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UIUC Senate Committee on the Library (03/06)
What Makes a Library Great?
Print-Volume Ranking and Public Perceptions

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has one of the world’s greatest libraries.With more than 10 million volumes in its print collections, it is currently ranked the 3rd largest university library by printed volume count, after Harvard and Yale, making us the largest public university library in the world.For years, this ranking has served as a short-hand marker of the library’s excellence; and it continues to be cited with great success in recruiting and retention efforts.Within the next 5 years, however, the number of its print volumes will be surpassed by other North American libraries, most immediately those of the University of Toronto and University of California-Berkeley.

On the one hand, this factor in and of itself may not be cause for alarm, since the size of a library’s print collection is but one (and, perhaps increasingly, not the most important) among a number of indices of its excellence.On the other hand, the decrease in print volume ranking correlates with a more generalized growth crisis in the areas of material expenditures, faculty and staff compensation, and collections and preservation.We are faced, then, with a somewhat paradoxical challenge:to call for increased resources to avoid further library decline, while simultaneously re-affirming the library’s excellence to the public.

This document focuses on the latter goal, by posing the following question:given that the print volume ranking has served as a highly visible recruiting and marketing tool, how can we continue, after its loss, to communicate our library’s excellence to the community, both within and beyond the university?

Reasons for ranking change

• chronic underinvestment in the library (See The University Library Annual Report of January 27, 2006 at

• increased access to digital resources that are not counted in our volume holdings

• recent efforts to eliminate redundancy of print materials in response to decreasing print materials budget

• changes in other libraries’ counting methods (U of Toronto, for example, includes affiliated libraries in its count)
Possible focus points for future communications about library’s strength

• UIUC library as “destination library” or “information gateway”

• Valuable and unique resources for international network of scholars

•Treasures of the library:Special Collections and Archives (Rare Books, etc.)

•Increased access to digital resources (ex.: Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois)

• Expertise of library faculty in subject areas, including interdisciplinary and global studies

•More than 10 million volumes and 24 million materials, including maps, films, music scores, and manuscripts

• Departmental library structure

• Presence in the public eye:media citations, widespread use of search technologies developed at UIUC, etc.

• marketing:brochures, website (Cindy Ashwill, Public Affairs) • recruiting materials for job candidates (sent to Deans, Directors, Department Heads)

• statement to faculty senate; engagement of senators in discussion