University of Rochester Library Bulletins: University Libraries in the 1970's, Some Predictions

Volume XXVI · Autumn-Winter 1970-71 · Numbers 1 & 2
Speeches at the Dedication of Rush Rhees Library

On the following pages, the Editors of the Library Bulletin are pleased to reprint the three speeches given at the time of the Dedication of Rush Rhees Library, April 23 and 24, 1970. The speakers were John G. Lorenz, Deputy Librarian of Congress; Gordon N. Ray, President, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation; and Rutherford D. Rogers, University Librarian, Yale University.

Mr. Lorenz' subject was the research library and the community. Mr. Ray spoke on the development of university research collections in universities today, and Mr. Rogers spoke on university libraries in the 1970's.

University Libraries in the 1970’s: Some Predictions

Fifteen thousand years ago, primitive man drew pictures of animals on cave walls and on bones in a style that we now call the x-ray style. Instead of merely drawing the outlines of a deer or bear, our ancestors drew in the viscera, especially the heart. This practice surely reflected a perception of, as well as curiosity about, the inner being and function and not just the outward appearance of the creatures that shared the environment of the naked ape. As we gather to regard the outward manifestation of a great library, it seems to me appropriate for us to emulate primitive man and examine the viscera of university libraries as well as some of the creatures who share ourenvironment.

A great Greek sculptor once said that if he were to sculpt the perfect woman he would assemble a large group of lovely maidens, have them disrobed and proceed to select from among them the choicest examples of each of the several parts of the anatomy. I can’t claim that I have pursued a similarly pleasant course in writing this paper, but I am going to try to distill what I have experienced, heard and read in the last several years about university libraries and from this to postulate the character of our institutions in the 1970’s. In a sense I am indebted to most of this audience for what I have to say, but I hope that I may be so fortunate as to bring a few and hopefully provocative ideas to some of you.

Those of you who have read the February 1970 issue of Datamation may recall Barbara Markuson’s anecdote about a friend who had been involved in many conferences and gatherings of poets. Barbara’s friend said that ". . . one can always spot the amateurs because they talk about imagery, meaning, symbolism and other esoteric topics while the professionals talk about money." Let us start by showing that we are professionals.

I venture to assert that we have reached, if not surpassed, in many cases the capacity of university budgets to support the library growth rate characteristic of the last two decades. Certainly this seems to me to be true for most private universities. I believe we have already entered on a plateauing of acquisitions budgets and growth rates that up to now have followed an amazing upward curve reflected in the Purdue studies.

We are living in an era of equally incredible library building activity with numerous projects in the $10,000,000-$40,000,000 range. Even if you have not launched such a project in your own university, I invite you to add up your capital expenditures over the last decade and you will be surprised at how many of you are in the $10,000,000 club. However, I have talked to enough university presidents and trustees to know the anguish that activity of this magnitude is causing on many campuses, and it seems to me overly optimistic to expect that the present era can be duplicated again from the standpoint of campus real estate, let alone finances.

Despite the lack of clear-cut advantages in off-campus storage as convincingly presented by Ellsworth (The Economics of Book Storage) and Raffel and Shishko (Systematic Analysis of Universtiy Libraries: An Application of Cost-Benefit Analysis to the M.I.T. Libraries), I believe we are going to have to think increasingly of storage libraries.

As to the financial problem generally, I think we all hope for greater support for universities and perhaps their libraries from the federal government. I regret to say that I see nothing on the Washington scene to encourage this hope at the present time. In fact, some of the conflicts between Washington words and actions are slightly reminiscent of Tolstoy when he said "I sit on a man’s back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to lighten his load by all possible means -- except by getting off his back."

It is reasonable to hope that by 1980 we can look forward to some compacting of the storage mass. It would surely be overly optimistic (even in this citadel of photography) to expect that high reduction microtext is going to play a significant role before 1980. The projects designed by Encyclopedia Britannica and others are not a solution for the institutions represented in this audience. Neither can I accept as realistic those pronouncements that the codex form of information is doomed and will soon pass away. I remind you of the extremely revealing statistics cited by Bill Locke, also in the February issue of Datamation, that the conventional storage of a volume costs approximately 20 cents per annum. Computer storage offline of an equivalent amount of intellectual data would cost $7.47 per annum, and on-line $247. Certainly throughout this decade and beyond we must cope with the problems of massive inputs of conventional materials.

Someday, the younger members of the audience will look back on our present level of computer application to libraries as fairly elementary. And yet those of us who have been most involved with automation feel like Ogden Nash and his bath:

I test my bath before I sit
And I’m always moved to wonderment
That what chills the finger not a bit
Is so frigid upon the fundament.

By the end of the decade -- hopefully much earlier -- we will have mastered the technicalities of making efficient use of MARC data and will have made some inroads into processing costs or at least trendlines. This may seem like an extremely modest accomplishment in library automation, but if we could achieve this together with serials control and a really efficient circulation system we will need to apologize to no one for the accomplishments of the 1970’s. Having solved these problems, we would have the basis for successful remote access to computer stored cataloguing data. But we should be figuring out ways to share MARC data regionally. If the storage cost per entry per year is anything like sixty cents -- and this is probably too modest an estimate -- I doubt that any university library can single-handedly build and sustain a complete MARC file whose incremental costs might advance at the rate of $100,000 or more annually.

If I may revert to the problem of collection building and if my prognosis is correct that there will be fewer incremental book dollars to spend, we must exploit ways to make every dollar count as never before. Many of us have gone quite far in building staffs of curators and bibliographers. Those who have not will surely proceed much further in this direction before 1980. A good curator will more than save his salary through wise selection and effective purchasing, particularly on foreign missions. Furthermore, if the blanket orders that so many of us have in effect are to be coordinated with acquisitions objectives, they must be monitored by qualified people at the bibliographer and curator level. It is clear in those universities with which I am familiar that the faculty does not wish, in fact is otherwise too heavily engaged, to bear the primary responsibility for collection building. This means that we must have more and more Ph.D level people with the subject and language proficiency that will enable them to become expert in this key task. And I am sure I need not point out that such staff members are qualified to purge collections as well as add to them.

I have had more than one faculty member assert that the university library must acquire every possible publication, well-reviewed or not, in a field like history. I understand the reasons advanced for this assertion, but this is not a tenable position for any library with which I am acquainted. It reflects an attitude somehow reminiscent of the citizens of Vienna who issued a Catalogue of Forbidden Books in 1765. By 1777, the city felt compelled to include this very Catalogue of Forbidden Books in its Catalogue of Forbidden Books because people were using it as a guide to interesting reading.1

As world publication increases, as it certainly will, we must select more wisely. I have no doubt that an expert in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Michigan has correctly stated that there is "a great deal of junk in present publications," and we have the unenviable task of avoiding the redundant and the junk. I have also been assured by respected art historians that we are prone to waste money on coffee table books. Such unwise use of funds in this and other fields cannot be sustained.

There is also the faculty member who tells me that he cannot rely on the Foreign Newspaper Microfilm Project for three Yugoslav newspapers. Not only must we acquire these currently but by air mail. While I am sympathetic with the motivation behind such requests, it seems to me that this is not the wave of the future but rather the opposite.

We have talked a great deal about cooperation and we have achieved a fair amount over the years, but I am confident that there will be -- in fact there already is -- mounting pressure from university administrators for more cooperation. I hope that some day the Center for Research Libraries will emulate the Boston Spa operation in England as a source of journals. We are all carrying a prodigious burden in learned journal subscriptions. Yale, for example, is spending $150,000 annually for science journals alone. Were we to put our shoulders to a really efficient centralized operation, we might do more for our individual budgets than any single step we could take.

If you haven’t had pressure from your social scientists to take over the acquisition, bibliographical control, programming and circulation of machine readable data archives, count yourself among the blessed -- but only temporarily. The new census is upon us and will soon be spewing out 2,000 tapes at fifty to sixty dollars per tape. Here is a prime example of material that should be shared regionally and cooperatively. Because of the huge investment implied in this kind of service, we must think cooperatively, and even so the pressure on our budgets may be well-nigh intolerable.

As pressure increases to meet the cost of current output, we must necessarily de-emphasize retrospective buying on the grand scale that some of us have been engaged in. More and more, we must limit ourselves to purchasing those older publications for which there is a clear demand. You may call this anti-intellectual but I call it realism, and it suggests more than ever the importance of a curatorial staff.

The rare book markets are not going to dry up (any more rapidly than they already have), but there may be less inflation brought about by institutional as opposed to private buyers. Anyone who has sat in weekly meetings, as I have, to make decisions on items offered in the trade or at auction must realize the capriciousness of the present market and some of the "creatures" who inhabit it. A collection of literary manuscripts that might be expected to fetch 3,500 pounds is knocked down for 1,760, but a rare book that might at most be expected to fetch $45,000 is sold to a private dealer for $75,000 who, the same week, has the nerve to offer it to you, the unsuccessful bidder, for $90,000. My reaction to this is the same as d’Alembert’s two-hundred years ago. When Voltaire tried to ingratiate himself with the Russian court by writing Peter the Great "a collection of gross compliments disguised as history,"2 d’Alembert said that the book made him very nauseous, only he used a vivid four-letter word not appropriate to this occasion.

Perhaps the most obvious thing that is going to occur in this decade is a radical change in the composition and hopefully, the status of our staffs. During my thirty-odd years as a librarian, I have seen a much greater respect develop for librarians and their problems, even for those of us who are not called "information scientists" or "media specialists." It is apparent that we are a big and vital part of the educational process. An institution that proliferates graduate programs -- as too many do -- without proper library support is kidding itself and bilking its students. No university can be great without a great library. And the great libraries of this decade will require a good many high-level people who never saw, and will never need to see, the inside of a library school: bibliographers, curators, systems analysts and programmers. These people have had a most positive effect on the image of "librarians" because, as this audience knows, anyone who works in a library is a "librarian" to most outsiders. These staff members add credibility to our fight for academic status. If we can become more responsive and useful to our clientele, we will be welcomed as full and useful colleagues. I have seen too much evidence of this to believe otherwise.

I sense a great deal of opposition among administrators of private universities to the use of faculty titles by librarians. In general, I share this view, but I suspect that faculty titles and certainly most of the privileges of faculty status will come to many more librarians before 1980. And yet I think we should keep Dr. Johnson’s admonition in mind that "almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble."

Perhaps this is not the place to discuss questionnaires, but the flow from library school students seems to rise annually. Many are ill-conceived, inherently foolish and unbelievably time-consuming. A fair number of libraries are ruthless in consigning such work to the round file, and I’m afraid that the practice will and must become more prevalent.

Copyright is going to become an increasing problem in our daily work. Whereas we should defend to the last man the right to make single copies for research purposes, the making of multiple copies for reserve or other class use seems to me clearly indefensible under fair use or any other doctrine. Some way must and will be found for making such copies and paying a reasonable fee without undue red tape or delays. It is time for a little statesmanship to enter this relationship between ourselves and those of our colleagues who produce our main stock in trade.

The privilege of access to university collections will be greatly restricted in the next ten years. This will affect those in and out of the university. In response to faculty and student demand in several libraries I know, limitations have been imposed on the circulation of the last ten years of journal runs and on entire collections in some departmental libraries. It would not surprise me to see this practice extended to intensive use libraries and core collections that are evolving in some universities.

The non-university user is going to have to come to grips with the cost implications of our libraries. Some large university libraries, including my own, are costing $500-$600 per capita using the student and faculty population as a base. Those of you who are privy to research on the use of libraries know that only about one-third of the students and faculty are intensive users. In those terms, the cost of the library per intensive user is closer to $1,500-$1,800 per annum not counting general university overhead that would bring these figures closer to $2,500. We also know that service to graduate students and faculty members is 4-5 times what it is to undergraduates. If we correct our figures for this factor, unit costs for serious users rise even higher.

Let us consider these figures in relation to graduate students from other institutions, to industrial borrowers, and to others who seek access to our facilities. The $5 or $6 that some libraries charge industry for borrowing a book or $25-$50 for an annual library card for an industrial employee or for a graduate student from another university -- these fees are ludicrous even though business borrowers and others may grumble at them. I respectfully suggest that $500 is a bargain annual rate for a serious user’s access to a great research library. Publicly-supported institutions may not charge such rates because service may be considered an inescapable duty of a library supported by public funds. However, I predict that this decade will see much more realistic charges on the part of privately supported libraries.

I would also suggest that those colleges that want to become universities and those small universities that want to multiply their doctoral programs might consider the possibility of a cooperative arrangement with an established neighboring university library. It is a constant concern to me that we in large libraries build on such a grand scale and so expensively for a relatively limited clientele. If we could broaden our clientele at minimal incremental costs -- and I am aware of all the possible complications -- it could be advantageous for all parties involved.

In this same vein, the reprint publishers who have made fortunes by using the working capital represented in our finest collections must also change their attitudes. Libraries that have built valuable collections over decades or centuries, that have preserved and organized rarities, are entitled to a greater recompense for making their collections available for reprinting. To argue that library-purchasers cannot pay something for the privilege of getting copies of such materials or that publishers can’t make a fair profit is egregious and specious in the extreme. I predict that libraries individually or collectively will get into the reprint business with greater control in quality of editing and quality of microform. I do not say that there is no place for the commercial entrepreneur. There is a very considerable place for anyone who will give that indispensable component -- the holding library -- a fair break.

I regret to say that I am convinced that the decade will not reach the half way mark before some charges are made for interlibrary loans by those libraries that are predominantly givers rather than receivers. These operations are costing $50,000-$100,000 per big library, and this is the kind of expense that is coming under increasingly rigorous examination in the university community.

Some radical changes in library organization are already evolving. Several libraries are developing major library centers in science, the humanities, the social sciences and the fine arts. Some of these centers are the equivalent, in size and staff, of entire university libraries of a few decades ago. We will see more of this as a logical answer to growth of specialized collections and as a response to the crippling effects of fragmentation within a large discipline. The amount of crossing of disciplinary lines within a university is perhaps more vividly known to librarians than to anyone else on campus. The endless creation of departmental libraries is not the greatest good for the greatest number of our users. On the pattern of the Firestone Library at Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and Yale -- to name but three -- we must coordinate services in a broad disciplinary area like science in such a way that we gain the benefits of centralization without losing the advantages of tailored services along subdisciplinary lines.

As I have already indicated, core or intensive use collections are being developed in a number of universities. In fact, the so-called undergraduate libraries often function as core collections. The rationale behind this type of organization is to concentrate intensive use in a highly responsive service unit that facilitates user access, reserving for the scholar who wishes to pursue a subject in depth the protracted search of the great body of research materials. I think we will see this type of facility in more common use as the decade advances.

In closing, I am selfish enough to say a word for library directors within the context of university governance. How can a service so vital to the central purposes of a university as that of the library be intelligently planned and directed unless the person charged with this responsibility is privy to proposed changes in academic programs and departmental organization? It cannot. And the more enlightened university administrations have brought their library director into the appropriate councils. Faculties also have found that there is plenty to be gained by inviting area curators and others into appropriate planning committees. I do not see how this pattern can help but spread in the years ahead.

While it is true that many of our problems could be corrected by more funds, these are not likely to be forthcoming in the amounts needed. This suggests that university administrators must realize that the uncontrolled venturing into new fields, new disciplines and new areas of the world carries with it almost unbearable library costs -- not of the magnitude of $10-20,000 annually but literally hundreds of thousands of dollars continuing far into the future.

A library cannot continue to absorb demands of this kind with an unchanged budget, and yet I often feel that faculty and university administrators expect of us the sleight of hand reflected in the old Yiddish proverb: "Sleep faster, we need the pillows." I respectfully suggest that many of our headaches could be controlled if others in the university would go on THE PILL and stop producing new curricular offspring.

In the best of all possible worlds, the faculty and even some students will understand that we can’t have every publication that they might want and that it might be entirely reasonable to wait a week for a microfilm file from the Center for Research Libraries.

I can see a number of things as near certainties for this decade. My optimism, like the virtue of the French Lieutenant’s Woman, is less certain or at least not equal to visualizing a revolution in university attitudes in so short a time. But these changes must and will come, hopefully in the 1980’s when I  plan to be relaxing in Portofino, Mallorca, or the Greek Isles.


  1. Gay, Peter, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, N.Y., Knopf, 1969, vol. 2, p. 280.
  2. Ibid, vol. 2, p. 67.


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