For university librarian, 11 million volumes just the beginning

A scholar with expertise in online information, public policy and economics, Jeffrey MacKie-Mason started attending meetings on campus last summer and assumed the reins as UC Berkeley’s new university librarian on Oct. 1.

Jeff MacKie-Mason

University Librarian Jeff MacKie-Mason (UC Berkeley photo by Peg Skorpinski)

MacKie-Mason comes to Berkeley from the University of Michigan, where he served for 29 years first as a faculty member, then dean of the School of Information. Wearing the librarian hat for the first time, he now oversees a library system with more than 11 million volumes, several dozen facilities and a combined staff of some 350 employees.

Five months into his new role, MacKie-Mason spoke with Berkeley News about his early impressions of UC Berkeley and the library, and his vision for its future.

How have you been spending your initial months as leader of the campus library system?

The library is a service organization. Our mission is to serve campus faculty and students, first and foremost, and also the public — to help them find, evaluate and use information. Since starting here I’ve spent a lot of my time on a listening tour, trying to understand how things are done at Berkeley, who the players are, what the needs are.

I’ve toured all 24 libraries that report to me, met with the librarians and many of the staff. And I’ve toured the library’s 10 to 12 operational units, such as the preservation group and our interlibrary loan service. I’ve also been spending a lot of time with campus faculty and administrators, learning how the library could help them.

What are some of your initial observations about Berkeley, as someone coming in with fresh eyes?

The University of Michigan is basically a single-campus university at Ann Arbor, with two satellites. The University of California is a much bigger, 10-campus university with far more students and faculty, spread out over the entire state. So there are a lot of complicated problems that UC has to deal with, on a much grander scale than any other public university, including Michigan. I deal with the UC system all the time.

Having gotten the lay of the land, what are your top priorities for the library?

Doe Library main stacks

Doe Library main stacks (UC Berkeley photo by Steve McConnell)

One priority is to improve and expand the instructional services and support that we provide, basically in the area known these days as “information literacy” or “information fluency.” The digital revolution has made information enormously abundant. Our challenge is how to manage the flood of information — how to find information, evaluate its quality and make use of it. Librarians are trained in that, and provide a lot of instructional support to faculty.

Many campus instructors will have a librarian come in to teach information-literacy skills, to support the research and learning process. We also have our own library classrooms where we teach not-for-credit workshops. We need to expand our instructional services.

What’s an example of information-literacy training the library provides?

We offer, for instance, workshops on geographic information systems. You can go to our Earth Sciences and Map Library and get training there in how to work with information that has location associated with it, as well as time and date. We also provide support in using various information formats and media tools. Students know how to find and watch video, for instance. But do they know how to cut, edit, annotate and cite it? We teach skills in that.

What other priorities head up your list?

The role of a library on a university campus is also to provide “common goods” to support learning and research — assets that individuals may not be able to afford themselves, but need to experience in order to be educated citizens in the modern world. Part of our mission is to figure out which entry-level goods and services our students and faculty need.

On campus we’ve agreed that every student and faculty member should have access to information sources such as books, e-books, videos, subscriptions to journals. And as information technology changes, the campus community needs access to new tools and resources.

students at library computers

Moffitt Library’s new information gateway (UC Berkeley photo by Peg Skorpinski)

So in the library you see lots of computer screens that anybody can use, serving as portals onto various information resources and the world. And we lend laptops. Given Berkeley’s emphasis on access, that’s important; not all of our students can afford to own a laptop computer.

Other tools, like video cameras, are becoming important. Most students now have a video camera in their pocket, because they have a smartphone. But production-quality HD cameras with audio systems still aren’t widely available; that’s a resource we might make available to students.

We’re investing in a maker space, where we’ll have 3D printers and other tools for combining technology and information with creativity to make things. Is that necessarily a library activity? We’re not sure. But we do think that every Berkeley student should have access to at least rudimentary, low-cost maker tools they can use to explore their creativity.

What about library facilities? Any plans there?

That’s a third big priority — to rebuild our library spaces to support connected learning and connected inquiry. Individual inquiry is still important. But students increasingly do their learning together as a team; it’s very effective. Graduate students have known this forever. They’ve always had study groups.

Jeff MacKie-Mason with Mark Twain sculpture

Jeff MacKie-Mason (UC Berkeley photo by Peg Skorpinski)

So we’re creating open learning spaces where students can be connected with each other and with information and information technology, as well as with librarians to assist them. In our collaboration spaces we provide large screens with connectors, so that students can plug in their laptops and the group can work on the large screen together.

We want to provide access to virtual-reality headsets, digital-recording tools and high-quality video conferencing, so students can work with people around the world. If they’re doing research on Botswana, they should be able to talk with someone in Botswana.

Is the work on connected learning spaces already underway?

Yes. We’re currently renovating the fourth and fifth floors of Moffitt Undergraduate Library. The fourth floor is our first stab at creating a major collaborative, flexible work space for students. We hope to get the funding to renovate the rest of Moffitt and turn it into the connected learning hub of campus.

How will you fund these priorities, given the campus’s current fiscal constraints?

If we have a very clear sense of what our mission is, from that we can set our priorities and make choices. We have to do less of the things that are lower priority, reallocating our funds to our highest priorities.

But it’s also about finding new funding sources. UC Berkeley has a remarkably large, energetic, enthusiastic, loyal and successful alumni body. There’s only so much we can ask students to pay in tuition. At some point we need other sources, and philanthropy is the major one. The library has done a lot of fundraising in the past, and has been rather successful at it. We need to step it up and quite literally double our efforts.

We provide information resources, professional services, consultation, collections to support all of the activities of campus. If people want to support UC Berkeley overall, one very important way is to support the library.

Related information: Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, Michigan scholar, named University Librarian (Berkeley News article, June 2015)