Visit to the William T. Young Library, University of Kentucky

Dr Michael Fraser, CTI Textual Studies

The University

The University of Kentucky, founded in 1865 and located in Lexington, consists of eleven academic colleges, five professional schools, and a graduate school offering around 250 undergraduate and graduate programs. The University is counted amongst the 59 'research 1' universities in the US and currently has over 30,000 students enrolled. The University is known for its strengths in liberal arts and engineering and includes English literature and political science amongst its most popular degrees programs. The School of Arts & Sciences includes departments of Classical Languages and Literature; English, French, Germanic, Russian and Spanish Languages and Literatures; Linguistics; Philosophy. Under the direction of Prof. Kevin Kiernan, an interdisciplinary centre for research in computing for humanities has been recently established. The RCH has a small room within the William T. Young Library and its participants are drawn from both the humanities and the computer science departments (see further,

The Libraries

The University of Kentucky libraries comprise a central library (now the William T. Young Library) and a series of branch libraries. The latter serve particular disciplines and are distributed throughout the campus. Subjects served by the branch libraries include: architecture, art, communications and information studies, education, law, music, and a number of science disciplines. The vast majority of holdings, especially relating to the humanities are located in the William T. Young library. The catalogues of the branch libraries are available through the central library catalogue.

The William T. Young Library


The William T. Young Library is the University of Kentucky's third central library. It replaces the Margaret I. King library (opened 1931) which will now hold the special collections ad archives, science and engineering, and fine arts. Planning for a new library formally commenced in 1990 and started to be realised in 1991 with the gift of five million dollars from local businessman, William T. Young, after whom the library is named. The library cost $58 million of which nearly $22 million was raised from private funds and donations. The lead architect was Michael McKinnell. The building is over 165 feet high and over 365,000 square feet in size. There are five floors and a basement contained with an octagonal structure. The massive structure includes a skylit atrium, a five story central rotunda (a building within the building) containing three reading rooms, one of which has a three-story ceiling. The entire building benefits from natural light from the skylights and surrounding two-story windows. The architectural design has been inspired by medieval monastic libraries, the grand library structures of Europe and America (including the Library of Congress), and Georgian style for the exterior. Officially opened in April 1998 with the transfer of books completed by August 1998, the library holds 1.2 million volumes and provides seating for 4,000 users. In addition, there are 57 group study and seminar rooms and study space for 350 faculty members.

The library is viewed by its director, Paul K. Willis, as a transitional library, one which blends the proven elements of the traditional research library with the benefits offered by new technologies. It is also transitional in the sense that technology is continually changing and yet, as the architect observed, though the future of technology cannot be predicted, experience has given a better idea of what people want from a library. The tendency to migrate towards the digital has resulted in a renewed emphasis on the human interface in the library, a theme repeated on more than one occasion. Whilst the building itself was deliberately designed as long-lasting landmark, according tot he Director, the library is no longer an 'inner sanctum' but rather has exploded far beyond the University campus.

The Physical Hybrid Library

Access to electronic and networked resources has been integrated not only into the services of the library but also into its physical infrastructure. The library has a wireless modem system. Users may check-out laptop computers and effectively access the Internet and local resources together with generic computing applications from anywhere in the library (apart from, apparently, the toilets). In effect this means that each one of the 3,000 seats together with the seminar and study rooms and 1,000 lounge-style seats are networked. Each seat also has electrical and ethernet points. Users can plug in personal computers so long as they have ethernet access. The potential mix of traditional reading rooms and computing technology is deliberately reminiscent of the New York Public Library's blending of old lamps and PCs. The reference and periodicals areas contain more traditional blocks of computers with a combination of networked and standalone applications. Further PC terminals are dotted around on all floors. Printing facilities are available via the banks of computers and paid for though the use of a combined printing/photocopier card (the provision of which is contracted out). The basement houses a range of computing facilities including student computing laboratories, Integrated Learning Technologies, and the Distance Learning Technology Center discussed below. The integration of computer banks within the library and the large number of reader spaces has resulted in a smaller percentage of space being dedicated to book stacks, assisted by the use throughout of compact shelving.

The Library Systems

The University introduced its first electronic library cataloguing system in 1985. The library currently runs NOTIS LMS for an integrated library system and is also the host institution for a NOTIS consortium comprising the universities of Kentucky, Tennessee at Knoxville, and Vanderbilt University. The continued use of NOTIS and the provision of programming support from the Computing Center is currently under review. Web access to the catalogue is provided through a WebZ server which also has the potential to provide integrated access across Z39.50 complaint catalogues and databases to which the library subscribes or provides. At present the WebZ interface is divided between the regional library catalogues and databases with other interfaces (e.g. FirstSearch, WebSpirs, JSTOR, and the Government Information Gateway hosted by the Library).

Networked Resources and Catalogue

One of the library's initiatives for 1998/99 is the development of the digital environment and collections, to 'evaluate, acquire and make available commercial and locally developed resources that facilitate transition to a digital environment'. The library sees the increasing provision of electronic resources as something of a challenge. Much of the individual items available to users through subscription databases remain uncatalogued locally (for example, the 17,000 journal contents available through Uncover). The catalogue currently includes journal titles available through JSTOR and, significantly, selected internet resources. The current library stance on the cataloguing of Internet resources is one which believes access to Internet resources will not be best served through the library catalogue but through advanced Web search engines and XML-based applications. Therefore the library has adopted a self-confessed conservative approach to Internet-only resources. The current policy is to generate a full MARC record for Internet resources using PURL technology. Non-PURL resources are only catalogued if the library actually subscribes to them (the library's strategy is to utilize non-PURL technology for its own electronic resources). An ongoing strategy is to develop a research oriented catalogue giving direct access to primary fulltext resources. The New York Public Library was cited as an example where only completed primary resources are integrated with the catalogue.

The continual aim to provide an integrated catalogue includes the development of electronic inter-library loan forms for materials not held at the library. The forms are intended to be accessible from within the catalogue, capture the relevant bibliographic information from elsewhere together with the user's personal details, print and archive the forms within the ILL unit.

Although the WebZ server provides an initial entry point for the online databases to which the library subscribes, there is no overall local network which is inclusive of cd-rom materials. n general cd-roms are checked-out from the reference desk and used on any of the workstations in the reference area. There are two main reasons behind this current policy: licensing restrictions prevent offering general networked access, particularly to patrons of the library who are not enrolled members of the University. The University of Kentucky offers a service to the entire state and is in effect a public library. Anyone can walk-in, for example, and make use of the computers standing in the reference and periodical sections (membership of the library, open to anyone resident in Kentucky, is required for checking-out most materials). Developing mechanisms for permitting access to licensed digital resources by only authorised members of the library is a prominent issue. A large proportion of those accessing the catalogue do so from outside the library itself and also the campus. The library is fully involved with the provision of distance-learning materials and the Commonwealth Virtual Library mentioned above. One beneficial effect of creating the virtual library was the granting of further funding for catalogue development and subscription to further (shared) databases. A rather more positive effect of providing cd-roms from the desk has been observed, namely the opportunity to provide support for a significant number of users who require assistance with the varying interfaces and functionality. The present situation is a vast improvement on that in the old library where individual cd-roms tended to usable only on specific machines (and the machines varied significantly in specification and configuration). The Computing Center supply staff who provide generic software support for users in the reference area. This ensures that reference desk staff are not inundated with queries concerning word-processing, printing, and general Internet-related problems.

Digital Services

The library has established an Electronic Information Access & Management Center which has the dual role of creating and providing access to the Library's own digital collections, and also working with faculty and graduate members on their own digital projects. It was initially envisaged that the bulk of the Center's activities would be in the creation of an electronic text centre. However, the Center has widened its remit to incorporate development and training activities relating to other media (for example, GIS and statistical datasets). The Center is equipped with applications for text encoding and delivery (e.g. DynaText), and image/audio editing and delivery (e.g. RealServer). There are three members of staff allocated to EIAMC with expertise in metadata and Internet gateways; SGML and electronic publishing; multimedia; and applications for teaching and learning. The current digital collections include Journals from Appalachia, Early Appalachian Women Writers Project, and the Online Oral History Project. The first of these is in collaboration with a member of the English Department who wished to provide access to his own personal collection of rare journal materials. In addition to these specific projects, the Center is also developing a number of electronic finding aids for the library's special collections and archives. Amongst the other digital library projects are The Doris Ulmann Photograph Collection, and a research project to develop a Dublin Core database of electronic texts on the Web. The digital collections are encoded in SGML and served through DynaWeb (for which the University obtained an educational licence).

The EIAMC is also involved in training. The electronic resources librarian with expertise in SGML will teach part of a recently developed informatics course for humanities graduates (also partly taught by the departments of Computing Science, English, and Classics). The informatics course is affiliated with the Research into Computers and the Humanities collaboratory (RCH), for which the library has provided a study room now converted into a computer room for members of the RCH (a mixture of computing science and humanities research/teaching staff). The EIAMC's strategy also includes assisting faculty to incorporate multimedia technologies into teaching and learning activities.

Teaching Support

The basement contains a computer laboratory providing both open access generic computing and bookable classrooms. Also in the basement is the Distance Learning Technology Center providing a support service to the University's distance-learning program. The DLTC works closely with faculty to deliver courses through the Web, video-conferencing, and more traditional broadcast formats.

The basement also houses Integrated Learning Technologies including a library of 3,000 audio-visual materials. The AV catalogue is integrated with the central library catalogue including the Notes and Summary fields. These materials can be accessed by users from 50 workstations and in over 50 group viewing or seminar rooms. ILT also provides support for two 'smart' classrooms on campus which contain PC, laserdisk, VCR and projection equipment.

As a result of teaching staff making available exam and reading material through departmental web sites the library setup a taskforce to look at the feasibility of coordinating this activity through the library and developing a set of guidelines. The negotiation of copyright for journal and other published material is seen as the major obstacle to creating a fulltext electronic reserve. The pilot project concentrated on locally produced materials such as lecture notes, sample exams, and problem sets providing a service to Faculty for the conversion of word-processed documents to a format accessible via a Web browser (HTML, PDF).

User Training

All new students are encouraged to attend a training session, 'What can a library do for you?'. The library works closely with faculty members. In particular the training programme has been developed to tie training in with specific assignments. Graduate students are served by introductory research methods courses which tend to be run by the relevant professor whilst making use of one of the two instruction classrooms available in the library.

User Activities

Although the William T. Young library has only been fully operational for one semester, library staff have noticed distinct changes in user behaviour. On the whole users are, as one would expect, accessing the same materials as before, though through different mechanisms. The library has blossomed as a social space with a significant number of students at any given time undertaking group study activities at designated (and non-designated) points throughout the library. The social role of the library is also reinforced by Ovid's Cafe serving snacks and meals (though users have to leave the library building to enter the cafe, presumably to keep separate in users' minds the library with food and drink).

In my own wanderings around the library I observed that the computing banks in the reference/periodical sections were invariably full. In general students tended to be searching the library catalogue (with a preference for telnet rather than web access); searching and browsing the Web (and, as one might expect, not always academic-related sites); electronic mail, and word-processing. For the most part the computers in the reference area were placed reasonably close together and perhaps strangely students using them for word-processing or other assignment-related activities did so with books and notes uncomfortably placed beside them or on neighbouring chairs. By contrast, in the short time I was there, I saw only a relatively few students making use of the networked wireless laptops in what one would have thought to be more appropriate working conditions in the library.


The Director views the library as comparable to a department store where the one building hosts a range of services not all of which come under the direct management of the library. The formation of partnerships between the library and computing services, academic departments, state-based commercial companies (e.g. Lexmark) and other organisations within and beyond the University is seen as essential to the continued development of the library. In effect the library stands at the hub of the campus symbolized in its physical position and architecture but actualized in the deliberate creation of itself from the library, academic, and digital spheres. The spokes of the hub reflect the two-way process between the library as a centre of campus activity and the rapid extension of its activities beyond the hub.