Preface – Academic Branch Libraries in Changing Times


This book is the result of a year long research of the published literature (books and scholarly journal publications) on branch academic libraries by a librarian with 15 years of academic branch library experience. At the beginning of the twentieth century the debate mainly concerned centralized and decentralized libraries. The term branch library, used mainly to identify secondary libraries within public libraries, was embraced in academic settings in the second half of the century. There was no intention to repeat prior research. Extensive reference to previous research is indicated or briefly discussed.

For current data, in addition to information gathered from personal contacts, relevant published listservs, blogs and RSS feeds, an extensive environmental scan and analysis of the web presence of the United States Academic Research Libraries (ARL) institutions was conducted. A general observation is that there is a lack of literature on branch academic libraries. Although there is a brief historical overview, this book is more about the current situation, with an eye toward the future of branch academic libraries at ARL institutions. It is written for practicing branch librarians, and for administrators of large academic libraries.

Book organization

This book is divided into five chapters. In Chapter One we give a brief historical overview. This area is very well covered in the published literature, and there was no intention of repeating past published works. The largest sections are Chapters Two (Types of Branch Libraries) and Three (Most Common Subject Branch Libraries). Chapter Two discusses the different types of branch libraries, and gives some unique branch examples and partnerships with academic departments on campuses. A section in this chapter is dedicated to the current Undergraduate Libraries at ARL libraries – branches that are in decline but do still exist and thrive. Chapter Three discusses the evolvement of the most common subject branch libraries: chemistry, science and engineering, and music. Chapter Four, Assessment/Review of viability of branch libraries, gives practical ideas for administrators on closing and/or consolidating branches – a trend that currently exists – and adding branches – not widely in use right now. Examples are given of institutions that have done so in the past decade. We close the book with Chapter Five, The Future of Academic Branch Libraries. Notable published reports and studies on the future of academic libraries in general, with a look at implications for branch libraries, are discussed. Examples of innovative services and use of branch library space are covered. The examples given in each chapter could easily have been used in other chapters as well. In Chapter 5 we include information about the Priddy Library at the Universities at Shady Grove, exclusively written for this book by Irene Münster.

Three appendices and a selected bibliography are also included. Appendix C gives an example of a branch library, including sample job descriptions for staff.

Most of the examples are related to the University of Maryland. The reason is twofold: first, the University of Maryland Libraries will be considered a ‘typical’ ARL institution with its seven branch libraries (the average number of branches for the 150 extensive research libraries as collected by the National Center for Education Statistics institutions for 2008 was seven – see Appendix B) and second, the author has been working in one of the branches for five years. To that end, the author spent countless hours in the Maryland Room researching the University of Maryland Libraries’ history as recorded in the UMD Archives.