The University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources has been reviewing three proposals for relocating the treasured and invaluable Water Resources Center Archives, currently housed at UC Berkeley. In April, an RFP was issued to gather proposals for relocation and management of the library. In May, three UC campuses (Berkeley, Davis, and Riverside) submitted their proposals for housing the WRCA’s extensive collection. This past week, ANR selected UC Riverside as the new home for the WRCA — more precisely, it selected the joint “collaborative” proposal (PDF) of the UC Riverside and CSU San Bernardino campuses.
As explained in a UC Riverside press release, the WRCA’s collection will be split between Riverside’s Raymond L. Orbach Science Library and San Bernardino’s John M. Pfau Library and will be managed jointly:
Both institutions have strong water-resource centers already in place. UCR is home to the Water Science and Policy Center, which works to facilitate sound water policy solutions for California. CSUSB is home to the Water Resources Institute, which serves as a regional center for research and public policy analysis and houses the Joseph Andrew Rowe Water Resources Archives. … The collection will be … evaluated to determine which components would best be housed in each location.
The ANR press release suggests that UC Riverside will take on further digitization of the WRCA’s holdings:
In addition, UC Riverside has an established record of innovation in expanding digital access to important records related to agriculture and the environment. An advisory board will be constituted and collaborations with the California Digital Library will be explored further to assist with digitizing of records.
ANR states that accessibility will be maintained, which is encouraging. It is absolutely critical that the WRCA, an institution created by the Legislature, remain a fully open and publicly accessible resource. UCR has hinted, though, the public at large may be charged a fee to access remotely the digital archives that it creates in the future:
[UCR University Librarian Ruth Jackson] anticipates that a fee to non-UC/CSU remote users for access to the archive’s holdings, along with external funding from grants, will support the WRCA’s infrastructure.
It is a relief to learn that the WRCA’s holdings will be preserved in an accessible space. Now, perhaps more than ever before, California needs a carefully-maintained and comprehensive collection of scientific and historical materials about its water resources. That said, this is not a completely ideal result. It would have been preferable not to fracture the collection, even between only two facilities on two campuses that are relatively near to each other. Moreover, while digitizing the archives will greatly enhance access to the WRCA collection, charging a remote fee would diminish the impact, so I do hope that a suitable balance can be struck. Finally (although I am somewhat biased as a Bay Area resident who has greatly enjoyed visiting the existing Berkeley facility) there is something to be said for retaining the WRCA collection in Northern California — near state governmental entities in Sacramento, as well as most of the state’s water supply.
[Insert joke about how Southern California first avails itself of Northern California’s water supply, and then proceeds to also take Northern California’s premier water library.]
Seriously, though: this library is an important resource for all Californians. I feel fortunate to have enjoyed such easy access to the WRCA, and I have no doubt that water geeks in Southern California will be happy to have this library in their neck of the woods. Even if I might personally prefer that the holdings remain in a unified facility closer to home, the bottom line is to ensure that this unique collection is cared for and expanded for many years to come.
Finally, my heartfelt thanks goes to the WRCA staff at UC Berkeley — and in particular, to WRCA’s director, Linda Vida — for their devoted years of carefully tending to this superb collection.