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It's nearly 11 p.m. on a weekday and Kelly Meeboer is wrapping up another four-hour study session at the University of Wyoming's Information Library and Learning Center.
Meeboer, an English graduate student, uses Coe, one of the libraries available to UW students and faculty, nearly every day for research work and writing. Her thesis research, about sensibility and the performance of illness and class in 19th century literature, requires both volumes and online journals -- all materials needed by UW students, regardless of their majors. Meeboer uses the library for books on critical or theoretical interpretations of literature.
Bill Lauenroth, a UW botany professor, also is in the library several times daily. Although he's earned the academic credentials to teach -- as well as peer recognition that resulted in his being named a fellow of the widely respected American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) -- he has not stopped seeking information for his botany research.
"My research in community and ecosystem ecology relies on the fast-paced information exchange in articles in scientific journals. Coe Library's electronic subscriptions make my research possible," he says. "The library is the intellectual heart of every major university, and UW is no exception.
"The universe of scientific publications is expanding rapidly and my ability to keep up with it relies almost entirely on whether acquisitions by the UW libraries can keep pace with this rapid expansion," Lauenroth adds.
Unquestionably, the resources of the UW libraries are used every day by researchers -- both faculty and students -- but the collections fall short of those found at research libraries at comparable universities, and that has a direct effect on competitiveness. Research in the field shows a strong relationship between the size of a university's research collection and its success in securing research grants.
Maggie Farrell, UW Libraries dean, says the library system focuses its collection on the university's curriculum and research needs.
"UW is Wyoming's only four-year university, so these collections are unique to the state," Farrell says. "The libraries anticipate adding approximately 24,000 to 60,000 books to the collection annually and significantly increasing electronic book collections -- and adding new electronic journals to meet the teaching and research needs of the university."
In planning to expand the collections, UW Libraries continue to pursue membership in the Great Western Library Alliance, a consortium of 32 research libraries in the Midwest and West. Membership is a hallmark of quality for research collections.
One of the benchmarks a research library must meet is the size of collection. Smaller universities with GWLA membership have collections of about 2 million volumes; larger universities have more. Currently, UW has about 1.5 million volumes.
The constant push to increase the collection is good news for Lauenroth and his colleagues and also for UW students such as Hannah Dahlke, a secondary education sophomore from Glenrock.
"I do use many on-line resources and journals for class homework and will be increasing my use as I dive deeper into my education," Dahlke says. "I use the library as a study resource, studying for exams in the quiet areas and accomplishing homework assignments using computers and study areas."
Like Dahlke, Meeboer, a 2005 Torrington High graduate who expects to complete her M.A. degree in English in May 2011, and Alex Williams, a Riverton petroleum engineering major who is on track to graduate in 2012, say they rely on the libraries for research and study both in and out of their degree programs.
The recent expansion of the Coe Library has improved the facilities, which makes it an attractive place to study.
"The hours at the library are perfectly matched to the habits of a college student," Meeboer says. "Generally, the library is open until midnight and there is a 24-hour laboratory so students are never without a space to work on campus."
"We have a fabulous resource in our library system and we've been very fortunate in the support we've received to complete its expansion," Farrell says. "Now that we have a quality environment for study, we have to provide the research resources that our students and faculty need to achieve the best they can. We know that will take some time, but we're dedicated to achieving that."