With 75 Years of Experience, The Library Looks Ahead

The first official GSB library didn’t formally open until 1933; it was tightly wedged into a portion of Jordan Hall that doubled as a classroom.

April 01, 2008

When Stanford GSB admitted its first students in the fall of 1925, there was no library just for them. The first official library dedicated to the GSB didn’t formally open until 1933, tightly wedged into a portion of Jordan Hall that doubled as a classroom.

Some of the 1,000 books that lined the shelves in that 30-by-40-foot room probably came from J. Hugh Jackson, the Business School’s second dean, who is believed to have donated a portion of his personal book collection.

Fast forward 75 years.

Today’s two-story J. Hugh The Library — named in honor of its early benefactor who championed expanding the facility — is an important source of information for hundreds of students writing papers, faculty doing research, as well as alums and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs searching out industry information.

The Library celebrated its first 75 years with a program and reception on April 23, and today is preparing for the three-quarter century. Plans are being finalized for the new library structure that will be the centerpiece for the Knight Management Center, the $275 million Graduate School of Business campus expected to open sometime in 2010.

Once a place where patrons went to pull books off the shelves, libraries today have undergone dramatic changes into a world where much information is accessed remotely. In the 21st century, libraries find themselves serving an always-on world where people routinely seek information via the internet. So the Business School’s new library will devote less space to physical collections of books and documents while significantly boosting the amount of information that’s available electronically.

“When you say ‘library,’ people still tend to think of this storehouse that has a lot of physical books and journals in it, but that is not true any longer and is not going to be true in the future,” said Kathy Long, the library’s director. “We will clearly still have a space for that, but libraries are more than that now. Our goal is to make sure we can deliver as much as we can to where our customers want it. This may be to their desktop, to their BlackBerry, or to their telephone. The role of the library is changing and shifting, but not diminishing.”

If University projections hold true, the library will report 104,000 walk-in visits by the end of the current school year, down about 58.4 percent from 1968, when Jackson reported 250,000 visits.

But digital use has climbed dramatically, nearly tripling in three years, reaching 557,379 visits during the academic year that ended in August 2007.

To meet this electronic demand, a major part of the library’s strategy includes having more interactive web 2.0 technologies online so users can collaborate and share information. Think of spicing up the library’s traditional offerings with blogs, social networking groups, and ask-a-question sessions where anyone in the Business School community, as well as library experts, can respond.

Several new, web-based services are being offered to appeal to tech-savvy users of the library’s site.

In 2006, Jackson librarians posted their first video to YouTube, featuring professors Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior, and Robert Sutton, professor of organizational behavior (by courtesy), discussing their book, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management.

Putting postings on the popular video-sharing site can help introduce Stanford’s faculty to the outside world, said Daphne Chang, the library’s associate head of library technologies and technical services. “We felt more and more people were looking for multimedia access to authors and having a video introduction to their book would be useful.”

Then there’s the Jackson blog, launched two years ago to engage and connect with library customers and other GSB bloggers. It helps give the library site a more informal and lively personality, said Chang. Items are written by library staffers and cover recent business news, faculty research, and links to alumni blogs. Viewership is growing; between January and March of this year, the library blog had 23,900 visits, about 11 percent more than the service’s first year.

“We want to have a platform to encourage student discussion, not just one-way communication,” said Chang.

The prevalence of corporate reports and other business information online means fewer people are physically setting foot in academic libraries around the country, said Hal Kirkwood, past chair of the Special Library Association’s Business and Finance Division. Like the library, many are instead adding study rooms, computer space, and installing big-screen televisions tuned to business news. Purdue University’s library system is even considering setting up an outpost in Second Life, the popular online hangout.

“There is still a concept of the library as being ‘The Third Place,’ not the classroom and not where the students live,” said Kirkwood, who is also coordinator of instruction for the Management and Economics Library at Purdue. “Students like quiet places to do their research, but they also like to see and be seen. So, we want to make sure the library isn’t a closed-off, separate entity.”

At the library, changes are already evident. You won’t see expanses of shelved books when you walk in the front door, although many popular business titles are on display.

What really stands out is the Traders’ Pit, an area featuring computers populated with information from financial data providers including Bloomberg, an electronic board listing the latest price of the NASDAQ and other stock market indices, and a widescreen television carrying financial news from CNBC.

A wing of group seminar rooms opened last year in space that previously displayed little-used books and other materials. No longer in the Library, those items have been moved 50 miles from the campus to a storage warehouse in Livermore. Since the first items were trucked out of the library in 2004, more than 100,000 books have been moved so far to Stanford Auxiliary Library 3 (SAL3), with more transfers to come.

A climate-controlled facility roughly half the size of the Stanford Stadium football field, SAL3 looks more like a Costco, with items on shelves stretching all the way up to super-high ceilings and accessible only by a mechanical lift.

Typically, books moved to off-site storage were published before 1995 and have not circulated in the past five years, Long said. Stored items can be retrieved for delivery to campus the next business day, but requests aren’t that frequent.

As more items have been cleared out to make space for conference rooms and staff offices, Long said Jackson’s reference collection has shrunk by about 50 percent during the past three years. The number of library items will drop by an additional 60 percent before the Library moves into its new home, she said.

While adapting to change, Jackson remains one of the top academic libraries in the country.

In 2006, the library received a Center of Excellence for Service award from the Special Libraries Association’s Business and Finance Division. Modeled after the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards, the library group’s award recognizes excellence in library and information practices. Services including FastJack—the Library’s customizable web toolbar launched in 2004 that serves as a shortcut to catalogs, e-journals, and databases—made Jackson stand out.

The kind of information sought by the library patrons is wide-ranging. Students typically come in saying they’re working on an assignment and need market research reports on that subject, Long said, while faculty usually want raw data to analyze.

Specifics are still being worked out about how the inside of the business school’s new library will look.

Based on the latest development plan, here’s what you might eventually see:

There won’t be an entry gate, a change being considered to make the library appear more inviting and encourage more walk-in visitors from Stanford and beyond. Look for self-checkout. Already common in several Bay Area public library systems, self-checkout reduces demand on library staff. The current reference and information desks — now separate — will be combined into one help desk. At five stories — four above ground, one below — the library will be the tallest building in the new Knight Management Center campus.

By Michele Chandler

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