Petition for book delivery service racks up signatures from faculty and students

May 7, 2014, 1:29 a.m.

A petition calling on the University to develop and implement a book and document delivery service has gained 110 signatures from faculty and graduate students in a month, with many signatories arguing that such a service is a basic need for many researchers in the humanities and social sciences.

According to Assistant Professor of History Jennifer Burns, such a service — which would deliver a requested book from the library directly to a departmental office — would save time and money for researchers who rely heavily on books for information.

“I’m just buying them on Amazon because they’ll deliver in two days to my door or I’m asking a research assistant, paying a student to do work, [when] I prefer to pay them to do something more intellectual stimulating, but [retrieving books is] my most immediate need,” Burns said, adding that obtaining books could take up to 45 minutes each.

In December 2012, Stanford University Libraries had sent out an evaluation survey asking faculty for evaluations of the facilities, including any suggestions of what services could be added to improve faculty experience using the libraries. Although book retrieval and document delivery was promised for implementation earlier this year, according to Burns, in winter quarter she was told by library representatives that installing the service was no longer possible due to a lack of funding.

Following that change in plans, Burns and Assistant Professor of History Mikael Wolfe wrote the petition in order to raise awareness about the request and ensure that faculty members’ voices were heard.

“We’re petitioning to jumpstart a conversation about this and make it a matter of urgency, not just one that can be tabled,” Wolfe said.

Karen Wigen, chair of the Department of History and a petition signatory, supported the University’s investment in a book delivery service.

“If the administration truly wants to support the productivity of Stanford’s world-class faculty, creating a book retrieval service is a smart investment,” Wigen wrote in a statement to The Daily. “I am sure it will be especially valuable for junior faculty who often have precious little time to browse in the library stacks given all the other demands on their time.”

Burns also pointed out that a number of peer institutions in the Ivy League — namely Harvard, Yale and MIT — and even several more humbly endowed institutions — such as the University of Central Florida — have some form of book and document retrieval system.

“I cannot imagine it is not within the budgetary and technical capability of Stanford Library,” Wolfe said. “Which is why it really struck us that the service didn’t already exist.”

According to Gabrielle Karampelas, director of communications for Stanford University Libraries, the development of a book retrieval system requires more resources than might be expected, including hiring more staff, updating the online catalog and maintaining tracking materials.

“It’s more than a bike and dropping off a book,” Karampelas said.

Karampelas explained that requests related to the library system are overseen by the Committee on Libraries (C-LIB), a subcommittee of the Faculty Senate that meets six times a year and determines which requests will be carried through.

Approval for a request, according to Karampelas, depends on the scope and the size of the request, as well as the current needs of the University.

“Our budget is not a steady state,” Karampelas said. “We have to be fluid so that we support the greater Stanford scholarship needs.”

Beyond the petition, Burns and Wolfe have been invited to a meeting with C-LIB for May 14, in which they hope to express their concerns in person.

“I think [the library is] committed absolutely [to serving the community]. I feel well supported and do appreciate what the library offers,” Wolfe said. “I don’t want there to be misunderstandings — we’re not dissatisfied. We’re thinking this service could greatly enhance the services the library already provides.”

“The library is responsive and is really good about having the resources to help my teaching and research,” Burns said. “And maybe this is why [the lack of a book retrieval service is] so glaring because it’s really basic and fundamental.”


Contact Catherine Zaw at czaw13 ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.


In a previous version of this article, it was stated that Burns and Wolfe had organized for a meeting with the Committee on Libraries (C-LIB), however Burns and Wolfe had been invited to the C-LIB meeting on May 14. The Daily regrets this error.

Catherine Zaw was formerly the Managing Editor of News for Vol. 245 and Vol. 246. To contact her, please email [email protected].

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