Making Lemonade from Lemons: A Case Study on Loss of Space at the Dolph Briscoe, Jr. Library, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

Article excerpt

The setting for this case study is the Dolph Briscoe, Jr. Library, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, a health sciences campus with medical, dental, nursing, health professions, and graduate schools. During 2008-2009, major renovations to the library building were completed including office space for a faculty development department, multipurpose classrooms, a 24/7 study area, study rooms, library staff office space, and an information commons. The impetus for changes to the library building was the decreasing need to house collections in an increasingly electronic environment, the need for office space for other departments, and growth of the student body. About 40% of the library building was remodeled or repurposed, with a loss of approximately 25% of the library's original space. Campus administration proposed changes to the library building, and librarians worked with administration, architects, and construction managers to seek renovation solutions that meshed with the library's educational mission.


It can be said that nothing strikes fear in the heart of a library administrator as much as "losing" space, except perhaps budget cuts. In the last twenty years, the nature of libraries and their functions have changed dramatically, leading to speculation about how library facilities can best be reconfigured to accommodate changing use patterns. Physical collections of books and journals are being replaced by virtual collections of licensed products accessed through the Internet. Debate continues among campus and library administrators about the importance of the library as place and the library building [1-4]. On health sciences campuses, space for classrooms, research laboratories, and offices is an ever-present need. In this environment of changing library use and the crunch for space, it is not surprising that the library building is viewed as "ripe for the picking." This case study will explore how one academic health sciences library faced the challenge of losing space and survived to tell the tale.


The Dolph Briscoe, Jr. Library is the central library for the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC). UTHSC serves five schools: dental, health professions, medical, nursing, and a master's and doctoral degree-granting graduate school. The current student population numbers more than 2,500, with over 1,600 teaching, research, and clinical faculty. The Briscoe Library employs 17 librarians on the San Antonio campus, and support staff number 24.5 full-time equivalents. The UTHSC campus is located in suburban northwest San Antonio in the South Texas Medical Center complex, and the library's central location on campus makes it a popular place for students to congregate and study. In addition to the Briscoe Library, the UTHSC Libraries include 4 branch libraries in San Antonio, Harlingen, and Laredo, Texas, and an active outreach program. The combined UTHSC libraries serve as a National Network of Libraries of Medicine resource library for thirty-three counties in south Texas.

The current Briscoe Library building was completed in June 1983, replacing the original library that was built in 1968 [5]. The Briscoe Library has weathered the years well and remains an attractive and wellused building; however, many physical adaptations were made to the original building over the years to accommodate changes in information-seeking patterns, such as expansion of teaching and computer lab space and reconfiguration of staff offices. Starting in the early 1990s, librarians, students, and faculty began the rapid adoption of online journals to replace the print format. Faculty began to visit the library virtually instead of physically coming to the library building, yet student use of the library continued to increase. As the current print journal, index, and abstract collections began to disappear and faculty used online resources from their offices, labs, and homes, both library and campus administrators began to plan for repurposing library space, sometimes with ideas and plans that were congruent and sometimes with divergent plans. …