Recession Spurs Library to Reinvent Itself

Duke University Libraries delivers new, more efficient services in an increasingly digital age

As the number of staff across Duke's libraries shrank by 30 positions during the economic downturn, Duke University Libraries seized an opportunity to deliver new and more efficient services in an increasingly digital age.

Deborah Jakubs, university librarian and vice provost for library affairs, said that vacancies created by Duke's voluntary early retirement incentive offered the "freedom to reassess and combine positions or responsibilities into new positions" to support the growing demand for digital services and expanded partnerships. 

"President Richard Brodhead once noted that the Libraries are charged not only with preserving the legacy of the past, but also for reaching as far as possible into the future to anticipate what will be needed," Jakubs said. "The spectrum of our responsibilities is growing broader."

From customer service to digital acquisitions, statistics illustrate the transformation of Duke University Libraries during the past several years.

For example, walking up to the Perkins reference desk for assistance has given way to e-mail, instant messaging, and text messaging. For the first time, virtual requests for assistance in Perkins last year (13,946) exceeded the number of in-person requests (12,921). And the number of questions received through instant messaging has grown from 299 when it was introduced seven years ago to 8,400 last year.

Acquisitions also reflect the growing trend toward digital access. Of about 80,000 journals purchased by the library, fewer are now acquired in print. For instance, 79 percent of all public policy journals received last year are electronic, compared to 8 percent four years ago. 

"Our goal is to make it easier for people to access the information and data they need," Jakubs said. "We've created services that some may not even be aware they can get. For example, through the Library Service Center, we scan on demand and e-mail print journal articles so faculty and students don't need to physically come and find them."

Duke University Libraries also have more than 300,000 e-books available and have been ordering more "shelf-ready" books, which go quickly to the stacks, reducing costs for binding and staff time and resources to catalogue them.

"By moving to shelf-ready books, we can shift staff from cataloging to creating metadata for our growing digital collections," Jakubs said.

Despite the transformation, the physical space of a library still plays an important role at Duke, and services are expanding.

"More students are coming to the library and staying longer," Jakubs said. "We are adapting services to provide support for student and faculty research, such as assistance with data and GIS tools and resources. Our primary resources and special collections continue to draw classes, students, and visiting scholars."