University Library Zurich (UBZH)

Project At Starting Gates

The Board of the University has approved the “University Library Development” project. Preparations to bring together the UZH libraries can now begin.

Marita Fuchs

The university’s libraries are of great importance to students, researchers and members of the teaching staff, and a daily place of work for librarians and other staff members (Image: Frank Brüderli)


The Executive Board of the University has been looking into the idea of bringing all the university libraries under one organizational umbrella – the University Library Zurich (UBZH) – since 2017. The project team “UZH Library of the Future” drew up a draft proposal establishing what services a new university library might provide, what form its organization could take, and what building or room changes would be needed by 2036.

This concept was then opened up for across-the-board consultation. On the basis of the results, the Executive Board of the University decided in May 2019 to create a single university-wide library, and set out the project’s aims and context. The core team thereupon wrote a project application through a collaborative process of workshops involving students, researchers and library staff. The steering committee and the Executive Board of the University signed off on the project application in the fall. Yesterday the Board of the University also gave its approval. The project will therefore now start under the new title “University Library Development Zurich”.


The key points regarding the project are given below:

Aim: The aim of the project is to create the conditions needed to establish a university-wide library. The University Library Zurich (UBZH) will bring the subject-related library collections under one strategic and organizational roof, taking into account the needs of the different disciplines and subjects.

First steps: The library needs of different faculties and disciplines and of students and researchers will be assessed. In this regard, the following questions need to be clarified in collaboration with staff and users:

  • How can the management of the UBZH by a library board be ensured and how should the board be composed?
  • What form should the cooperation with the Zentralbibliothek Zürich (ZB) take?
  • What products and services should the future UBZH offer?
  • What form should the specific organizational structure and human resource planning take?

Setting up operations: The preparation and implementation of operations will form the concluding phase of the project. The UBZH is expected to be operational by January 2022.


Various parameters of the future university library are already set:

  • Strategic leadership: A library board will serve as a strategic steering committee at the interface between the faculties and the university bodies on one side and the university library on the other side. The board will also have the important task of ensuring the various interests of the faculties and university bodies are taken into account in library planning.
  • Management: Operationally, the university library will be run by one management team to which all employees in the library system will report.
  • Budget: Budget distribution and necessary innovation projects will be discussed by the library board. The budget for the university library will be allocated by the Executive Board in the university’s annual development and financial plan. The budget of the UBZH will largely consist of the current budget of the existing university libraries.


Some views of university members on the decision

Dr. Meret Fehlmann, member of the teaching staff and head librarian at the Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies, and Dr. Susanna Blaser-Meier, head librarian at the Institute of Art History

“We welcome the university library development, as the digital revolution is bringing changes to the library world. The current structures are not suitable to meet future challenges (e.g. licenses, open access, research data management).

However, we also understand the concerns of librarians about job security and changing roles. The libraries are currently closely connected with the relevant institutes and departments, and it’s important to us that this remains so. One way to ensure this is by having liaison librarians to actively foster connections between research, teaching and the library in a variety of ways.

Barbara Sommerauer Sidiali, head librarian at the Department of Communication and Media Research (IKMZ)

“I agree with the points made by my colleagues Meret Fehlmann and Susanna Blaser-Meier. I would like to add a couple of things: It is also important that the expertise already present among the library staff is harnessed in this whole process. Regarding the site concept in particular, I think it is important that the concept is really thoroughly considered and carefully weighed up.”

Luisa Lichtenberger, VSUZH representative on the Board of the University and Timothy Schürmann, VSUZH representative on the project steering committee

“The existing and future involvement of students is the alpha and omega of a successful main project. The sub-projects that will be developed in the next six months are very important for us students and we hope that we will find good solutions that satisfy all user groups. The core concerns of the students relate to the provision of services, our active involvement, and the specific spatial arrangements of the future libraries.”

Prof. Konrad Schmid, member of the steering committee

“No-one disagrees that the organization of the libraries of the University of Zurich is in need of reform. Whether the decision that has now been made to bring together both the staff and the budget into a central university library proves to be the best conceivable solution depends on the specific implementation of the reform steps.

For the areas of theology, the humanities and law, the library will continue to be the most important working tool in research and teaching. It is essential that the services provided by the library in terms of the collection, spatial organization, librarian support, electronic media, open access and research data management continue to optimally meet the needs of researchers and students.

The success of the new university library will be measured on whether and how it manages to provide and guarantee excellent quality library services that support the work of members of the University of Zurich in the best possible way.

Marita Fuchs, Editor UZH News; English translation by Caitlin Stephens UZH Communications