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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2005

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[Board accepted]

Changing Mission, Strengthened Focus: A New Use for the Current Periodicals Room at the University of California, Santa Cruz

Catherine Soehner
Head, Science and Engineering Library

Christy Hightower
Biology Librarian

Wei Wei
Computer Science and Computer Engineering Librarian

University of California, Santa Cruz


The Science & Engineering Library at UC Santa Cruz was built in 1991 and included a beautiful room dedicated to a print collection of current periodicals. During the past four years we have systematically canceled all print journals for which there was an electronic counterpart, thus diminishing the number of journals in the Current Periodicals Room. During a strategic planning effort, the Library determined that it should be identified as the "Information Center" of the campus and be the "destination of choice" for students, faculty, staff, and members of our greater community even in this digital age. As a first step toward realizing this goal, the library staff began a lecture series entitled Synergy: Explorations in Science and Society, held in the Current Periodicals Room. This new lecture series highlights research, teaching, and grants in science and engineering at UCSC and brings these efforts to the attention of the UCSC and greater Santa Cruz community. The response to this lecture series has been overwhelmingly positive with record attendance. This venture marks the beginning of a successful move toward integrating the library further into the mission of the University and further increases the library's connection with its faculty.


Recently there has been much debate and discussion in the literature and at conferences regarding the library as a physical and virtual space. Rapid changes in technology and the use of that technology have convinced many administrators that a physical space for the library is no longer needed. The situation at California State University Monterey Bay is one good example. In 1996 the CSU/MB administration announced plans to have a completely digital library without the need for physical space (Wilson 1996). CSU/MB is now in the process of creating a 200,000 square-foot structure slated for opening in 2009 (CSU Monterey Bay Library 2004). In 2001, a Chronicle of Higher Education article suggested that libraries were no longer being used and questioned the need for a physical space for libraries (Carlson 2001). There are other indications that this tide is beginning to turn.More recent articles observe that "Users flock to library buildings in spaces that are attractive, centrally located, technologically current, and arranged to meet the needs of groups as well as solitary users" (Lindberg & Humphreys 2005).

In reviewing a small portion of the literature on this topic, several themes for making physical libraries relevant to researchers in our digital age emerge: the need for more collaboration between patrons (such as group study and interdisciplinary discussions between faculty in different departments) and new collaborations between librarians and faculty, a welcoming environment, and interesting programming (Dworkin 2001; Giegerich 2002; Shill & Tonner 2004; Wilson 2002). Harrington (2004) summarizes this nicely in her essay by stating: "As electronic delivery of information makes it possible for students and scholars to work in isolation, libraries must offer themselves as places that do not merely allow opportunities for discovery, collaboration, and consultation, but as places that create these opportunities." At the Science & Engineering Library (S&E Library) at the University of California Santa Cruz, we have addressed these themes in our newly established lecture series that engages faculty, students and our local community in intellectual and interdisciplinary discussions within the walls of the library.

Background at UC Santa Cruz

As library budgets remain steady state and the prices of journals soar, libraries are continuing the tradition of canceling journals to stay within their budget. In 2001, the libraries at the University of California Santa Cruz decided to systematically cancel print journals whenever an online counterpart was available. In those early years, relying exclusively on the online format was seen as extremely risky, but our lack of sufficient budget increases propelled us into the future. Despite our concerns, UCSC faculty and students adjusted quickly with only a few complaints. A subsequent study, which began later in 2001, researched the use of print and online journals throughout the nine University of California campuses and confirmed our experience. This study found that scholars preferred online access and the absence of the print counterpart went mostly unnoticed (Collection Management Initiative 2004).

During the design of the new S&E Library building in 1991, the faculty on the Building Committee wanted to include a faculty reading room in their new library. Instead, the librarians proposed the Current Periodicals Room as a compromise. It was a multipurpose room with high ceilings and large windows looking out onto the redwoods whose main purpose was to house the current journals, but which would also provide a comfortable place to sit and read quietly and enough space to occasionally hold a library-sponsored event.

For many years, this last goal was not realized. The area meant for public events was long and narrow and could not accommodate more than 50 people comfortably. Additionally, the furniture, while comfortable and beautiful, was extremely heavy and difficult to move. As the print journals began to disappear, shelving was removed and the collection consolidated, which opened up the space making it more conducive to holding public events.

The Library administration's decision in 2001 accomplished the goal of saving money and the researchers were satisfied with the outcome. However, as fewer and fewer print journals arrived, the S&E Library staff were very concerned about the Current Periodicals Room looking increasingly empty and unused with a space-starved campus looking for new places to create faculty offices and labs. It was clear that a new vision for the use of the Current Periodicals Room had to be discovered quickly.

Synergy Lecture Series

We formed a working group to focus on the use of space in the S&E Library consisting of three professional librarians and three support staff. We reviewed web pages of other libraries to get a sense of how they used their space and we reviewed the Ten Year Plan for the University Library, completed in December 2001. The Ten Year Plan stated:

The overarching to have the McHenry and Science & Engineering Libraries identified as the "Information Centers" of the campus. The libraries should be the "destinations of choice" for students, faculty, staff, and members of our greater community, integrating their research needs with intellectual interactions (Dyson 2001).

With this as our mission, we strove to increase our connections with faculty and the Santa Cruz community, restore in-person interactions that appeared to be declining in this digital age, and put the room to good use. We noticed that there were several lecture series already established on campus, mostly being offered by various departments, but all of these brought in presentations from outside of UCSC. We began to realize that people in our community and on our campus did not know what our science and engineering faculty were researching at UC Santa Cruz and how that applied to their daily lives. As a result, we decided on a lecture series that would highlight the work of our own science and engineering faculty. Our quarterly lecture series would be called Synergy: Explorations in Science and Society.

The series was an immediate success with standing room only crowds of up to 95 people. The audience consisted mostly of UCSC faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, but there were a noticeable number from the community including retirees and high school students. Asking faculty to aim their presentations to the lay level made the lectures accessible to a wide audience, with enough science for the Ph.D.s and enough real-world application for the rest of the audience.

Marketing the Synergy Lecture Series as a New Library Service

According to Song (1997), "Marketing and technical proficiency directly determine product quality, and ultimately lead to new product success or proficiency and product quality have a strong, positive influence on their new product performance..." When we created our new lecture series, we immediately started working on a marketing plan. This was essential, especially since other recent attempts to encourage people to come to the library, such as drop-in instruction classes, a faculty recognition ceremony, and other library events, have all had a much lighter attendance.

Convinced that most people receive more e-mail than they could possibly pay attention to, we decided that we would employ both print and online tools for marketing the lecture series. To start the process, we brought together content for a web site and asked our Web Developer to design a logo and a site template that would give the site distinction, using dominant colors from the library's interior design. The {home page} highlights the focus of the series and provides access to past, present, and future lecture information. We also used the logo on other marketing tools including flyers and eventually sticky note pads.

We soon discovered that many of our marketing tools required common elements: date, time and place information, name of the presenter, and the title and abstract describing the lecture. Most of these elements required coordination between the Synergy Working Group and the speaker. We asked the subject bibliographer responsible for the department in which the faculty member resided to be the main conduit for this communication. Once all the information was in place, the same information, and often the same text, was used for all marketing tools: paper flyers, e-mail, web site, articles for the local newspapers, and campus and library newsletters.

A whole different type of marketing occurred once the audience entered the building and provided a chance to sell our library services to a captive audience. We created a PR table and placed it just outside the entrance of the Current Periodicals Room. Artfully arranged on the table for people to take were copies of articles by the speaker, a list of library resources related to the speaker's topic (a web version was also available from the Synergy web site), topical database guides, sticky note pads with the Synergy logo and URL, flyers about donating to the library, Friends of the Library materials, and a signup sheet for e-mail notification of future Synergy lectures. The articles, subject guides, and sticky note pads were quite popular and we have a significant group of community members signed up for our mailing list.

We attribute the success of our marketing effort to taking advantage of the multitude of ways people normally communicate and gather information. As a result of our strategic marketing, all of our Synergy lectures have attracted huge audiences, larger than any other S&E Library event to date.


The budget for each lecture was approximately $600 (see Appendix B). Since we did not own all of the equipment needed for the event our costs were higher than what might be expected. For example, chairs and a lectern were rented along with a data projector, screen, and a sound system. Additionally we rented equipment for audio streaming so that the audio portion of each lecture could be added to the web site. Refreshments were kept very simple and included cookies, juice or sparkling cider, and bottled water. Simple decorations including tablecloths, flowers, and seasonal decorations added a festive yet professional look.

After our initial success, we began to think of more interesting ways to market the lecture series. We purchased 500 cream colored sticky pads customized with our logo and URL. Each pad consisted of 25 pages and the price listed in Appendix B includes setup, tax, and delivery charges. This order will probably last a full season (three lectures).


As with any new service, we encountered some initial difficulties, which were easily overcome with a bit of thought and advanced planning.


Initially we selected faculty on short notice who one of us had heard speak in the past and who we knew to be popular with students. This gave us a great start and encouraged us to move forward in the same direction. While excited by all the great researchers on our campus who were potential speakers, we had to face the sobering fact that not all researchers make good public speakers. We spent a great deal of time verifying communication skills of the faculty at the top of our list by using several techniques:

In order to separate the S&E Library from our sister library on campus, we found it important to focus on speakers from the departments our library served even when there were very famous researchers and excellent speakers available from other departments. As mentioned earlier, we asked subject bibliographers to be the main conduits between the working group and their faculty. In addition to retrieving the basic information for marketing, we asked each bibliographer to introduce the speakers in their departments. Their involvement had several advantages. Not only did the bibliographers already know the faculty better than the organizers, their involvement acknowledged and strengthened their relationship with their faculty and departments. It also gave added visibility to the existence of departmental bibliographer liaisons in general. The bibliographers also provided the speaker with a more personal contact before and during the event.

As the event date drew closer, we asked the bibliographer to remind their speaker of the wide range of expertise of those likely to be in the audience (high school students, students of all majors, staff, administrators, faculty from other departments, peers from their department). Speakers were gently urged to take a tip from Shakespeare and provide a little something for everyone in the audience rather than dumbing down the talk. The speakers who did this were the most enthusiastically applauded.

Plan Ahead

We discovered that it was never too early to get on a busy researcher's schedule, especially if they were sought after as speakers. In our first year, when we were turned down by a potential speaker, it was almost too late to get a replacement. As a result, the next year we planned a whole year of speakers in advance and booked them all at once. Not only did that ensure we got who we wanted, it also allowed us to more easily balance the season as a whole. For example, we noticed that we had accidentally invited only male faculty to speak. We quickly corrected that trend by inviting three well-known female scientists to give presentations during the second season.

A sample of our recent speakers and topics include:

Another reason we needed to plan in advance was that obtaining a title and abstract from busy faculty required some time and persistence. Additionally, the abstract we received from each faculty member needed to be edited to meet our goal of a lecture targeted to a lay audience. Once edited, the faculty member was always given final approval. This whole process required several weeks to complete and since it was the cornerstone of all our marketing, planning ahead became essential.


Marketing works! We were ubiquitous with our announcements aimed at students and the public. We papered the campus bus stops and dorms, mailed flyers to our local high school science teachers and the editors of our local newspapers (see Appendix A for more details). For deans and other influential people, we added a short personal invitation and a business card to the event flyer and walked it over to their offices. Even if they couldn't attend, they were impressed by the event and our presence and it sometimes inspired them to suggest other library-faculty collaborations. Never underestimate the political advantage of faculty involvement as participants or as spectators. As Martha Stewart would say "It's a Good Thing."


We were fortunate to have a local bakery that sold imperfect cookies (slightly smaller in size than their regular cookies) at a much cheaper rate, so we were able to get very high quality for a lower cost than supermarket prices. We found that formal catering cost much more with taxes and delivery charges and did not add to the overall success of the program.


We began to receive feedback from our faculty speakers and members of the audience almost immediately. After their talk, we asked each speaker what the Synergy experience had been like for them, what they wish they had known before the lecture that they didn't know, and what could be improved. Audience feedback was obtained through formal channels via comment cards left on each seat (along with a golf pencil) that asked, "Please tell us how we can make this a better experience, or tell us what you liked." Informal feedback came from chatting with people after the lecture. Audience comments included, "This is exactly the kind of things libraries should be doing!" (Campus Administrator) and "Very interesting! I thoroughly enjoyed it even after an all-nighter and two previous mid-terms" (Student). We made changes in our planning and marketing incrementally, lecture by lecture, based upon the feedback as it came in.

Advantages and Disadvantages

There were advantages and disadvantages to creating this lecture series as there are for any new project. The disadvantages, time and money, were obvious immediately. We had a six-member working group made up of library staff devoting significant time to Synergy who already had full-time jobs. As the process became routine, the time commitment became much more manageable. For the first few lectures we had several meetings with additional work done in between both before and after each lecture. Now the group meets once before a lecture to assign tasks and once after to evaluate and begin planning future lectures. All other work is completed by e-mail. Money was a disadvantage only because we had so little of the furnishings and equipment needed for such a project. We are grateful that our library administration who took a chance on a new idea and provided the necessary funding.

The advantages were not as obvious at first, but became more evident as Synergy became successful. There have been three major advantages. First, the lecture series definitely moved us toward our original goals: the overarching goal of becoming the destination of choice for intellectual and research activity and our more pragmatic goal to increase the use of the Current Periodcials Room. Second, faculty drawn to the library to attend the lecture saw the building overflowing with people and being used for intellectual activities. The result was that many faculty immediately became our allies. When asked if the library was being used, both faculty speakers and faculty in the audience were able to answer affirmatively and describe their good experience in the library. Third, aiming the lectures at a level appropriate for a lay audience met both faculty and campus administrators' goals. UCSC faculty must provide service to the community to meet their tenure and advancement goals and campus administrators desired interdisciplinary discussions and collaborations. When campus administrators and faculty are getting their needs met, good news travels very fast. And the good news that was traveling was that the library was vital and relevant to the overall mission of the campus. What better marketing is there than that?

Ideas for the Future

Now that Synergy is a successful well-oiled machine, we are looking for ways to bring additional face-to-face intellectual events into the library.

Our next objective is co-sponsorship with other campus programs and departments for speakers outside of our regular Synergy series. For example, each of our departments sponsors their own weekly seminar series, open to graduates and undergraduates alike, and they are very well attended. There are a few departments adjacent to the library that lack a decent space in which to meet. Relocating these meetings and seminars to our beautiful space, and opening up their seminars to an even larger academic audience, would be a win-win for everyone. A written policy for use of the Current Periodicals Room as a campus or community lecture space is in the works.

We are also broadening our thinking beyond the lecture format. Undergraduate science poster sessions are part of the annual Student Achievement Week on our campus. With the undergraduate researchers present to talk about their work, poster sessions are an ideal format to add to our repertoire of synergistic human interactions.

We had already been using streaming audio to provide past lectures in MP3 format from our web site. We plan to provide the audio of our next lecture as both an MP3s file and an RSS feed. Audio distribution via RSS can be downloaded and played on a computer or on a portable device such as an iPod. Not only does this give our local listeners format options, it could also give our lectures greater visibility since they could then be listed in podcast directories with international visibility, such as the Apple Music Store's directory of podcasts.

We will also begin using the lecture series as leverage to invite and talk with potential donors. Once someone sees the beauty of the Current Periodicals Room and the success of the lecture series, we hope they will be interested in providing funding to meet some of our equipment and furniture needs.


As stated by a Japanese proverb, "Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare" (About, Inc. 2005). Our vision of bringing people together for intellectual interactions through this lecture series has removed the possible nightmare of losing space in our library while aligning the library even more closely with campus and faculty goals.


The authors would like to thank the Synergy Working Group: Terry Haugen, Danielle Kane, Vince Novoa, Molly Ostrander, and Sandy Schmidt. Assistance was also provided by Bryn Kanar, Web Developer, and Student Assistant Anne Tran.

Appendix A

Distribution of Flyers

On campus Off campus

Publication of Announcement


PR Table

{Synergy Web Site}

Appendix B

Budget for Audience of 80 People

Equipment Delivery and Setup
Sound System and Microphone
Data Projector and Cables
Projection Screen
Digital Audio Recorder
Subtotal $307

Chair and Lectern Rental
Chair Rental $64
      (80 chairs at .80 each)
Lectern Rental $10
Chair/Lectern delivery $55
Subtotal $129

Cookies $20
      (6 cookies for $1.00; 120 total)
Drinks $90
      (Bottled water, 6 bottles sparkling apple cider, cups and napkins)
Flowers $30
      (Two bunches of fresh cut flowers)
Subtotal $140

TOTAL $576

Sticky Notes
Minimum order is 500 pads at $.76 each $380
Setup $ 25
Tax at 8.25% $ 33
Delivery $ 25
TOTAL $463


About, Inc. 2005. Quotations on Vision: A Select Collection of Quotations on Vision. [Online]. Available: [October 10, 2005].

Carlson, S. 2001. As students work online, reading rooms empty out - leading some campuses to add Starbucks. The Chronicle of Higher Education (November 16, 2001): 35.

Collection Management Initiative. 2004. Collection Management Initiative Final Report. [Online]. Available: [October 1, 2005].

CSU Monterey Bay Library. 2004. The Tanimura and Antle Family Memorial Library. [Online]. Available: {} [September 19, 2005].

Dworkin, K.D. 2001. Library marketing: eight ways to get unconventionally creative. Online 25 (1): 52-54.

Dyson, A.J. 2001. Planning a Library for a 21st Century Research University: The UCSC University Library Ten-Year Plan. [Online]. Available: {} [October 1, 2005].

Giegerich, S. 2002. No longer a bastion of silence, college libraries expand horizons to coffee, food, companionship. Santa Cruz Sentinel September 15, 2002. A13.

Harrington, S. 2004. The Transformative Power of Libraries. [Online]. Available: {} [October 1, 2005].

Lindberg, D.A., & Humphreys, B.L. 2005. 2015--the future of medical libraries. The New England Journal of Medicine 352 (11): 1067-70.

Shill, H.B. & Tonner, S. 2004. Does the building still matter? Usage patterns in new, expanded, and renovated libraries, 1995-2002. College and Research Libraries 65 (2): 123-150.

Song, X. M. 1997. A causal Model of the Impact of Skills, Synergy, and Design Sensitivity on New Product Performance. The Journal of Product Innovation Management 14 (2): 88.

Wilson, D.L. 1996. New California State campus has ambitious plans for technology. The Chronicle of Higher Education 43 (October 18, 1996): A23-A24.

Wilson, L.A. 2002. Collaborate or die: designing library space. ARL Bimonthly Report 222 [Online]. Available: {} [August 17, 2005].

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