections “as if they were a single, shared one.”

The vision is for a more integrated system in which libraries pledge to maintain their collections in specialty areas, giving other institutions flexibility to allocate spending elsewhere.

“I absolutely see this as an opportunity to improve access to library resources,” Stewart said. “Any student at the University of Nebraska will benefit from aggressively coordinated collections work of 15 major research libraries.”

Stewart has been named chair of the content committee, which will identify strategies, priorities and policies for managing existing print collections, including efforts to coordinate collections for optimal distribution and to create stronger system-wide awareness of library collections. The committee will also identify prospective collection development pilots. The content committee also includes Lisa Carter from the University of Wisconsin, D.J. Hoek from Northwestern University, Lisa Gardinier from the University of Iowa and Daniel Mack from the University of Maryland.

As content committee chair, Stewart also serves on the project’s steering committee. The applications committee, headed by Damon Jaggars of Ohio State University and Krisellen Maloney of Rutgers University, will identify strategic directions, priorities and policies to improve network fulfillment, explore architectures to improve integration of discovery and deliver applications and explore dashboard technologies to enhance system-wide awareness.

Stewart will brief University Libraries faculty and staff about the initiative during an Oct. 21 all-staff meeting. The initiative was also a topic of conversation at the University of Nebraska Consortium of Libraries annual retreat held Oct. 10-11.

Stewart became Nebraska’s dean of University Libraries on Aug.1. She came to Nebraska from the University of Minnesota, where she served as associate university librarian for research and learning. While at Minnesota, she was responsible for operational services within 10 library facilities and for the libraries’ education and research support programs. She represented the libraries on campus and nationally, built partnerships and pursued library goals for research excellence, student success, and equity and inclusion. Before her post at Minnesota, she worked 21 years at Northwestern University.

She is a published scholar in data management, curation and preservation and has been an active member of the Big Ten Academic Alliance. The B1G Collection proposal reflects a significant shift in the way libraries do business, she said. At this point, there is not even a shared library catalog across the Big Ten conference and one of the first steps in the project is to develop a strong index of what actually exists across the Big Ten.

There will be questions to be resolved, such as how to record a library’s commitment to retain its works, how to integrate digitization, how to provide access to research published behind paywalls, how to share costs when funding capacities can change from year to year based upon tuition and state support.

“It’s exciting and a little bit scary to think about being as interdependent as we hope to be,” she said.

There’s surprisingly little duplication among the specialized collections held by Big Ten libraries, she noted. One institutions might have a very good engineering collection, while another might have a specialized music collection.

“Our most pressing priority is to become more coordinated around existing print collections,” she said. “Once we have a good understanding of those collections, where the areas of strength or prominence are, we might consider moving things around – or just getting really good at getting things to people when they need them. Going forward, recognizing that libraries have limited space and limited resources, how do we provide access to absolute best of everything our users need for their research and their teaching?”