AASL column – April 2016
Barbara Opar and Lucy Campbell, column editors

Column by Cindy Frank, Architecture Librarian, University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation

In the fall of 2014, University of Maryland’s School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation branch library was preparing to close. An all too familiar story, this plan was the result of permanent, campus-wide budget cuts. But rather than throw in the towel the School and Libraries formed a Task Force to explore other solutions to the budget cuts issue. Consisting of students and faculty, the architecture librarian and library administrators, the Task Force conducted a literature review, SWOT analysis, interviews, and a design charrette to assess possible solutions. The final report, submitted to, and approved by the Dean of Libraries, proposed the conversion of the branch to a professional model library with the following recommendations: 24/7 access for the School community, reduced opening hours for the public, retention of the reference librarian, increased group study space, and acknowledgement of the library as a quiet place to study with great natural light.

Begun in late spring of 2015, the transition included physical alterations to the space as well as changes in access, hours and policies. Minimizing public open hours saved on student labor costs and paraprofessional staff salaries, while providing 24/7 access to the School community served immediate users in a tangible way. Currently the library is open twenty hours per week to the public, down from eighty hours a few years ago. The students, staff and faculty of the School already have 24/7 building and computer lab access. Adding the library to the list of accessible spaces was a relatively simple matter of working with the campus security office.

Next, the large circulation desk was removed, opening up the entryway and floor space in front of a large window. A self-checkout station was installed next to the self-serve hold shelf. An employee desk with a library work computer is now used as a reference desk, work station, and book return desk for patrons during open hours.

The reference librarian works a typical workweek, with her office in the library. Students and faculty are able to consult the librarian, access materials, make appointments for special collections materials, find a quiet place to study, and utilize a group study room created from a former staff office. Gate counts reveal between ten and forty patrons are swiping in between the hours of 4 PM and 11 AM.

Two academic semesters into the transition, there have been a couple glitches. The self-checkout station occasionally does not read an ID card, or a patron doesn’t follow the directions on the screen. Returned books are sometimes left on a reading table inside the library instead of in the book drop. The Dean of the School was left off the swipe access list when 24/7 access was started.

On the positive side, books and magazines are not disappearing overnight. Architecture competition teams have used the group study room for planning meetings. Real Estate Development students now meet in the library with alumni for career advising.  Planning students are already here working when the librarian arrives. Faculty have increased requests for library instruction. Plans for the fall include collection assessments, fresh paint and a special collections open house. Although initiated by budget cuts, the changes have meant a library that is more responsive to its patrons.