Save the University of Arkansas Mullins Library!
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The state of Arkansas' largest research library and the main library of its flagship university, Mullins Library, by the will of the library administration, is about to have 86% of its collection removed to off-site storage, downscaling from about 1.2 million volumes to about 160,000, to make room for mixed-use space. Such drastic level of downscaling appears to be unprecedented among the UA’s peers – other Research I universities. After the move, the UA will have a 4-17 times smaller on-site collection than the UA’s benchmark Research I universities, falling between the UA-Little Rock and Arkansas Tech in terms of on-site collection size. The items housed in the storage facility will not be directly accessible to users; they will have to be ordered through the online catalog and transported to Mullins for pick-up.
This move will essentially eliminate the browsing function of the library. Serendipitous discovery will no longer be possible. Hundreds of UA students and faculty who every semester come to the library to get one book and leave with three or five, will no longer be able to do that. Regional scholars from John Brown University and other universities, who regularly come to use Mullins specifically because of the size of its browsable collection, will no longer be able to do that. Scholarship will suffer.
This move was conceived upon the false notion that all universities are doing what the UA is doing. As the comparison with the UA’s benchmark universities above shows, this is not the case.
This move was conceived upon the false notion that an open-stacks browsable collection is no longer important to researchers. The UA libraries still check out more than 30,000 books a year, of which 86% are pulled from the stacks by patrons themselves. This count does not include the extensive in-house usage by the UA community, the city community, and regional scholars.
This move was conceived upon the false notion that the print format is no longer important. While that may be true for journals, it is not for books. Certain types of books, such as dictionaries, are suitable for online use, but others are not. E-books tend to be cumbersome to use due to restrictive licensing terms limiting their viewing, downloading, printing; are subject to malfunction; and are proven to hinder learning due to decreased comprehension and retention associated with online reading. E-books in general can only augment the print collection, not replace it.
This move was conceived upon the seemingly unfounded and likely false claim by the library administrators that the Mullins building is not strong enough to have compact mobile shelving, which is used by many libraries and could fix the problem of insufficient space by freeing up as much as 40% of the Mullins space currently occupied by shelving.
Finally, this move was conceived and has been implemented largely without involving or informing the campus community – those who use the Mullins collection and whose research and learning depend on it. No voting on any part of the plan ever took place by any faculty or student group.
Therefore, we, the undersigned, strongly oppose this move. We call upon the UA Chancellor Joe Steinmetz to halt its implementation and request its revision with the goal of keeping the largest possible number of books on-site and preserving the research function of Mullins Library. A university such as the University of Arkansas cannot be without a viable browsing collection.
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