Archive for Friday, May 28, 2004

KU libraries thrive in digital age

May 28, 2004


Many people perceive libraries as quiet, dull and unpopulated, but the libraries at Kansas University are among the most vibrant, bustling spots on campus.

Thousands of visitors enter the KU libraries each day, said Bill Myers, spokesman for the university library system. This does not include the KU Medical Center or law libraries, which are administered separately.

When the card catalog went online several years ago, some observers worried students would no longer feel the need to visit the libraries.

The concern was apparently unfounded.

"Somehow having a library to come to still fulfills a need," Myers said.

KU's libraries contain about 3.9 million volumes.

"We buy about 80,000 new books a year," Myers said.

Electronic resources also are popular with students.

The KU libraries contain about 350 public computer terminals -- 300 in Watson and Anschutz. All terminals have Internet access, and most feature Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Access. Library users also can check out wireless laptops. There are about two dozen each at Watson and Anschutz, and a few at Spencer Research Library.

"The bottom line is trying to provide as many of the technological tools as possible to students," Myers said.

Library officials are trying to assess how they can further accommodate the needs of the student population, through surveys, questionnaires, focus groups and interviews, Myers said.

The library system's Web site features a "Library Report Card" where users can "grade" the libraries and insert comments or suggestions. The "Report Card" has been online all semester but so far has not yielded much response.

"It didn't get filled out as much as we'd like," Myers said.

Here's a brief look at KU's main libraries. For more detail, visit the libraries' Web sites at

Watson Library

Watson Library averages 2,500 visitors daily, Myers said.

Watson houses volumes in the humanities and social sciences, as well as the East Asian Library on the fifth floor. The original building, constructed in 1924, has taken on two major additions since then.

Last year, Watson's reference and circulation desks were reconfigured, and the third floor -- the entry level -- was re-carpeted. Myers envisions further refurbishing of Watson.

Cory Huggins, a senior majoring in history, spends about five to 10 hours a week in Watson and Anschutz libraries. He preferred Watson.

"I like Watson better," he said. "It's a little more quiet and cozy."

Huggins said the only thing he did not like about Watson were the stacks, which he described as cramped and maze-like.

"You get lost in there," he said.

Anschutz Library

Anschutz Library, a five-story structure that opened in 1989, houses volumes in business, economics and the sciences. It also features the KU Map Collection and a large collection of government documents.

Last year, KU Info, the information and trivia hotline, opened a desk on the third floor of Anschutz.

"Watson has more books, but it seems there are more students that come and study here," said Amanda Hatch, a junior majoring in secondary education.

Myers said between 3,000 and 4,000 students use Anschutz daily, more than any other library on campus. At times, students have to wait for a table or cubicle to open up; some simply sit on the floor in a corner and begin studying there.

Spahr Engineering Library

The Spahr Engineering Library, which opened in 1984, is a two-level brick structure attached by a bridge to Learned Hall; the bridge currently provides the only entrance to the library.

A major renovation of the library this summer will provide a more accessible entrance next to Eaton Hall, the engineering building. Every volume in the library will be moved to the second floor, and the first floor will become an "Information Commons" with study areas and computer terminals.

The first floor is reserved for individual study; it contains numerous small carrels. The second floor provides a group-study area with larger tables.

Myers said Spahr Library was open to nonengineers looking for a quiet study area.

"Engineering students all know that library well, but other students can use it, too," he said.

Thomas Gorton Music and Dance Library

The Thomas Gorton Music and Dance Library is on the second level of Murphy Hall. It contains a large collection of books and journals about music, as well as music scores, sound recordings, videos, and other unique features such as the Richard M. Wright Jazz Archive.

"They have electronic keyboards there," Myers said. "You don't have to be a music major to use those."

There are 28 media carrels with mini-CD players; many have music keyboards and computers as well. Or users can study in more traditional carrels, some offering a view of Allen Fieldhouse to the south across Sunnyside Avenue.

Murphy Art and Architecture Library

The Murphy Art and Architecture Library occupies part of the bottom floor of the Spencer Art Museum building. It features a variety of bound and electronic resources of interest to students of art, art history and architecture.

The library is small and windowless, with several study areas and about a dozen computer terminals. To preserve space, the librarians have stored many volumes in a "compact shelving" area. The shelves are on wheels. By turning a crank, users can move several rows of books together in order to create an aisle next to the shelf they wish to browse.

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library

Though it is a large, imposing structure, it is hidden behind Strong Hall and invisible from Jayhawk Boulevard.

The Spencer houses several valuable collections of regional interest: the Kansas Collection, which features print, graphic and audio-visual documents of the state's history; the university archives; and the Douglas County records. More exotic holdings include ancient and medieval manuscripts as well as Renaissance and early modern imprints.

Spencer's collections are closely guarded. Users must request a specific item from the librarian, who then brings it out for them to view under supervision. Materials may not be checked out.

The library remains at a certain temperature and relative humidity for the preservation of the paper and glue in its older volumes.

This more formal atmosphere sets Spencer apart from the other libraries in the KU system.

"It's not the kind of place where you go just to study," Myers said.

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