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January 2, 2006

Expanded library envisioned as a campus hub

By Scott Rappaport

Virginia Steel has her eyes on the future.

Photo: Virginia Steel

New campus librarian Virginia Steel said she wants to make McHenry Library "a destination site for learning on campus."
Photo: Scott Rappaport

As UCSC’s new University Librarian, her job is to oversee the operations of the library and manage its considerable assets. In order to do that successfully, she must think about how information is changing in terms of its formats and delivery, and make sure that the library is positioned to continue to be a primary provider of that information.

“One of the exciting things about UCSC is that the campus is evolving and changing, and so is the library,” said Steel, who began work on October 1. “The whole information environment is different today from five or 10 years ago. We really need to continue to demonstrate our relevance to students and faculty, and anticipate the future.”

Steel came to UCSC from Washington, where she served for four years as director of libraries at Washington State University in Pullman. In that capacity, she oversaw the activities of six libraries and a budget of $11 million. Prior to that, Steel spent four years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as associate director for public services, overseeing the operations and facilities of 14 branch libraries. She also held several high-level library management positions at UC San Diego between 1988 and 1997.

Steel said that one of her high-priority goals in her new position is to facilitate the McHenry Library expansion and renovation project that began this fall.

“It will create a destination site for learning on campus,” Steel noted. “We want to make the library a real hub for UCSC—a place to experiment with new ways of using and manipulating information to create new knowledge.”

The McHenry expansion project will increase the available library space and ultimately provide the campus with a state-of-the-art research facility. It will include such features as a cyber café/study room, a film and music center, distance-learning facilities, group study rooms, wireless Internet connectivity, an electronic research center, and an instructional design center. Construction will take approximately four years, but the library will remain open throughout the entire project.

“The social element of libraries is very important,” Steel observed. “As McHenry Library is located in the center of campus, we are in a perfect location to support the instructional and research work of students, faculty, staff, and the community.”

Steel added that the current library building is over capacity and lacks space to add the new materials acquired each year.

“The building was wonderful when it was built 40 years ago, but it needs to be brought up to date with better lighting, technological infrastructure, different seating, and earthquake retrofitting,” said Steel. “We need to add rooms for classes and workshops and spaces for lectures and special events. And, for example, Special Collections needs improved spaces in terms of temperature and humidity control for archival collections.”

Steel succeeds interim librarian Robert White, who guided the library for the past two years after the retirement of longtime University Librarian Allan Dyson. She said she hopes to continue to build ties between the library and the academic programs of the university to support teaching, learning, and research in all disciplines.

“The library is an active environment—it’s not just a warehouse of books and a place to ask somebody questions,” Steel noted. “We think of the library as an intellectual center on campus outside of the laboratory or classroom where everyone can go.”

 

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