Libraries consider 24-hour operating schedule as part of Quest for Distinction

Mechelle Hankerson
News Editor

VCU libraries' spending budget as of July 1, 2011. Figures provided by John Ulmschneider. The remaining .51 percent was designated for miscellaneous expenses. A library's total budget is one consideration in ARL membership. Graph by Ying Cheng.

Four months after its adoption, VCU’s Quest for Distinction is becoming more apparent around campus, and VCU libraries are wasting no time to achieve the goals set forth for them in the strategic plan.

VCU libraries hope to gain membership in the national Association of Research Libraries (ARL) as part of VCU’s larger Quest for Distinction.

An ARL membership is a metric established by the plan.

“(An ARL membership) is a university measure of progress to ensure that VCU’s libraries contribute to the achievement of key university goals, among them improving student graduation rates and other measures of student success,” said university librarian, John Ulmschneider.

In order to achieve ARL membership, Ulmschneider said VCU libraries have to meet certain quantitative and qualitative benchmarks. The major quantitative consideration is a library’s total funding.

“VCU’s goal is to have a level of library investment similar to institutions like VCU, such as U-Cincinnati or U-Louisville,” Ulmschneider said.

Qualitative requirements focus on a national contribution to scholarly record. For VCU, this would be something like the Cabell library’s comic arts collection. VCU’s libraries would also need to operate like most other ARL members, which could mean a major change in library operating hours.

“A 24-hour library is relatively common among ARL libraries,” Ulmschneider said. “I view a 24-hour library at VCU as an important qualitative benchmark.”

According to data collected during the 24-hour exam schedule Cabell uses during the end of the semester, implementing a 24-hour operating schedule would not be a waste of resources.

The library reports that between the hours of 2 and 7 a.m. there were approximately 14,000 visits per day during the extended hours.

Junior Lashelle Johnson said she usually spends about two nights a week working at Cabell late into the night and would take advantage of extended hours at Cabell.

Nothing is approved or being implemented yet in relation to new hours (Cabell extended their weekday hours to 2 a.m. earlier this semester), but other steps to gain ARL membership are being taken.

This past year, the Cabell library spent about 70 percent, or about $5.811 million, of its spending budget (this particular budget is money used specifically for acquiring materials) on acquiring academic journals and access to online databases. The library bought 140,000 new e-books and 30,000 print books and has started spending more money on journals to provide for researchers on the university’s two campuses.

In addition to the new materials acquired this year, ARL membership can add to these numbers of materials, specifically in science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) disciplines.

Sara Espinoza, a senior homeland security major, said that while the resources the library offers in relation to her major are satisfactory, she hopes the library can update some of the materials.

“A lot of these books are from the ’70s, so for my major, (they’re) obsolete.”

According to Ulmschneider, membership can help VCU develop a state-of-the-art media composition lab for Cabell library. The lab would provide students with high-end computers for editing and integrating multimedia elements into reports and other presentations.  This lab would also include a green-screen and presentation rehearsal studios.

ARL membership is one goal within the larger vision in the Quest for Distinction to make VCU a notable public research university and is only one measurement of the goals approved by the VCU Board of Visitors in May 2011.

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