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How Big is the Library? Nobody Knows.


There was a time when the millions of books in the library were represented by cards in a catalog. On level 6 of the library, the official list of every book in the library (known as the shelf list), can still be seen. Millions of small cards organized neatly into dozens of wooden cabinets fill hundreds of drawers. Today the library catalog is much larger, and yet all of that information will easily fit onto a single flash drive.

The change from print to digital was actually far greater than the shelf list analogy shows. The library’s collections now reach far beyond the walls of our building. The scholarly journals you read are maintained on servers located in other states or even other countries. We manage the subscriptions for them as well as the academic databases so faculty and students never have to deal with a pay wall or authentication issues. But this has created a new challenge for scholars and academic librarians. Back in the day of print materials, we knew every book in our collection. And while we continue to invest in print, we now only buy an average of 78 printed books a day to support the needs of the hundreds of faculty and thousands of students who use our collections. But no one can tell you how many journal articles or how many items in our databases are added each day. The common comparison of information to a cloud appears appropriate. The library exists in the middle of an information cloud. We know it is constantly growing but no single individual knows how fast and no one can comprehend all the information that is added each day across the many disciplines. That is why we have divided up the responsibility of understanding our resources.

For every discipline taught on campus we have assigned a librarian to develop collections—digital and print—and support them. If you are an engineer you can talk to Peter Zuber, if you are an artist you can talk to Chris Ramsey. Educators know that Rachel Wadham is their resource, while faculty in the Tanner building turn to librarians Leticia Camacho and Andy Spackman who know about business. It is the custom of the library to hire librarians who not only have advanced degrees in library science or information studies, but who also have advanced degrees in the subject area they support.


If you are curious about the new resources the library has acquired in a given field, we invite you to contact a subject librarian.  You can find their contact information on our list of subject pages http://guides.lib.byu.edu/browse.php.