Current Issues in the Design of Academic Health Sciences Libraries: Findings from Three Recent Facility Projects*

Article excerpt

Planning a new health sciences library at the beginning of the twenty-first century is a tremendous challenge. Technology has radically changed the way libraries function in an academic environment and the services they provide. Some individuals question whether the library as place will continue to exist as information becomes increasingly available electronically. To understand how libraries resolve programming and building design issues, visits were made to three academic health sciences libraries that have had significant renovation or completed new construction. The information gathered will be valuable for planning a new library for the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and may assist other health sciences librarians as they plan future library buildings.


The library was a place for serious study and quiet reflection. Words spoken above a whisper resulted in raised eyebrows. The card catalog was an arcane system to be mastered to find needed information. Massive volumes of the Cumulated Index Medicus were the entree to the journal literature. Literature searches were performed only by librarians with special knowledge of MEDLINE. One-on-one reference assistance with research problems was the norm. Rows of book stacks held materials that could be browsed with the hope of a serendipitous discovery. "The ideal library was a big building with large holdings" [1].

The academic health sciences library of the twenty-first century is a remarkably different place. In a relatively short period of time, technology has changed libraries from quiet ivory towers to bustling activity centers. The curriculum focuses on group learning, resulting in increased noise levels and demand for group learning spaces. Rows of computers now occupy prime public space where the card catalog once lived. Computer-literate library users perform their own literature searches on the Internet and on databases licensed by the library. Students still come to the library for assistance and a quiet place to study, but decreasing gate counts since 1998 [2] may indicate that faculty are visiting less and accessing electronic information from remote locations. As changes in technology accelerate, classes and group learning sessions have become essential means of educating library users.

The remarkable thing is that these dramatic changes in library use have taken place in a relatively short period of time. Change is now a constant feature of the high-tech world we live in. This change is clearly pointed out in an excellent chapter titled "Planning for Health Sciences Library Facilities" by Weise and Tooey [3]. The ability to foresee where change will take us in the next twenty years is critical to planning the health sciences library of the future.

The University of Colorado Health Sciences Center (UCHSC) is moving to an entirely new campus over the next ten years, and plans for a new library are a part of this transition. Funding from the Medical Library Association David A. Kronick Traveling Fellowship provided an opportunity for the author to visit two health sciences libraries with significant recent renovations and one library with entirely new construction. The information gathered from these visits was summarized in a project report to the Medical Library Association. In addition to assisting the planning process for the new UCHSC library, these observations may be useful for other health sciences libraries that are anticipating new building projects.

The visited libraries were the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville, the Health Sciences Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), and the Edward E. Brickell Medical Sciences Library at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk. These academic libraries represented different stages of renovation and new construction. The Claude Moore Health Sciences Library completed a significant renovation project in 2000. …