Special Report: Symposium on Transformational Change in Health Sciences Libraries: Space, Collections, and Roles* *

Article excerpt


In November 2003, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL) cosponsored a symposium, "The Library as Place: Building and Revitalizing Health Sciences Libraries in the Digital Age," focusing on the question: "What is the role of the library in the twenty-first century?" After two days of presentations and discussions, symposium participants concluded "that both the print and the virtual electronic library are here to stay." As Deanna Marcum observed, "The library will certainly change. And its need for space may significantly shrink. But the digital era, far from ending the physical library, may free it to facilitate learning rather than to house shelves - and may free those who work within the library spaces to do less book processing and more learning facilitation" [I].

In the summer of 2008, the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN /LM), Middle Atlantic Region (MAR), as a follow-up to the NLM/AAHSL symposium, announced their intention to fund a regional conference about library space planning and solicited applications for their Library Space and Its Impact Conference Award. In response to this solicitation, the George T. Harrell Health Sciences Library (Harrell HSL) applied for and received the award. The announcement proved to be timely: The Harrell HSL was in the process of repurposing 10,000 square feet of library space into the new Penn State Hershey Clinical Simulation Center [2, 3]. The Harrell HSL experience provided a firsthand, real-life example of the issues faced by libraries in a rapidly changing environment. The award funded a one-day library space planning conference, held in April 2009, which was offered to librarians both regionally and nationally.


Health sciences libraries' collections are becoming almost exclusively electronic, and issues surrounding the physical space, services, and librarian roles are emerging as areas of intense interest [4]. Libraries' physical space has been a topic of discussion for decades [5-9]. The current dialogue focuses on repurposing the libraries' physical space [10, H]. As libraries convert to digital collections, institutions are viewing library space as an asset that can be repurposed for other functions. In this changing physical landscape of decreasing physical space and budget allocations, librarians are left to grapple with providing quality services, creating state-of-the-art learning environments, and facilitating access to digital and print collections.

Because hospital and academic libraries are affected by loss of physical space, changing services, and new librarian roles, the conference planning group included two hospital library directors and three academic health sciences librarians, all from central Pennsylvania. The Perm State College of Medicine Harrell HSL reference librarian performed the literature review and selected websites. A bibliography (Appendix, online only) was created, shared, discussed, and revised. Following the conference, the Journal of the Medicai Library Association published a series of articles about issues related to libraries' physical space. These articles were added to the bibliography. The planning group identified emerging library space concerns, services, and roles for librarians. The conference was organized around four major themes that emerged from this discussion:

* models or best practices in libraries' reduction of print collections

* models and best practices in libraries' reduction of space and /or repurposing of existing space

* emerging roles and identities of librarians in the changing physical environment

* models or best practices for adjusting traditional library roles and services

The target authence for the conference included health sciences librarians, both hospital and academic, from Region 1 (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NN/LM). …