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Clarification of Media and Reserve Issues Relating to the Access Services and Learning Commons Initiatives

There have been a number of concerns raised regarding media and reserve issues in relation to both the Access Services proposal and planning for the Learning Commons at the Undergraduate Library. The intent of this document is to clarify some of the issues and provide a conceptual framework for investigating changes to the Media & Reserve Center in both contexts. The hope is that an equitable solution that resolves current problems and workload issues while creating adaptability for the future can be reached that will work for both scenarios. Input was requested and received from Lori Mestre, David Ward, Joyce Wright, Susan Avery, Kathleen Kluegel, and the Access Services group.


Perhaps the most helpful distinction that needs to be addressed is the separation of media and reserve technical services from media and reserve public services. The vast majority of the current faculty and staff time and workload revolves around technical services: electronic reserve processing, media acquisitions and cataloging, and print reserve processing, in that order. A certain amount of time and effort is required for setting up each course, and then each item placed on reserve. Fall semester we worked with close to 700 courses in over 100 different departments. The Media & Reserve Center currently functions as a centralized processing unit that handles materials and support for courses at all levels, with a heavier emphasis on 300, 400, and 500 level courses and services to faculty, graduate instructors, and upper level undergraduates than incoming first- and second- year undergraduates.  Ideally, in the library of the future, media and reserve technical services, which are already centralized to a large degree, will be merged with similar technical functions in other areas to create the kind of efficiency and work environment necessary to keep up with growing demands. A logical solution is presented in the Access Services proposal, based on shared areas of faculty and staff expertise, common goals and universal services, and increasingly high processing workloads, to merge media and reserve technical services with similar functions of IRRC and Central Bookstacks (scanning expertise, book retrieval, etc.).


Such a solution creates the opportunity for us to think creatively about integrating media and reserve public services throughout the Library at the public service areas that are most appropriate for the type of service and level of patron served. Electronic reserves are, by their very nature, already integrated into all public service areas by virtue of their accessibility from all Internet-connected computers, and the public service aspect of support for that service is most often handled at point of need by the reference staff across the library. We process ten times more material in electronic format than in print, with popularity of that service increasing yearly. The majority of physical reserves are geared towards upper level undergraduate and graduate students, and those materials are most effectively combined with other known, quick-pick-up items such as holds.


Currently we rely heavily on student workers at the Media & Reserve Center desk to provide media and reserve public service support: checking print reserves in and out, making reservations for the media collection, assigning patrons to media viewing carrels, etc. The need for a separate Media & Reserve Center, and separate collections based on physical media formats and the corresponding need for special viewing facilities, has diminished greatly over the last few years with the advent of the DVD format and electronic reserves, and will continue to diminish as the Library pursues digital media and reserves in the future. All new public workstations in the Library are equipped with DVD drives, and the VHS format is expected to become obsolete (meaning playback equipment will no longer be commercially manufactured) in 2006.


The media collections fall into two distinct categories: the teaching and research collection housed in closed stacks which is designed to support faculty and graduate instructor classroom and research needs, and the browsing collection of popular DVDs and VHS tapes that is geared towards undergraduate students. This dichotomy in collection development policies and underlying missions provides an easy place to begin envisioning incorporating those services into other service areas, and solutions can be tailored to fit with both the Access Services proposal and the Learning Commons initiative. The teaching and research collection could move into the Main Library in close proximity to the Scholarly Commons and the newly proposed reference collection within the bookstacks, with better browsing capability and visibility for faculty and instructors and appropriate service provided at the new User Services desk described in the Access Services proposal. The browsing collection would continue to grow and be incorporated into the 1 st floor services in the new Learning Commons at the Undergraduate Library, with the cataloging and processing of those items done centrally by the relocated technical services oriented staff.


One specific area that was not perhaps adequately addressed by the initial proposal was the difference between permanent reserve collections and course reserves that are needed on a semester by semester basis. The intent of the proposal was not to mandate one solution for departmental libraries in dealing with permanent reserve collections, but to offer up new possibilities based on the capabilities of Voyager. It seems clear that in many cases items have been placed on permanent reserve in order to make use of the separate reserve locations and item types available, which was particularly necessary in DRA and LCS/FBR days. With Voyager we have the opportunity to revisit those items on permanent reserve and easily create new locations and item types in Voyager to more accurately describe their intended purpose. In each library I would imagine that those collections might fit into a number of different categories, and that solutions would be tailored to fit each need.


As far as course reserves, as distinct from permanent reserves, are concerned, if we can create a central infrastructure capable of supporting processing of those materials for the Main Library and the Undergraduate Library in the long run the majority of those items would be housed at one central location within the Main Library for ease of access by patrons and close proximity to the subject-specific collections in the departmental libraries appropriate to the course materials represented. Also, each reserve collection currently places materials from various other locations on reserve, and centralizing this process would help eliminate unnecessary shipping and location errors (each reserve collection is currently comprised from 10-50% of materials from other departmental libraries and central stacks). An alternative solution to that originally presented in the Access Services proposal would be for departmental libraries to opt to have their course reserve materials housed centrally with the physical reserves previously housed at the Undergraduate Library, and/or simply be processed by the centralized processing unit. A flexible solution would allow us to gradually grow that service while taking advantage of the expertise of the staff who perform these functions on a daily basis. 


Should the ideas presented in the Access Services proposal not be adopted, considering media and reserve technical services and public services as two largely separate entities is still a beneficial exercise. The physical footprint of the staff processing area is large and growing, and currently uses what could be prime public areas for tasks that would actually benefit from a further separation from public service areas. Should the Access Services proposal not be approved, the MRC staff, processing space, and the teaching/research closed stacks collection could move to the lower level of the Undergraduate Library rather than the Main Library, while the popular collection, possibly the physical reserves,  and some viewing carrels would remain on the upper level in both scenarios.


Statistics of Possible Interest:



E-reserve Links

Print Reserves

Media Reserves

Total Reserves

Fall 2002





Fall 2003





Fall 2004





Fall 2005







The increase in workload relating to electronic reserves is perhaps most indicative of the need for merging media and reserve technical services with other similar functions, as the time constraints inherent in providing that service at an acceptable level of quality preclude the MRC staff from performing other tasks effectively. As of Summer 2005 the Media & Reserve Center is processing all electronic reserves for the University Library as a whole, and the demand for electronic reserves continues to increase each year. Processing of this material is time-consuming, requires specialized skills and training not appropriate for temporary or cyclical help, and includes not only converting print materials to PDF format, but also searching and linking to existing electronic versions of material found in a variety of library databases, investigation of and requesting copyright clearance in accordance with the Library's guidelines, and ordering source materials not already held at UIUC. Given a 16 week semester, at current levels of reserve processing the MRC processes 1,110 reserve items per week, 3.5 items per staff hour not counting vacations and sick leave. In many cases processing one item can take far more than an hour given the need to request copyright clearance, order source material, track down print copies in multiple library locations, etc.


Please note that the above graph represents the courses for which the MRC processed reserves: print, media, electronic, or any combination thereof. When looking at the physical reserves (print and media) roughly 65% of the items are placed on reserve for a 300, 400 or 500 level course, while the reverse is true for electronic reserves.