Barbara Opar and Barret Havens, column editors
Column Written by David Eifler, Librarian, Environmental Design Library, University of California, Berkeley


Librarians are committed to improving the user experience and often this involves behind the scenes work to improve public services.  A recent initiative at the University of California Berkeley demonstrates this.

The interdisciplinarity of research in all fields is growing (biomorphology in architecture, river restoration in landscape architecture, and planners who research an ever-increasing number of disciplines from public health to transportation to business). At the University of California, Berkeley it has been increasingly apparent that students and other scholars frequently do without print material, or elect electronic resources, rather than transverse our 23 large and subject-specific libraries to obtain the wide variety of materials they want. Actual and perceived barriers to accessing print material may make electronic resources seem more attractive.

One solution to eliminate the spatial barriers to access was to institute a paging service where a book from any library could be requested and sent to any other library to be picked up. Similar to public libraries with branches, books and other circulating items within Berkeley’s libraries can be requested online (through our library catalog), pulled from the stacks by library staff, and delivered to one of 23 circulation points around campus. In order for it to succeed in one location, it had to be implemented campus-wide. Such was born “online paging,” which we expect patrons will eventually refer to by the label of the button used to initiate a transfer: “request”.

At Berkeley, a Paging Task Force with librarians and staff members was formed in October 2013 with a clear mandate from library administration to explore effective ways to implement a paging system. We first solicited input from colleagues who had already implemented similar services at Ball State, Ohio State, Stanford, University of Oregon, and UT Austin, (many of whom were contacted via the Association of Architecture School Librarians listserv.)  After exploring paging implementations at these and other public and academic libraries, as well as past policies and practices at Berkeley, the task force’s report was issued in mid-December and our implementation timeline, which called for an intersession “soft rollout,” was subsequently approved.

The implementation team that met throughout the spring addressed a number of issues prior to making this service available, including whether to fine patrons who requested but didn’t pick up books (no), which libraries to involve (all using our integrated library catalog), and what to do if another patron pulled a requested book off the shelf before it could be retrieved by staff (give it to the patron with the item in hand), and whether patrons would be able to request books from the same library where they were intended to be picked up (yes). At Berkeley, implementing “online paging” happened in tandem with library-wide standardization of loan periods across disparate campus libraries. This made testing of the new online paging service more complex, but greater standardization of loan periods will ultimately lead to a more cohesive library experience (common loan periods) for patrons.

The result: any book that circulates for longer than 7 days can be requested online from any campus library and will be delivered to any campus library within three days. Scholars will no longer need to navigate the Library of Congress call number system in 23 different locations to obtain the wide variety of intellectual content needed to support their interdisciplinary research. Undergrads who may have succumbed to the tendency to rely solely on electronic sources will now have the option to request print. Faculty who bemoaned the amount of time they spent traveling among libraries will now be able to engage in more fruitful research.

As of this writing, UC Berkeley’s online paging has been available for just over a week and already 300 items have been requested. Since we have just begun publicizing the service and summer classes begin in a week, it is too soon to report about online paging’s success. However, initial conversations with faculty and students indicate that it will be a popular service and one that has long been anticipated by our patrons. By removing the impediment to accessing our collection caused by having to navigate 23 libraries, we are facilitating the enhanced flow of information embodied in physical texts across the campus. We now have a delivery system in place that will allow us to more accurately assess the ongoing importance of print in an increasingly electronic world.