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Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
The BYU library was ranked No. 1 in university libraries by the Princeton Review.

PROVO — The sun came up this morning, and Brigham Young University students are stone-cold sober.

Still.

Predictably — after all, this is the sixth straight time — the Princeton Review ranked BYU No. 1 on its list of sober colleges and universities. No other school has remained nearly so long atop of any of the 64 lists produced by the annual guide for prospective college students.

The real surprise this year is that BYU finished No. 1 in seven categories, including great library — ahead of Princeton (second) and Harvard (fourth).

Two years ago BYU didn't even make the top 20, then vaulted to third last year.

"That is wonderful," said Randy Olsen, director of BYU's Harold B. Lee Library, on moving into first place. "Our library isn't by any means the largest in the country or the best-known, but we've tried to measure ourselves on serving the students."

And that's exactly how a BYU can score higher than a Yale (seventh), a Stanford (eighth) or a Cornell (ninth).

"We're not actually counting the books in the stacks, we're asking the students at each school to tell us how good the library is," said Erik Olson, senior editor of the Princeton Review, which conducted more than 110,000 student surveys in compiling the lists. "BYU has jumped way up on that list. To beat a library like Harvard's, that's impressive."

So what made BYU students suddenly rate the university's library so highly?

Olsen became the director two years ago and set out to cater to students, library communications manager Michael Hooper said. Since then, BYU has enhanced its collection of books and journals with additional computers and, perhaps most importantly, new "information commons" areas.

"The information commons areas opened a year ago," Hooper said. "Each is designed to be a multimedia collaborative center where we encourage students to be noisy in the library."

The innovation is aimed at the needs of the 21st-century university student.

"We bring together the latest technology available with librarians who are experts in research," Olsen said. "Today, students don't study singly, but in groups. We're trying to create an environment in the library where students can gather together."

Hooper believes the new areas have made the library a hip hangout.

"We're a social center at BYU," he said. "It's the place to study, research and meet friends on campus. We're happy to do that as well. The response has been great. Other universities might have large research centers, etc., but this is an undergrad-centered university, and the library is at the focal point."

Phone-book thick, "The Princeton Review Guide: The Best 357 Colleges," goes on sale today and includes a two-page profile on what the editors consider the top 15 percent of colleges and universities in the United States.

The lists, which include top party school — this year it's the State University of New York at Albany (who knew?) — and least happy students — New Jersey Institute of Technology — are based on student reports from what the guide considers the nation's top 357 colleges and universities.

The editors conduct on-campus surveys at each school at least once every three years and allow students to fill out online surveys all the time, so the information stays fresh.

The profiles, which run alphabetically, include student narratives.

"Students are the real college experts," Olson said. "These are the people prospective college students would talk to. It's great to talk to parents, but they attended college 20 years ago. A lot changes pretty quickly in the culture, class offerings, admission standards and financial packages at all colleges and universities."

BYU finished first on four lists last year. This year's seven firsts swamped the field — only SUNY-Albany and Eugene Lang College in New York finished first on as many as three lists.

Some of the lists are similar, and several of them are compiled to determine who's stone-cold sober.

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"That's the lifestyle at BYU, even though it's a tongue-in-cheek way we list it," the Review's Olson said. "Students are answering the way the Mormon Church would like them to answer, and both the students and the church are proud of it."

The library's Olsen is aware that some campus libraries have added coffee shops and joked that a "Starbooks" isn't on the horizon at BYU, where caffeine isn't available even in soda pop form.

"We're elated to be in such esteemed company," he said of the rankings, "but what's more important is that the students value the library."


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com