A new librarian checks into Berkeley

Last October, Berkeley welcomed Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, an expert in online information, as the new university librarian. A transplant from the University of Michigan, where he most recently served as dean of the School of Information, MacKie-Mason explains why libraries remain so important in our emerging information age. He also describes his vision for sharing Berkeley’s famed collection and revitalizing Moffitt Library, a crucial resource for undergraduates.

Photo of Jeffrey in red glasses in front of Doe Library

Jeffrey MacKie-Mason. Photo: Peg Skorpinski

What Berkeley’s Library apart?

Its collections, its people, and its place on the best public research university campus in the world.

Why do we need libraries today?

Oh, so many reasons! The shortest answer is that libraries are service institutions (not book depositories) that bring people together with resources they need to build a better world. Finding, evaluating, and using high-quality information, with a critical eye, is an enormous challenge for everyone faced with the flood of mostly low-quality information.

We are here to help people learn to be their own librarian and guide them when they need an expert partner. Our librarians teach information literacy and research skills, such as how to use digital mapping systems or edit videos, across the campus. We should greatly increase our efforts so that every Berkeley graduate is 21st-century information literate.

What are your other top goals?

We have one of the best collections of any research library in the United States. Books, photographs, manuscripts, illustrations, videos, audio recordings, maps, journals, pamphlets, on and on. We should be doing everything in our power to set those treasures free, by digitizing everything and making them publicly available whenever copyright doesn’t interfere.

The role of a university library is also to provide “common goods” — assets that individuals may not be able to afford themselves, but need to become educated citizens in the modern world. And as information technology changes, the campus community needs access to new tools and resources. We’re investing in a maker space, where we’ll have 3D printers and other tools for combining technology and information with creativity to make things. We also have lots of computers that anybody can use, and we lend laptops. Given Berkeley’s emphasis on access, that’s important.

Photo of eight students sitting in a circle around a table working on laptops.

Photo: Kevin Ho Nguyen

What’s happening at Moffitt Library?

We are Berkeley’s primary provider of public, open, shared learning space, which students need more than ever. Phase 1 of the Moffitt renovation will provide more places for both quiet and collaborative learning, and will be open 24/7. (Now underway, this $17-million project is revamping two floors and a plaza.)

With Phase II, once funded, we envision adding learning and discovery labs, media production centers, interactive video walls, and even a place where students and faculty can go to ask “How do I?” questions.

What are you reading?

A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara. Very powerful, very painful.

Do you have a favorite spot?

When I need quiet time to think, I “hide in plain sight” in the Morrison Library, which is a gem.

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