A Library of One's Own: A Survey of Public Access in Florida Academic Libraries

Article excerpt

Public users represent a small but growing clientele in academic libraries. Many academic librarians grapple with the issue of serving public users, partially because of shrinking academic library budgets and growing user demands. This article presents data from a 2002 survey about public access in Florida academic libraries. A Web-based survey consisting of nine questions was sent to sixty-six libraries, of which thirty-six responded. Results show that while a majority of publicly and privately funded academic libraries allow public users to access their resources and services, many do not actively promote themselves to the community at large.

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This article presents results from a 2002 survey of Florida academic libraries about the resources and services they make available to public (unaffiliated) users. The main mission of academic libraries is to serve affiliated users, such as students, faculty, and staff. These patrons have full access to their institution's library resources and services. Academic library policies for collection development, technical services, interlibrary loan, circulation, and reference services are based upon the curriculum and research interests of affiliated user groups.

Background

Bangert, in her study of fifty-eight California academic libraries' (university, college, and special) mission statements found that "when analyzing the language content across the university, college, and specialized institutional library mission statements ... supporting the curriculum, providing access, and improving institutional outcomes are the purposes expressed 40 percent or greater by the three institutional types."(1) In other words, these three points were the ones most frequently occurring in the content of the fifty-eight mission statements.

A few Florida academic library mission statements express academic libraries' support of services to their affiliated users in terms of institutional outcomes. For example, in Florida Atlantic University's (FAU) mission statement, the first line states, "The Libraries at Florida Atlantic University support the University's instructional, research, and service activities through provision of access to information and materials, assistance and instruction in their use, and preservation of collections for use by future generations of students and scholars."(2) The University of Miami Libraries Visitor Services Web site states, "The Otto G. Richter Library of the University of Miami is a private research library with the mission of meeting the research needs of students, faculty, and staff of the University." (3)

Academic library administrators usually do not give much consideration to serving unaffiliated users or public users. This group of patrons consists of general interest users, primary and secondary school students, professionals from the community, independent scholars, and students, faculty, and staff from other universities and colleges. Budget cuts to public and academic libraries combined with growing demands for information are forcing academic librarians to reconsider who they should or can serve. Bobp and Richey rhetorically asked whether undergraduate libraries have the resources to continue offering unconditional access and service to everyone. (4)

The author designed a survey to ascertain how Florida academic libraries serve public users. Little data exists on the impact of public patrons who use resources and services found in academic libraries. Only a few statewide and regional studies have been done on this topic and none in the state of Florida. A reason for this lack of research lies in the fact that higher education in Florida is newer than in most of the eastern United States.

In January 1853, Florida Governor Thomas Brown signed a bill that provided public support to higher education. The University of Florida opened later that year as East Florida Seminary, while Florida State University opened as a state seminary for boys in 1857. …