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The Open Agenda: The Future of the UT Libraries

“More than a warehouse of books … I think of libraries as change agents in the lives of people,” says Lorraine Haricombe, the vice provost and director of the UT Libraries in Austin. 

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As a result of University of Texas Libraries participation in the Google Books Project, more than a half million books from the stacks of the Benson Latin American Collection are now accessible online.

Opening these collections to the world has brought new academic interest for some of the lesser used materials. One book that was rarely touched during its 100 years on the library shelves in Austin was accessed 3,421 times globally within a week of going online. “Los animales domésticos de la América precolombiana” was printed on fragile newsprint that made it hard to access, but now it can be viewed by everyone.


Lorraine Haricombe, the vice provost and director of the UT Libraries in Austin. Photo courtesy of UT Libraries

“This is the power of creating, preserving and making information freely accessible,” says Lorraine Haricombe, the vice provost and director of the UT Libraries in Austin.

Opening access to scholarship includes more people in the dialogue, which benefits both academics and the public. She believes a library is “more than a warehouse of books … I think of libraries as change agents in the lives of people.” When knowledge is free to reach the corners of the globe, she says, it has “a transformational effect on research and learning.”

The UT Libraries — in the top 10 largest public research libraries in North America — annually serves more than 2.5 million visitors with collections in excess of 10 million volumes.  “Our collections are clearly our biggest asset. We have many distinctive things that you won’t find anywhere else in the world,” says Haricombe.  

The library system includes the flagship Perry-Castañeda Library, nine specialized branch libraries and world-class special collections including the Alexander Architectural Archives and the Benson Latin American Collection. The university also boasts several world class research units including the Briscoe Center for American History and the Harry Ransom Center.

The partnership with Google and HathiTrust is only one way the university is providing access online. The UT libraries have more than 7 million digital titles (ebooks, periodicals, journals, databases, etc.) that reach 9 million visitors per year from 240 countries and territories.

The Perry-Castañeda Map Collection is one of the most used online map collections in the world, with nearly 4 million visits per year. There are more than 250,000 maps included in this collection, making it one of the largest of its kind.

Haricombe is passionate about continuing to elevate the libraries as dynamic and relevant information centers in the new digital ecosystem.

“The Open Agenda” is her strategy for building support for open content: open access (scholarly publications and collections), open data (research data) and open educational resources (open textbooks).

Before coming to UT Austin in 2014, Haricombe was instrumental in implementing a faculty-led open access policy at Kansas University — the first public institution in the U.S. with such a policy.

Open Access is an international movement that has the goal of making all peer-reviewed published scholarship available free of charge to the public and to the global scholarly community. She is hopeful a similar comprehensive policy will be adopted at UT Austin.

Haricombe credits her experiences growing up in South Africa for helping her understand how access to resources is a driver of innovation.

“Great libraries make great universities, and we will continually strive to make ourselves and our university greater,” says Haricombe, “because all that starts here changes the world — one student, one faculty member, one researcher, one mind at a time.”