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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2000

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Conference Reports

College Science Librarians Discussion Group
ALA Annual Conference, July 9, 2000

Susan J. Kimball
Science Librarian
Amherst College Library
sjkimball@amherst.edu

Rocco Piccinino
Science Librarian and Coordinator of Branch and Media Services
Smith College
rpiccini@library.smith.edu

The College Science Librarians Discussion Group met with about 22 people in Chicago to discuss the topic "To Branch or not to Branch? Approaches to Providing Science Library Services." Three facilitators led the discussion: Alison Ricker, Science Librarian, Oberlin College; Victoria Mitchell, Science Librarian, Reed College; and Helena Warburg, Head of the Schow Science Library, Williams College.

Following introductions, Alison Ricker presented her experience as a branch librarian. Her science library serves the biology, chemistry, geology, neuroscience and physics departments at Oberlin. Technical services are centralized at the main library, but public services and reference are branch responsibilities. She said that the proximity to her client base was critical to doing her job. She also values the independence and freedom to make decisions that the branch approach affords. An interesting point was the difference she observes in the science students as compared to the students who use the main library. Science students tend to show more loyalty and feel more connected to the Science Library due to its size and atmosphere; fewer reserve fines and better recall response than the main library support this observation. Alison also pointed out that with the construction of a new science library (nearly three times the size of the current facility), which will be an integrated part of the new science center, Oberlin will continue to be committed to the branch model of providing library services in the sciences for the foreseeable future. Web page for Oberlin's Science Library: {http://www.oberlin.edu/library/sciencelib/}

Victoria Mitchell spoke next, presenting the very different approach of an integrated science collection. Rather than building a separate facility to house the science materials, Reed College chose to add on to the main library and create a separate area for science. This decision was heavily influenced by the fact that Reed has a small campus. An interesting aside was that the mathematicians felt so strongly about losing the proximity to the math books that their offices were also incorporated into the library renovation. Reference services are also integrated at Reed. Victoria noted that she has many commitments to the library as a whole including serving on committees and staffing the reference desk, and this range of activities can make balancing her responsibilities as science librarian a challenge. She stressed that proximity to colleagues is helpful as it allows librarians to become aware of interdisciplinary needs that might otherwise go unrecognized. She believes that the small size of her campus makes it possible to interact easily with science faculty and students without being in the same building. Reed College Library's web page: {http://library.reed.edu/}

Helena Warburg, whose library is in a state of transition, spoke last. Until recently, the science collections at Williams were split into six departmental libraries which were not staffed and were located within the individual department buildings. Helena is currently working on the final phase of a move to the new Schow Science Library located in the Unified Science Center, which is being constructed/renovated. She talked about some of the major drawbacks of having a departmental library system, most importantly the facts that faculty tend to remain uneducated about library services and materials get lost. Although the branch library approach may not be as efficient in some ways for the College, on the other hand, patrons receive superior service from expert staff. Faculty can benefit by being close to their collections as well as to knowledgeable library staff. Helena also noted that consolidating collections is an improvement for departments with interdisciplinary interests whose faculty and students formerly had to go to more than one department to find journals. Williams College Library web site: {http://library.williams.edu/}

A brief discussion and question and answer period followed the presentations, and informal discussions continued over lunch at a nearby restaurant following the session. The consensus was that there are benefits and drawbacks to each approach. There is no one best approach, and the model chosen ultimately depends on a given institution's resources, campus size, culture, and educational and research priorities.

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