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Sandia National Laboratories Technical Library Closing the Books

By John Fleck
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer
    What is a library without books? That's the brave new world Sandia National Laboratories is trying to enter— much to the chagrin of some scientists and engineers who work there.
    "BOOK COLLECTION CLOSED!!!" said the signs hastily added to the stacks at Sandia's Technical Library on Friday. "NO CHECKING OUT!!!"
    In an effort to save money and "re-engineer" library services for the electronic age, Sandia is cutting off access to what a memo sent out last Monday called "hard-copy content"— books, maps and printed journals.
    In their place, Sandia scientists will eventually have access to a fully electronic library. In the meantime, some Sandia researchers have become vocal about their need for, and attachment to, "hard-copy content."
    The reaction did not surprise the Sandia managers who planned the move. "As the saying goes, such a new omelet cannot be made without breaking a few eggs," the memo explained.
    By Friday, the broken eggs had left a bit of a mess.
    "Poor decision to close the Tech Library," said one post on an internal Sandia message board. "Textbooks are necessary for research," said another. "Erosion of Scholarship, Innovation and Contribution," said a third.
    "One of the reasons I came to Sandia was because of their high-class library," said Sandia engineer Roy Jorgenson. He studies electromagnetics, a field in which the old classic books are still relevant.
    Jorgenson regularly comes to the library to get them, browsing entries around them at the same time.
    "That's what you don't get electronically," Jorgenson said Friday morning during a visit to the library.
    He was trying to figure out where the books he needs were going to end up. For now, no one knows. The fate of the books is yet to be determined.
    Located behind security fences in the heart of Sandia's main research complex, the library holds 60,000 volumes. For comparison, the University of New Mexico's Centennial Science and Engineering Library has about 400,000 books.
    The Sandia library serves a population of researchers that includes 1,686 people with Ph.D.s. According to librarian Donald Guy, the researchers check out books 45,000 times per year.
    As soon as the change was announced, Sandia managers began hearing from researchers who say they cannot do their work without access to the books, said Wendy Cieslak, a senior manager who is representing the lab's research community in discussions about the library's future.
    How will Sandia meet the needs of those researchers? "I don't yet know the best answer," said W. David Williams, director of Sandia's Information Solutions and Services department and the point man on the library changes.
    "There's quite a bit of concern," said Anna Nusbaum, manager of the Technical Library and one of the front line staff fielding questions from users about the library's future.
    The changes were made as a result of a consultant's study of the way Sandia researchers use library services, said Art Hale, Sandia's chief information officer.
    Increasingly, Sandia researchers use the computer on their desk to get the information they need, rather than a physical library, Hale said.
    Current scientific journals are nearly all available online, as are other resources used by researchers. "People aren't coming in here and looking at the hard copy," Guy said. "It's more efficient to do it at their desk."
    "To maintain a collection, even an out-of-date collection, is very, very costly," Williams said. Sandia's approach, he said, is to improve Sandias' access to research material on their desktop computer.
    Closing down the stacks will save Sandia $1.1 million per year while allowing it to improve electronic information services, Hale said.
    Williams bristles at those who say the library is being "closed."
    "I hate that term," he said. "We're transforming the library."
    For Guy, who has spent 20 years as a librarian, it's a difficult time. "I'm conflicted," Guy said as he took a pair of visitors around the library Friday. "It's very hard, but I can see that we need to move into the future."