Consultation on the Library of the Future

“The importance of books isn’t in question”

The contributions to the consultation on the future library set-up at UZH can now be viewed online. In this interview with UZH News, Vice President Christian Schwarzenegger and Adrian Scheidegger, the new head of the Library of the Future project, comment on the results, and explain what happens next.

Marita Fuchs

Christian Schwarzenegger und Adrian Scheidegger
Christian Schwarzenegger und Adrian Scheidegger
“Great response”: Vice President Christian Schwarzenegger and project head Adrian Scheidegger (right) discuss the consultation on the Library of the Future (Image: Fabio Schönholzer)


Background: Since 2017 the Executive Board has been pursuing the idea of merging all UZH libraries to create a single university library (UBZH). On the basis of strategic guidelines, the UZH Library of the Future project team drew up a draft consultation paper setting down the services a new university library would provide, how it would be organized, and how the library sites would have to develop.

The Office of Universities of the Canton of Zurich, the deans of UZH, the university body representatives, the Main and Zentralbibliothek libraries, and other interested parties were invited to comment on the paper between 30 July and 26 November 2018.

A total of 45 written statements were submitted. With the exception of the Office of Universities, which did not submit a report, opinions were contributed by all those invited, plus an additional 32 responses from institutes and departments, specialists, and individuals. These statements can now be viewed online. The project team has also posted a report summarizing the results of the consultation, plus an additional opinion in which two external experts evaluate the draft consultation paper.

Christian Schwarzenegger, the Library of the Future pre-project was launched under your aegis. What’s your take on the results of the consultation?

Christian Schwarzenegger: First of all, I was delighted that it got such a great response. I would summarize by saying that there is a consensus on the need to centralize the digital services. This applies to open access, e-media procurement, research data management, infrastructure services, digitalization and big data, publication management, and archiving strategies and processes. Close cooperation between UBZH and Zentralbibliothek Zurich is also important for many people.

What kind of criticism was expressed?

Schwarzenegger: The concerns raised in the consultation reflect the differing cultures within UZH. There’s a lack of trust in the ability of a central set-up to provide a good service, and people want to maintain control of their own departmental libraries. There are also conflicting views on who should manage the budget, concerns regarding the faculties’ and departments’ say in a centrally coordinated UBZH, and the fundamental question of whether the library system should also be centralized on the print side. In the responses from humanities, law, and theology, people emphasized the wish for as many holdings of print media as possible to be kept on open access shelves, and, if feasible, for duplicate holdings not to be eliminated.

Did any of the results come as a surprise to you?

Schwarzenegger: What surprised me was the extent to which students’ opinions varied. For me this indicates that many students take an open-minded view of the project and don’t reject it on principle. Students want more say in the matter because they’re the main users. And they want more study stations. This is understandable and should be taken into account. As the statement from the VIP association of infrastructure staff shows, for example, employees also expressed greater trust in the project. I think it’s become clear that we want to involve staff in embarking on a project for the future rather than cutting jobs. We’re offering staff new opportunities in areas such as training.

Adrian Scheidegger, you’ve been at UZH for around a month, and are heading the Library of the Future project. Effectively you still see things from an outsider’s perspective. What’s your view?

Adrian Scheidegger: The consultation shows just how demanding and controversial the project to reorganize the library landscape at UZH is, and the different interests and cultures it involves. What strikes me is that considering the size and diversity of UZH, the voices raised against the project are louder than those who are satisfied or who want a change. This gives a distorted picture. Of course, despite the impression given by some of the comments in the consultation, nobody’s trying to get rid of books. The importance of books isn’t in question. It’s more about providing the best services possible to all disciplines according to their needs. Books are important, and will remain so.

Schwarzenegger: At the same time I should emphasize that the multilayered library system makes it impossible to adopt a uniform strategy for the library system. UZH has to develop on the library front. All students have to be familiarized with new research methods and digital analysis tools – things they’ll also need later on in a work environment.

In addition to the consultation documentation you commissioned two experts to write an opinion on the pre-project. How did this come about?

Schwarzenegger: Some people on the steering committee, which consists of representatives of the faculties, the university bodies, the Zentralbibliothek, the Main Library, and the students, called for a new opinion to be produced. They wanted the approach taken in the pre-project to be re-evaluated from an academic point of view by established experts on library systems. So we asked Professor Cornelia Vonhof from Stuttgart Media University and Professor Konrad Umlauf of Humboldt-Universität Berlin for their assessment.

What conclusions did the experts come to?

Schwarzenegger: The expert opinion presents a differentiated view of the matter. Basically the two academics confirm the pre-project’s assumption that in a modern university environment a centrally coordinated library system is more efficient, and that a multilayered system can no longer meet current and future scientific information retrieval requirements. But the opinion also suggests that greater attention be paid to the needs of individual disciplines, and that it’s very important to involve the students. The opinion gives us some valuable pointers.

What happens next?

Scheidegger: The consultation report marks the conclusion of the pre-project. We’re forwarding the results to the Executive Board and the Board of the University, who will decide in May/June 2019 whether the project is to be continued or not. If we get the go-ahead, we will formulate a project remit which in its turn must then be approved by the Executive Board and the Board of the University. That would be around October or November 2019. If we go ahead, we’ll be able to start with the main project at the beginning of 2020.

Marita Fuchs, Editor UZH News; English translation by Michael Craig

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