Shaping the future for the libraries by Amy Boyce


Since its founding in 1872, the Virginia Tech library system has benefited from the philanthropy of its donors. Though the library system now includes holdings of more than 2 million volumes at four sites and in a high-density storage building, donations from alumni and friends are still critical to its success.

Continued growth of the libraries is important because the future of Virginia Tech is inextricably linked to that of its libraries. Virginia Tech's library system supports the university's scholarly and research efforts by providing both traditional and innovative research resources to the university community. Distance education, technology, and an ever-changing society will continue to shape the future of the library.

The library seeks to build on its strong history of innovation to address these changes and provide more varied and advanced services to its users. "For Virginia Tech, with its goal of positioning itself as a major research institution, having an excellent library is even more important than before," says University Libraries Dean Eileen Hitchingham.

A top-30 research university--and the high level of scholarship that accompanies it--depends upon immediate access to an enormous range of credible information. Providing this information means increasing as well as maintaining the library's holdings, both digital and print. One of the highest priorities for the library is improving its digital holdings so that students and other members of the university community can retrieve documents online, as well having the opportunity to review quality print documents.

However, improving the library's collection of digital holdings won't be easy from a financial standpoint. For example, there are several comprehensive digital databases of both English and American literature available to research libraries across the country, but the cost of these databases is prohibitive for Virginia Tech. Early American Imprints, for instance, provides the full text of all known books, pamphlets, and broadsides printed in the United States from 1639 through 1800, but the database costs $87,500 to purchase and additional annual fees to maintain. With an annual operating budget of just $12 million, University Libraries doesn't have the resources to make such a purchase, putting Virginia Tech in a small minority of research libraries that do not have access to the Early American Imprints database. This is but one example--every college at Virginia Tech could offer similar examples relevant to its disciplines.

It is also important to note that a library isn't just about its collections. One student says, "In terms of service, we have a great library. In terms of atmosphere, well, a library should be an inviting place to go that inspires work and productivity without draining the enthusiasm of the user." Today's students expect a library to be attractive, comfortable, and easy to negotiate. They expect a mixture of quiet and collaborative work spaces for studying and working on group projects, and they expect to have quick access to staff and services. Hitchingham hopes to incorporate some of these ideas into a renovation program for the lower level and the second floor of Newman Library that will relocate some services to make them more visible to library users. The plan also would provide a cafe and some critically needed space for the expansion of Special Collections. These renovations will have a price tag in excess of $5 million.

"With a very small staff we are still able to provide quality services comparable to those offered by other major research institutions, but better funding will allow us to become exceptional," says Hitchingham. "Enhancing the library is one way that all Hokies win."

Your donation can help the university library system to upgrade its holdings and facilities. For more information on how to make a gift to University Libraries, please contact Dan Palmer at 540/231-1886 or

Amy Boyce is a writer for University Development.