The core of an academic research library is its collection. The Heard Libraries' vast holdings of books, journals, manuscripts, audio-visual materials, and electronic data essentially define us as a research library and distinguish us from college libraries and most public libraries. The quality of our collection directly affects the University's ability to enrich students' educational experiences and support faculty research. The collection also serves as a powerful tool in faculty recruitment.
The libraries' many bibliographers inform themselves about academic programs and the publishing marketplace so they can carefully choose materials for the collection that serve the varied interests of the University community. Freshmen composing term papers, doctoral students researching dissertations, and faculty members preparing book or article manuscripts each have unique information needs. Scholars in the humanities use materials very different in form and content from those used by scientists or social scientists. We must be a "mass market" provider of basic materials for our thousands of undergraduates, but we must simultaneously offer highly specialized collections to faculty members engaged in specialized research.
The Digital Collection
The collection is increasingly diverse in format. Fifteen years ago our holdings were almost exclusively print materials or microform reproductions of print. Today we spend one quarter of our $8.4 million collections budget on electronic resources, and our digital library grows at an astonishing pace. Faculty members and students can now use over 250 databases; 12,000 electronic journals; and 110,000 electronic books over the Internet without entering our building. Scholars can now browse bibliographies, examine classic literary texts and historical documents, build chemical structures, enjoy fine art collections, and read journal articles from their homes, dormitories, or offices.
The digital library not only features collections, but it also provides most of the support services that we traditionally offered only in our buildings. Our patrons can recommend acquisitions, renew charged books, and request an item from the Annex via the Web. Almost all our interlibrary loan requests now come to us online, and we deliver many of the borrowed materials directly to faculty offices or desktops. We digitize articles, book chapters, audio files, and other documents submitted by faculty members and place them on electronic reserve so that class members can use them simultaneously and remotely. Navigating this expanding array of resources and services can be confusing, so we have added an email "?Ask Us" where patrons can request help in using online sources or inquire about library policies and programs. We also have a companion "!Tell Us" where they can send us their comments and concerns.
The Heard Library homepage and our divisional libraries' homepages form an electronic gateway to the library, where we incorporate our digital collections and services. It is a heavily used gateway; the Heard homepage alone receives over 121,000 visits in an average month. The digital library serves the same diverse population as the physical library, so we organize it to accommodate multiple levels of patron demands and user sophistication. Interdisciplinary databases like ProQuest and LexisNexis Academic, favorite sources for undergraduate reports, see extremely heavy use. Specialized e-journals, which are targeted to graduate and faculty research interests, are used much less frequently but are equally important to their audience.
While the digital library commands a growing share of our financial resources and our attention, print publications remain a vitally important part of our research collection and will continue to be so well into the future. Indeed, one of our challenges is building linkages between our digital and print materials so that students understand that thoroughly investigating an issue requires far more than an Internet search. Electronic sources grow richer in content by the day, but intensive research still entails the thorough consultation of paper-based materials. Our print collection increases by over 60,000 volumes a year, and print materials continue to predominate in the humanities, social sciences, and area studies.
The use of our print collection, like that of the digital collection, is unevenly distributed. A relatively small portion of our books and journals receive intensive use, but we fully expect the majority of our print resources to see very infrequent use. We do not consider this pattern a failure. It is, in fact, characteristic of a research collection. The mission of a research library is to acquire and preserve a large corpus of specialized materials, most of which will be needed only occasionally because there are comparatively few researchers engaged in any topic or discipline at a given time.
Our print and digital collection, though quite large, will never be comprehensive. To supplement it, we draw on the resources of other libraries. We have long used interlibrary loan for this purpose, but we now offer tools that merge the collections of multiple institutions, in a virtual sense, and facilitate expedited sharing of their holdings. Our Kudzu catalog provides bibliographic access to the collections of sixteen southeastern academic libraries. When a Vanderbilt patron requests items at these locations, we can have them delivered by a courier service or transmitted electronically. Our bibliographers are working with their counterparts at the Universities of Tennessee and Kentucky to reduce the duplicate acquisition of lesser-used materials so that we can jointly build an extensive shared collection of greater depth than any of the libraries could build in isolation.
The collection is, first and foremost, a tool that makes research and scholarship possible at Vanderbilt, but it also serves a larger cultural purpose. Research libraries are repositories of accumulated knowledge, and Vanderbilt Libraries must be part of this endeavor. It is a contribution we make to the learned community akin to that which we make through research, publication, and service. We think of our library collection not only as a tool to assist faculty and students in their work, but also as an emblem of Vanderbilt's standing in the scholarly community. Like laboratory facilities or research centers, library collections can attract both prospective faculty and potential donors.
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