Designing a Library for Biosphere 2
28 March 2001

The opportunity to design a library to fit the times and the problems, and to build it with present and future information technologies in mind (instead of reconfiguring legacy spaces and systems) is an interesting challenge that few get a chance at.  When I was in library school a decade ago, I had a class in Science Librarianship that included an assignment to design a reference collection for a specific setting: Mount Washington Observatory, or a regional poison hotline, etc.  At the time, electronic resources were just beginning to be salient in collection development and in reference work, so the emphasis was on identifying paper resources for the use of people who were not librarians, but had specifiable 'information needs'.

The task of designing and building a library to support the integrative teaching and learning of the Biosphere 2 educational programs shares some of the requirements and problems of the library school assignment --developing a focused collection to anticipate what users will seek answers to-- but differs

Success in this enterprise requires Defining the Needs
Essential questions for the "information anthropologist" to ask of staff and students: what do students actually need to be able to look up? What's the core of books the instructors think are essential to support what they do, and what do they want students to encounter if they browse the library's shelves? What are the essential items for a good regional core collection for the Sonoran Desert? (See Readers' Guide to the Literature of the Sonoran Desert Borderlands for an example of lists). And what's the collection development policy (and plan) for expansion of the library, as new needs arise and instructors change? Much of the work of the library will be done remotely, via Web pages and search interfaces, and the collection will grow electronically as students and instructors contribute material and pointers to Web resources. Sites like  EPA's Upper Santa Cruz watershed and Arizona Regional Image Archive and Southwest Electronic Text Center and Sonoran Desert Field Station and Border XXI exemplify the directions in which libraries are moving, and it is likely that the note-taking of traditional library research will be a minor activity for Biosphere 2 students.

Design for Access, not Storage
Tools and possibilities for access are advancing rapidly and have great potential to change the ways in which information is used in teaching and learning. What will not serve your needs is a 'library' defined as a room with 5000 books, no matter how carefully those 5000 are selected. Books are surely essential, but they are decorative if they don't actively serve the needs of information-seekers. The common observation that undergraduates use the Web as their primary tool for research (and that they are uncritical and lack 'research skills') implies necessity for education and continuing support, especially for the tools and resources with real power. Access to Columbia's electronic resources is a fantastic advantage, but they are not self-supporting; realizing the potentials of these (and turning them into something actually useful to Biosphere 2's programs) will require professional assistance, which can and should be built as an explicit part of integrative teaching. It is not clear to me whether the Librarian (whom I gather is funded for one year, and will be sent out from the Columbia Libraries) will begin (or develop on site) as an information specialist for the use of Biosphere 2 staff and students, or is expected to set up a free-standing library and then retreat to NYC, leaving staff and students to negotiate the jungles of information on their own.

The Role of the Librarian
Electronic resources like citation indexes and archives of full text change teaching and learning in ways we're just beginning to grasp. Thus, JSTOR offers the entire archive of such journals as Science, Ecology, and Population Studies, searchable by keyword; Science Citation Index allows exploration of more than 25 years of bibliographic interlinkage in more than 5,000 journals; and SciFinder Scholar enables easy searching of the last 34 years of chemical (and related) literature. These potentials certainly fit with the concerns of Biosphere 2 courses, but successful integration will require the active participation of a librarian who understands both the problems of instructors and the possibilities of the full array of information resources, and is committed to teaching the skills to make effective use of these resources. To realize the potential, the librarian ought to be a full participant in the integrated teaching program, and should also be an adventurer in other realms of digital information, including images and spatial data.

Incorporating Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
It is one thing to look at maps and images, and entirely another to learn to analyze patterns in space. Among the information media which need to be integrated into the library's purview is GIS, which exemplifies both the promise and the support problem of the global digital library: users have access to vastly increased data and unprecedented perspectives, which transform what they can study, represent, visualize, and know. Few libraries are adept at serving and supporting GIS data, but Biosphere 2 is already in contact with one of the leaders in this area, at University of Arizona, and it wouldn't be difficult to put together the relevant datasets to support study of the past and present of the Tucson region. Thus, the Pima County Land Information System datasets, Digital Elevation Model (DEM), and Digital Ortho Quarter Quads (DOQQs) for the area of Biosphere 2, in combination with data collected with GPS receivers and analysis done with ESRI's ArcView GIS software, would provide the basis for a growing archive of spatially-referenced data on the immediate environment. LANDSAT and other satellite imagery would facilitate broader analysis of ecosystem characteristics and changes. The  Advanced Resource Technology Group at University of Arizona is very active in these areas. Similar coverage for field study areas in Mexico and elsewhere in Arizona would greatly enhance the perspective you can offer students, and hands-on experience with analyzing spatial data would broaden student skills dramatically. Managing such data resources and analytical power (and teaching their use) requires training and interest beyond that of most librarians, but it's just the sort of information-management challenge a Biosphere 2 librarian should welcome.

Here's a piece of a DOQQ from 1992 (downloaded via University of Arizona, and brought into ArcView), showing Biosphere 2:

ArcView (which is pretty close to being an industry standard) operates in the Windows environment, requires some fairly elaborate tending in networked settings, and (because of its power) has a rather steep learning curve. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) receivers facilitate the collection of georeferenced data, and it's entirely possible to connect GPS and GIS to support field data gathering. ESRI's ArcPad (a small-scale version of ArcView) runs on (many, probably not all) Windows CE handhelds, but not on Palm Pilots.

ESRI is very open-handed in supporting educational uses, and I see that Columbia has an ESRI site license (see  Columbia Earth Institute ), which may also be applicable to the Biosphere 2 program. I also found  Metropolitan East Coast Assessment as an example of a GIS-based Columbia program, and CIESIN and Lamont-Doherty make extensive use of ESRI products.

I'd be glad to talk further about any of the above issues.

Hugh Blackmer
Science Librarian
Washington & Lee University