Rice: The Next Century

Report of the Strategic Planning Committee


At its intellectual center, every great university has a great library. It is a repository for the basic materials that sustain the institution's educational and scholarly activities. It is also the university's gateway to resources housed around the world. All members of the Rice community depend upon the library for access to the books, articles, on-line data, and images they need for their work. For this reason, an outstanding library is essential to the health of the entire institution.

In the past we have not consistently recognized how central the library is to Rice's pursuit of its educational mission, and we have suffered for it. Many think that Fondren Library is not adequate even for undergraduate instruction. One undergraduate recently wrote to our Committee: "Something needs to be done about the library, and soon. There are just not enough resources - not only are we not competitive with the larger research schools, but students' basic needs frequently are not met." Many faculty, particularly in the humanities, cannot perform the most basic of research tasks with the resources available at Rice, including those accessed over the internet.

To address this problem, we propose the following:

Initiative 19. We will develop a bold plan to enhance library facilities, collections, and related information services so that the library becomes a truly effective center for learning and scholarship.

As we enter the next century, continued excellence at Rice will depend on committing significant additional resources for expanding the range of what is available through the library. New developments in technology make this a particularly opportune moment to undertake such a program of expansion. Fondren Library can become an innovative and valuable resource center for the entire Rice community, but vision, boldness, planning, and the imaginative use of electronic media are required to make this happen. From the outset it must be recognized that books and other traditional documents will continue to form the core of the collection. Most of these materials will not be available on-line for a long time to come, some never. For certain research programs, the book is the best technology and is likely to remain so. This is the view of the most informed experts on libraries in the country, who are knowledgeable both about the world of books and computer technology. Therefore, if the work of faculty and students is to advance, we will need an expanded collection of such documents in the coming decade. However, because significant expenditures will doubtless be required for this purpose and for the preservation of the current collection, the library's acquisitions policy will need to be guided by the recommendations of the library planning committee and by this strategic plan. The growth of library collections cannot occur in all fields, but must be linked to areas of curricular and research growth in the rest of the university. The library will also have to expand what is available to users by finding new ways to share resources and information with other libraries and institutions. Finally, the library will need to establish protocols for determining what library materials we should purchase and in what form. It will need to create a process that addresses current critical needs like library shelf space, while preserving maximal flexibility for the collection's future organization and availability.

Initiative 20. Rice University will take maximum advantage of information technology to help realize its educational and scholarly aspirations. At the same time it will continually and carefully monitor the costs of investment in information technology against the benefits it brings to its academic programs.

Although books will remain central to the mission of the University for the foreseeable future, it is indisputable that the rapid advance of computing and telecommunications is changing the ways in which knowledge is stored, transferred, processed, produced, and thought about. Some of these changes are likely to have a profound effect on society in general. We also foresee a transformation in our ideas of teaching, learning, research, academic publication, libraries, encyclopedias, and journals. To continue to flourish as a first rate institution, Rice must use the new technologies in ways that help fulfill its primary mission of teaching and research. We need to formulate procedures for assessing the research needs of the faculty, whether they take the form of printed books or computing technology.

At the same time, it is critical that the expenditure of funds for information systems be determined by our academic needs and goals and not by the technology itself. We know from experience that it is easy to spend a great deal of money on computer technology and information systems without being able to measure the benefits of the outcome. While we recognize that experimentation with new technologies is essential to discovering their most effective use, we caution against extensive investments without first developing careful measures of the benefits of such investments for teaching and scholarship. To underline the importance of this guideline, we recommend that the faculty play a major role in the process of determining technological initiatives.

Information technology can enhance all of the University's fundamental activities in the pursuit, production, and dissemination of knowledge. Intelligently deployed, it can help Rice to overcome some of the constraints imposed by size, since it facilitates sharing of costly resources with other institutions and makes certain kinds of research more efficient. The University needs to strengthen its computing infrastructure with enough servers, sufficient network band width, and flexible systems connections to allow faculty and students to communicate effectively with one another and with the outside world. All faculty and students at the University must have access to the Internet.

Initiative 21. We will ensure that expenditures for computing needs become part of the regular budgetary process, with sufficient funds committed not just for the purchase but for the maintenance and replacement of equipment and information technology.

In the last decade, Rice has purchased large quantities of computers and information technology. These purchases have and continue to be made on the capital budget, as if computer purchases were one-time events. We need to move these expenditures to the operating budget and develop a process for amortizing them on a realistic schedule that takes into account equipment obsolescence within a five-year period. Because computing needs have not been treated as part of the operating budget, it has been difficult to plan for them in academic areas. The ad hoc nature of the process has placed impediments on long-term planning and wise decision making.

Initiative 22. The President will create a standing committee, called the Committee on University Information Resource Development, whose members, appointed by the President, will deal with long-term planning for both the library and for computing on campus.

The Computer Planning Board's 1990 Five-year Strategic Plan for Information Services and Computing Facilities developed long-range goals that are still relevant for Rice University. That board no longer exists, but another committee, the Library Planning Committee, is now at work with a similar focus on long-range planning. Given that both committees were charged to deal with long-term issues in areas of overlapping interest, and given the close interdependence of the library and computer technology, it will be most effective to create a single committee to assess the University's progress in these areas and advise on long-term goals and strategies. A single board, charged with strategic planning for both the library and computing, will underscore the fact that we need to be concerned with how to identify, acquire, access, and maintain information that is essential for research and teaching, regardless of the form that the information takes. In this context, it is clear that the Fondren library is at once the repository and circulation center for books, monographs and periodicals and at the same time the vital research information hub of the campus.

Unlike the standing committees on computing and the library, this committee will focus on long-term issues rather than on immediate concerns and matters of implementation. It will also serve to enhance the faculty's communication with the staffs that manage the Library's and the University's information systems so that a judicious balance can be struck between the dual needs for additional paper documents and digitized information. As part of this function, it will help to convey that while we must take advantage of emerging technologies, the disruption to users of older technologies should be kept to a minimum and those users should be consulted in the planning process.

Drawing on existing strengths and some unique resources, Rice can aim to be a leader in adapting new technologies to research and teaching, but equally to service and community outreach. It is important to encourage and support experiments in educational computing like the Galileo Project, the NSCI 230 course, and various electronic studio ideas currently underway.

The University should also employ new technology to upgrade its administrative functions and its own institutional research data. Obsolete computer technology and information systems in these areas can be an impediment to the academic functions of the university. The inefficiencies they create can leave fewer resources for teaching and research.

Initiative 23. We will continue to develop the Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning as a cooperative venture of the Fondren Library and the Division of Information Technology. We will ensure that faculty are informed about what it can do to support them. We will also improve classroom and research facilities where needed so that faculty can use the new technological tools for teaching and research.

There is great value in the current proposals for a Center for Technology in Teaching and Learning in the Fondren Library. The Center can succeed, however, only if a significant number of faculty become involved. We need to make faculty aware of the present capabilities of information technology and to help prepare them for likely new developments. This will require intimate cooperation between the Center and Information Services. In developing and implementing advanced applications for teaching, research and communications, the Center can help to define an appropriate and challenging role for information technology at Rice.


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