Library climbs to first place among public universities

By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs

10 July 2002 | Berkeley has climbed to become the top-ranked library among public universities in North America, and came in third among public and private institutions, according to the latest annual ranking from the Association of Research Libraries.

Harvard, a private institution, topped the list in overall public and private university rankings, while Yale, also private, came in second. The ratings include 113 institutions across the country.

“The trend is going the right way,” said University Librarian Thomas Leonard, noting that Berkeley’s library has regained ground after falling to fifth in the rankings two years ago.

Leonard credited Berkeley’s steady improvement to Chancellor Berdahl’s commitment to improve the campus’s collections, which lagged behind in the early 1990s due to inflation, state budget cuts and a staggering number of new publications tied to the introduction of the Internet. Berdahl allocated $5.5 million in additional library funding over a three-year period from 1998 to 2001 and earmarked more than $4.6 million of that solely for improving collections.

“Rebuilding the library was one of my first goals when I arrived here five years ago, and I could not be more pleased or more proud of this important recognition by the Association of Research Libraries,” said Berdahl.

“The library, in all of its manifestations — in books and online and in other ways — is the central repository of human knowledge,” he said. “To be a first-class research university requires that we have a first-class library. It is what ensures that we are on the frontier of knowledge and why, in good budget times and bad, we must preserve its excellence.”

Rankings criteria
The Association of Research Libraries bases its rankings on materials and operating budgets, the number of periodicals and books added over the past year, as well as the number of full-time employees and professional support staff.

The annual library budget is $50 million, its materials budget $20 million and its operating budget $30 million. It employs about 400 staff members and 600 student workers to handle its collection of nine million print volumes in more than 20 separate libraries around campus.

Faculty members are appreciative. Garrison Sposito, professor of ecosystem science and environmental engineering and a member of the Academic Senate Library Committee, said a university library is “the most important repository for the collective experience of the life of the mind,” and that the new UC Berkeley library ranking reflects the work of an extraordinary staff.

“For my own program in environmental research and teaching, this high quality translates as ready access to a broad panoply of monographs and journals that are essential to keeping abreast in one of the most rapidly changing disciplines of science,” he said. “But it also means that finding that rare report or monograph, perhaps one published long ago, that now has surfaced as a key research document can essentially be taken for granted.”

Improved collections
Roger Falcone, a professor of physics whose specialties include laser interaction with matter, atomic physics, energy and defense-related science, technology and policy, is pleased with the improved collections.

“For several years, we had not been buying key books in areas of the most rapidly accelerating research, such as materials science, optics, nanoscience, biophysics, string theory, etc., the most important areas of recent faculty hiring in our department and other top-ranked physics departments nationally,” Falcone wrote to the library. “With the chancellor’s funds, and with the guidance of faculty in physics, we were able to develop a purchasing plan to make sure that our library had the most important works available for our faculty and students.”

In the linguistics department, professor Larry Hyman and others rely on the library for materials relating to the Comparative Bantu Online Dictionary that Hyman helped launch.

Although the campus library is critically important to faculty researchers and to graduate and undergraduate students, it also is open to the public. Visitors can use the library’s online catalogs, CD-ROM stations, electronic resources and collections on-site for free. UC students, faculty and staff receive priority access, but government document collections are always accessible to everyone.


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