Launching the Essential Library

New strategic plan charts an innovative course for USC Libraries and reaffirms a commitment to customer service.
By Bill Dotson
The Essential Library defines the USC Libraries' vision for engaging with teaching and research at the university.

Photo/Jon Vidar
Nearly 200 library faculty and staff members rallied April 22 to launch The Essential Library, the USC Libraries’ new strategic plan.

The plan defines a bold vision for the USC Libraries’ engagement with research and teaching at the university, while reaffirming commitments to customer service and the preservation of knowledge for future Trojans.

The event in the Hoose Library of Philosophy marked the culmination of eight months of intensive planning, spearheaded by Dean Catherine Quinlan and the USC Libraries’ strategic planning group.

The Essential Library is a statement of the libraries’ philosophy and direction as well as an expression of the university’s strategic goals, Quinlan said. “Our plan embodies USC’s core strategies, including the push for a thriving international presence, the drive to meet societal needs and the promotion of learner-centered education.”

USC Vice President for Academic Planning and Budget Elizabeth Garrett reaffirmed the centrality of the libraries to the academic environment of the university.

“The plan shows how integrated the library is in the life of our university, where it serves as the hub of our intellectual community,” Garrett said. “The Essential Library reflects a library system that is nimble and innovative, pursuing excellence on its own terms.

“The Office of the Provost fully supports the goals of the strategic plan,” she added, “from the basic imperatives regarding access to library collections to its highest aspirations to be a premier academic research library of the 21st century.”

The plan’s guiding imperatives focus on the three essential functions of the academic library building collections, providing appropriate technology for information access and delivering excellent customer service.

Over the next 12 to 18 months, the libraries will work toward objectives in these areas that address foundational issues and lay the groundwork for future innovations.

"It would be a challenge to come up with a more appropriate title than The Essential Library," said USC College Dean Howard Gillman. “A great library system certainly is essential to the achievements of our students in the College, as it is to students across USC.

“I’m particularly excited about the plan’s emphasis on partnerships,” Gillman added. “We already have a successful collaboration in the Writing Program, and I’m looking forward to building on that model and finding more creative ways to enrich scholarship at USC through deeper connections to the libraries and to enrich the libraries through deeper connections with our scholarly community.”

The Essential Library arrives at a critical moment in the evolution of research libraries, as they grapple with technological and social forces that change the ways students and researchers find and use information.

“It’s easy to survey the academic landscape and identify opportunities for innovation in the library,” Quinlan said. “Our primary mandate, however, is to create great libraries specifically for the exceptionally bright USC community. We must meet the needs of our users while being careful not to pursue technology for technology’s sake.”

As a culture of persistent connection to information changes the methods and presentation of research, Quinlan believes that libraries are more indispensable than ever. “Technology has a great role in our present and future,” she said. “It complements the roles of staff and librarians who help users develop the critical-evaluation skills necessary to navigate the world of knowledge.”

As implementation of The Essential Library gets under way, the libraries will make regular progress reports to the university community. The plan is available online, and the USC Libraries invite questions and comments at