The University Record, November 9, 1998

Gosling reviews Library’s preservation, acquisition, storage challenges

By Kerry Colligan

The papers of President Emeritus James J. Duderstadt were delivered to the Bentley Historical Library last winter. An ordinary enough occurrence.

But Duderstadt’s papers present an unusual problem, said William Gosling, interim director of the University Library. Duderstadt’s presidency was documented on a disk containing more than 2,200 files. Electronic archives may seem more efficient to some, but to Gosling they present significant preservation issues.

On Nov. 3, Gosling discussed his views on monograph preservation and acquisition in the brown-bag lecture “Book Trouble: Sustaining the Great Research Library,” sponsored by the Institute for the Humanities. Gosling’s lecture was the third in a series examining the future of the scholarly book.


Almost 10 years ago, 33 percent of the library’s holdings were on acidic paper, according to Gosling. Now, that number is approaching 50 percent. In a library system of seven million volumes, Gosling noted, preservation is a very real problem.

The library currently is beginning a mass de-acidification process, evaluating the viability of scanning monographs and converting many monographs to microfilm. “Electronic alternatives do not present a long-term solution for preservation,” Gosling explained. “While the National Endowment for the Humanities is considering funding to increase access to electronic holdings, this is not yet a solution. Preservation of digital materials, especially those created in a digital environment, is problematic because there are no established standards.”


Gosling, who will be recommended as director of the Library to the Board of Regents at its Nov. 19–20 meeting, mused that it would be most accurate to call the 1990s a period of “sustaining growth” for the library. For the U-M to retain its status as one of the nation’s best research libraries (currently, the U-M ranks seventh according to Gosling), he said it is imperative that we retain a “collection for serendipitous discovery.” In his view, this collection fosters new ideas and separates the great research libraries from the ordinary.

Sustaining growth, however, applies to the collection as a whole. Gosling cited the need to acquire essential monographs, journals and other materials for a diverse academic environment as one of his most important challenges. “Our profile of what we acquire is somewhat more expensive than other institutions because of the breadth of fields we support,” he said.

To grow the collection, Gosling will look to a 10 percent general budget increase and bolstered development efforts.

In recent years, the Library has added approximately 125,000 volumes per year, on par with growth levels in the early 1980s. While the numbers may mislead, one pattern is quite clear: maintaining 57,000 active journal subscriptions, coupled with the constant need to add to the collection, leads to sky-rocketing costs (see accompanying graph).

Because the cost of preserving current holdings and acquiring new materials is so high, Gosling said the Library is “looking to increase its endowment and gifts through its development program.”

Buying more volumes is not always the answer. There are other means of obtaining access to collections, he continued. Libraries are joining forces to purchase collections and sharing existing volumes through interlibrary loan. The Committee on Institutional Cooperation, comprised of the Big Ten schools and the University of Chicago, boasts holdings of more than 60 million volumes.

No discussion of the Library’s holdings would be complete, according to Gosling, without addressing its use of physical space. There is a need to relocate 70,000-100,000 lesser-used volumes per year to make room for new acquisitions. In the past, these volumes had been stored at the Buhr Building. Buhr has been full for more than one year. Buhr II is scheduled to begin receiving materials in January, and will provide seven to eight years of growth space.

The “Book Trouble” series continues this week when the Institute for the Humanities presents “Selling Academic Books,” a lecture by Karl Pohrt and Keith Taylor of Shaman Drum Bookshop, at noon, Nov. 10. For more information, call the Institute, 763-4463.

The opening session, “Book Trouble: The Bleak Present and Uncertain Future of the Academic Monograph,” presented by University Press Director Colin Day, will be broadcast by C-SPAN at 9 a.m. Nov. 14.


You can always drop us a line: