November 15, 2001
College Libraries Empty
Should educators be worried about the
diminished use of libraries by students?
What should librarians do about it?
From The Chronicle of Higher
Many college libraries report that fewer and fewer students are using
their facilities -- at least not in person. More students are studying
in their dormitories, using the Internet to track down documents and resources.
students prefer the informal atmosphere of big bookstores, with their
cafes, as places to hang out. Some educators worry that these shifts are
students' losing an appreciation for libraries and the research process
and that a key element of the college experience is being lost. Some librarians
fear that the shifts will bring budget cuts -- at a time when libraries
are already having a tough time with expenses.
» As Students Work Online, Reading Rooms Empty Out -- Leading Some
Campuses to Add Starbucks (11/16/2001)
Deanna B. Marcum is president of the Council on Library and Information
Resources, and she was previously director of public service and collection
management at the Library of Congress and dean of the School of Library
and Information Science at the Catholic University of America. Mary Reichel
is president of the Association of College and Research Libraries and
is the university librarian at Appalachian State University. She has also
been a librarian at Arizona State University, Georgia State University,
and the State University of New York at Buffalo. Ms. Marcum and Ms. Reichel
will respond to comments and questions about the state of college libraries
on Thursday, November 15, at 2 p.m. U.S. Eastern time. Advance questions
are encouraged and may be submitted now.
A transcript of the chat follows.
Scott Carlson (Moderator):
Welcome to Colloquy Live. I'm Scott Carlson, a reporter at The Chronicle,
and I will moderate today's discussion about the role of the library in
the age of the Internet.
The Chronicle's article about "Deserted Libraries" seems to
have generated a lot of discussion on listservs and among librarians and
scholars -- both pro and con. Much of that discussion has focused on whether
or not libraries are "empty," and whether or not some libraries
should add special features to attract students.
Let's address those issues here, but let's also discuss some deeper questions:
What effect has the Internet had on the way students learn? What role
can faculty play in helping to bring students to the library? And in the
information age of the 21st century, what is the role of the college library,
traditionally the intellectual and social heart of campus?
We have distinguished guests here today to discuss this issue: Deanna
Marcum, president of the Council on Information and Library Resources,
and Mary Reichel, president of the Association of College and Research
Libraries. Welcome, both of you.
Mary Reichel: I'm delighted to be invited to participate in the Colloquy
Live on the role of the library in the age of the Internet. I have a deep
belief in the importance of the learning and research that happens for
students in libraries, and its overall impact on their educational program.
The fact that some resources are offered electronically offers great opportunities
and challenges. The impact of the library on students' education and research
is even more crucial now than it has been. Librarians with other faculty
have the hard task of convincing students that learning is difficult,
even though access to so many information resources is much easier than
it was when I went to college, lo those many years ago. It's a hard message
to convey when society says information's easy, commercials say everything,
everything is at your fingertips. It's hard for faculty and librarians
to say, Everything takes time. It's still a hard process. I'm looking
forward to hearing people's questions and discussing this vital issue
in higher education.
Deanna B. Marcum: I find it interesting that when we say the word "library"
we still have images in our minds of quiet, solitary places. Why is that?
It seems that most of us have an iconic view of libraries. In some way
they are the symbol for the shared values we hold on a campus. The word
"library" represents our common aspiration to acquire knowledge
and to learn. But today, digital technology is changing the way classes
are taught, the types of access to information our students have, and
the nature of the work they are able to produce. That doesn't mean our
shared values have changed, but our work processes have changed. A complicating
factor is that library budgets are big and visible, and provosts and business
officers want to know if the budget is well spent. We have measured library
use on factors that are relevant only in the print world. We need to begin
to find out how students are using information, how information assists
in their learning, and begin to evaluate sources of information on that
basis. So we are in this transition period in which we still measure the
effectiveness of the library based on who walks in the door, and that
count alone is irrelevant in the digital world.
Scott Carlson (Moderator): We're taking questions now. Although there
probably won't be time to address every question, we will try to get to
as many as possible.
I'd like to quickly address a technical matter: Our software here can't
easily send a question to both Ms. Marcum and Ms. Reichel. So, if you
would like to address your question to one or the other, please say so
in the query submission. Otherwise, I will simply try to distribute the
OK. Let's begin...
Question from Steven Bell, Philadelphia University:
I was alarmed by faculty interviewed for this article who were not at
all concerned that students -- and themselves -- can have a satisfactory
academic experience that does not include going to their academic library.
Adding cafes, new technology, comfy chairs, and exhibits are good ideas,
but we need the faculty as our allies in getting students to the library
-- just as we must work together to develop information-literate students.
What can we do to enlist the faculty in our campaign to bring students
back to the library?
Deanna B. Marcum: It's important not to confuse getting students into
the library for the experience with student learning. The reason we --
and I can speak only for myself here -- older people place such high value
on the library is that much of our learning when we were undergraduates
took place there. When I was an undergraduate I was very much guided by
my faculty -- the books they recommended I look at, the journals they
thought I should become familiar with. Faculty today are guiding their
students in similar ways, but the resources available to their students
are so very different. They can get much of what they need from Web-based
resources. They can get electronic books and journals. The important question
for me is, are we as librarians working closely with the faculty to understand
what they are trying to do in their classrooms, and are we helping them
create that learning environment for their students? That learning may
take place in a variety of settings. If we can create libraries that are
viewed as a central part of the teaching and learning process, we'll have
Question from Ilona, four year college: Do you think colleges should mandate
that all freshmen take a bibliographic-research course? Requiring students
to be in the physical environment of the library would reinforce critical
thinking, problem solving, and verbal communication skills. Often, students
cannot express their research needs in a succinct manner, and one needs
to look at syllabi to decipher reference questions. In addition, guidance
in critically using electronic resources is essential.
With hope, their experiences in the library will have positive effects
on their undergraduate studies and chosen professions.
Mary Reichel: I am very much in favor of colleges and universities requiring
a part of a course in which students have to learn information literacy
abilities. ACRL, working with librarians across the country, has developed
information-literacy competencies for higher education students, and those
are available on our Web site. Those competencies really address a profession-wide
academic-librarian synthesis of what students need to know in the 21st
century. What we mean by an "information literate student" is
one who knows when he or she needs the information, knows what kinds of
information would best suit his or her projects, and can find that information,
and most importantly, can evaluate it and judge whether it's reliable,
has authority, and is current.
Students really need to be able to use that information to solve problems,
make decisions, and complete their research. That whole set of abilities
reinforces critical thinking ability of students, and it's very important
that librarians work very closely with faculty to help students gain these
abilities, whether they're working on a separate required course on information
literacy, or sections of other courses that are required of students.
Question from Ross Burns, Library Manager, Holt, Rinehart and Winston:
What steps can we as librarians take to increase awareness by the staff,
faculty, and students that we are providing the access to many of these
online products and services that are making it possible for them to study
from thier dorm rooms and that we have been in the vanguard of Web users?
Deanna B. Marcum: That's a common question librarians ask, because we
realize that we have assembled many useful resources that people don't
necessarily know about. There are a couple of things the librarians might
try. First, and I think most important, librarians need to work closely
with faculty because the faculty will be the best promoters of library
resources to support the curriculum. In addition, some libraries have
been quite successful in conducting workshops or mini-courses in the library
to address specific needs the students have. There's nothing more deadly
than the traditional bibliographic construction courses. But targeted
workshops to meet student needs at the time they have those needs have
been very powerful.
Question from Jim Kennedy, Murray State College, Tishomingo: Our library
spends an increasing amount of money for online library resources: periodical
indices, encyclopedias, etc. My observation of students using library
computers which contain these resources, along with Internet access, shows
that they spend the majority of their time playing games, chatting, listening
to music -- in general, entertaining themselves rather than doing any,
or very little, research. My question: Is the above true at most schools
-- I suspect that it is -- or is our library an exception?
Mary Reichel: That's a great question, I love it. I'm blessed with having
a 14-year-old son, and because of that, I know that kids are really using
computers for entertainment purposes. That's something that gives them
great facility with computers and the Web. It amazes me what people are
doing across the country with the Web. Many librarians are saying that
the Web has become a ready reference source for things such as travel
schedules. Now, how students are using technology and the Web for their
research I think gets a little more serious.
When students are using computers, they're not always linear in their
approach. They maybe play a game for a while, then come back and do what
we think more typically of library research and background work. All of
us experience students using computers for entertainment purposes in libraries,
but I think the majority of our computers are used for more serious work.
There is another concern about how much students are reading before they
get to college. Librarians and others in higher education are concerned
that students are reading less and less before they get to college. One
of the major goals of academic librarians, working with the rest of the
campus, is to encourage students to love to read, to have an appreciation
for books, and to realize the value of intellectual discourse. It's important
that faculty continue to give assignments and develop their courses in
ways that encourage students to read and to do background work so that
they learn to use the range of information
Question from Henry, Small liberal arts college:
We have raised money to expand our library of 70,000 volumes and we have
services like ProQuest. Our library was constructed in the early 1970's
and our useage is not very high. Students can access the ProQuest resources
from the dorms, however. Do you have any comments or examples of libraries
in the New York City area that have undergone similar transitions/expansions?
How are they facilitating the transformation of the library from book-and-journal
central to information central, while creating an environment that atracts
and encourages patrons to stay and return to use our facilities and services.
Deanna B. Marcum: Although it is not a comparable situation at all, the
renovated Butler Library at Columbia has done a magnificent job of creating
library spaces that are very attractive to students.
There's a coffee shop on the lower level, and throughout the building
there are spaces where students can work as group, can consult computer
databases within that group, or can work on individual activities if they
It's much larger than the situation you're describing, but it's a good
example of a library recasting itself in a different model. Not in New
York, but an interesting college library example: Davidson College in
North Carolina has installed an electronic classroom just inside the library
entrance, where faculty, having ready access to librarians and technical
help, conduct their classes using the resources, both print and electronic,
of the library.
This has brought teaching to the very heart of the library, while also
introducing faculty to the special help that librarians and information
technologists can provide.
Question from Ken Gunselman, York College, small private college: What
would you recommend to a library that will expand the physical facility?
Are there innovative areas that you would suggest?
Deanna B. Marcum: The trend in new libraries seems to be providing spaces
where faculty and librarians can interact in providing learning experiences
for the students, providing group study space for the students, providing
community space where students can meet and talk and discuss ideas, and
places that are student-friendly. The important consideration, if I were
in your position, what is my campus trying to do for students, and is
the library facility a good match with the campus's aspirations. In that
way, the kind of library space that is built on each campus is somewhat
Comment from David Lewis, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis
(IUPUI): At Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI),
our expereince is that the library is not empty. Our gate counts have
held constant. We have many computer workstations and many students come
to the library to use them. Our surveys show that when students come to
the library they do many things, not all of which they need to be in the
library to do (for example e-mail or surf the Web), but they still use
the library as the preferred place to do these things.
It is clear to me that the nature of the work done in libraries is changing.
Libraries are no longer just quiet spaces for reflective study. They are
increasingly loud places for groups, and coffee shops are OK. To me the
key is to have a vibrant centeral space for the scholarly work of the
campus -- whatever this looks like -- to be focused on. I think if libraries
continue to play this role, people will continue to use them and they
will continue to be important places on campus.
Deanna B. Marcum:
I agree completely with David's comment. I think libraries are bceoming
very interesting places where a lot of things happen because of the nature
of class assignments that students now have, the kinds of research projects
they're doing. These are no longer quiet, solitary efforts, and the experience
I have with both liberal arts colleges and university libraries is that
gate counts are not dropping. Students are going to the library.
Question from Scott Cole, Arizona State University:
Why don't we ask the students what they need and want from a library?
Mary Reichel: I really appreciate this question, or comment in the form
of a question. Scott's point is one I totally agree with. I think we do
need to ask students what they need.
We try to do that in academic libraries in a variety of ways. One of the
most effective ways is when we do presentations to their classes, we learn
what their research assignments are, what stumbling blocks they might
find in doing their library research, and simply what would make it more
convenient for them to use the library.
Academic librarians are also approaching students in other ways to find
out what they want. One of those is doing satisfaction surveys of students,
and also doing surveys that try to find out whether students
are finding the materials they need when they're doing their research.
Another way to find out what students need is by holding focus groups.
Here at Appalachian State, we recently had the chance to talk to students
about our new library, and we got great ideas from them. Another example
of getting student imput is a study that was done a number of years ago
at the U. of Arizona in which they interviewed students about the library's
Web page. That study led to a totally redesigned Web page that is much
We also want to assess what students are learning. Academic libraries
are participating in campus-wide assessment surveys. Many libraries have
questions that assess students' information literacy abilities to campus-wide
Question from Daniel Phelan, Ryerson University, Canada: Does the high
use of libraries mean good students and excellent study habits? Or does
it mean that when they had to come to the library for everything,
(pre-digital) they did, and now that they don't have to come, they don't.
Is this an indication of something bad or just a paradigm shift?
Deanna B. Marcum: I'd say it's a paradigm shift. Going back to my opening
statement, I very much believe that libraries have changed, they've always
changed, they're simply the means to an end, and the way students are
learning is changing, and we're finding the new means to the same end.
I also remember as an undergraduate, there were other students in my classes
who talked then about getting through classes without using the library.
They saw it as some badge of honor. It's important not to become too nostalgiac
about the "good old days."
Question from Susan J, small Iowa college: I work to engage student use
through collaborations with particular faculty. Since we do not have a
library-science course, we provide instruction geared to specific courses
and/or research techniques in general. One department of
instructors generally ignores library outreach -- gotta guess?: IT, information
technology. I see this discipline as a natural collaborator with library
How do other colleges increase cooperation and support between these two
breeds of information specialists?
Deanna B. Marcum: Several libraries have created what they call "information
commons" or "knowledge commons" or "learning commons."
But the idea is that the
library-based reference services are offered jointly with IT support services.
At Emory University, for example, this has been a very successful model.
There is an information commons in one part of the new building called
the Information Center, where there are a great many computers available.
But there are also on duty all the time at a help desk, librarians and
IT specialists who work
collaboratively to help students find what they need. In other institutions,
librarians and information technologists have been jointly charged to
develop information services for the students. In those instances, a kind
planning process that has been conducted by the two parts of the organization
has resulted in innovative and effective services.
Question from Susan Amirian, Montclair State University:
Let's look at it another way. Students today take longer to finish college
because they don't just go to school anymore. They go to school and they
work and they raise families, etc. They don't have the luxury of spending
long hours in library buildings. But they do have time to use computers
at home and at work in between their other responsibilities. Maybe libraries
are emptying because, by providing electronic services, they are fulfilling
a real need -- and that is a good thing.
Deanna B. Marcum: I agree. The liberal arts college library is not seeing
a decrease in use of the library building on campus. That's because the
students are residential, they are living in that community, and the library
is at the center of the community. In many of the examples cited in the
Chronicle article, I doubt that the students are residential.
In many of those institutions, there are older students, communters, part-timers,
and I think it is especially for the non-traditional student that the
electronic library is most valuable. Other students use electronic resources
too because they're easier. But for the non-traditional student population,
the electronic library may just be the thing that makes going to school
possible for them, and I wholeheartedly agree with you that that is a
Question from Terrence (Terry) Brennan, Director, King Library, Chadron
State College: How might we unburden students (and perhaps some faculty)
of the notion that the Internet holds all the answers to their information
needs -- or, perhaps more precisely, that they will be able to find all
the pertinent information on their subject and that it will all be reliable?
Mary Reichel: Terry raises a very difficult question. The challenge of
explaining the scope of resources on the Web, in comparison to the total
sum of books, journals, and other resources in libraries, is a difficult
one. Research in library science has shown consistently that the more
convenient it is to get the information resource, the more it will be
used. Convenience is a major factor in the use of information resources.
What I have begun to think is a real issue for us in academic libraries
is to combine convenience with quality. We need to give all of the clues
possible to students and faculty about the quality of the resources they're
using. For instance, one way to do this would be to include summaries
of books and even reviews in our online catalogs. I know this sounds like
Amazon.com, and I regret that Amazon.com got there before us.
Another part of this answer is going back to the librarian's involvement
in the education process for students. Students need to have the understanding
will allow them to judge the quality of the information they receive.
They also need a broad knowledge of what is available in libraries, and
what's available on the Web. There's so much available on the Web that
enhances research that was not easily available 10 years ago.
Question from Tim Bryson, Emory University: It might help to tell students
what a small proportion of works are digitized. What proportion of monographs
and what proportion of serials are available electronically now and is
there an estimate of what the proportion will be in 5 or
10 or more years?
Deanna B. Marcum: I don't know the precise numbers, but the point of the
comment is a good one. While there are many things available in electronic
form, it's only a small portion of all the resources available to students.
And many librarians are worried that many students are using only the
online materials. We librarians understand what they're missing, but if
the students find enough for their purposes, they're satisfied. So I go
back to that important collaboration between the librarian and the teaching
faculty. Both of whom need to take an interest in helping students understand
what resources are available, what resources are most likely to be helpful,
and help the students evaluate the value of the types of resources for
the work they're doing. That's an important part of education. Unfortunately,
I don't think it helps to say to students, "you have to use so many
sources that are in print," as apparently some faculty do. But the
bigger challenge is to create such an excitement about a topic that the
student wants to know as much as he or she can know about it, and that
will lead the student into
many different parts of the library -- the digital part, the special collections
part, and the books and journals part.
Question from Lori L. Stalteri, Merrimack College:
Can you give an example of this? "...targeted workshops to meet student
needs at the time they have those
Deanna B. Marcum: If you're working with a faculty member and you know
that an assignment is coming up, and that many of the students could benefit from using some of the databases available in the library, simply having the professor
make an announcement that the library will be conducting a workshop that week
on searching that database will be most helpful to the students. It could
be a kind of informal event not with the feeling of a classroom lecture,
but a hands-on workshop in which librarians walk through searching that
database with the students.
Comment from Alicia McCalla, Information Literacy Librarian, Georgia Perimeter
College: I read the recent article about the changes in libraries. My
only concern or question deals with information literacy. The way for
librarians to work through these changes will be through teaching (in
your article there was no discussion or statistics about the rise in library
instruction and the number of students and faculty reached). Will there
be an article on this major change in libraries?
Scott Carlson (Moderator):
Yes, Alicia, that seems like an excellent topic to cover in the future.
Question from Sam Stormont Temple University: Live digital reference services,
sometimes called chat reference or real-time reference are being used
by some libraries to reach out to extended-campus users who prefer to
do research from home. Do you think this is a promising trend?
Deanna B. Marcum:
It's certainly getting a lot of attention, and there are a lot of collaborative
projects involving the Library of Congress and many other libraries attempting
to provide all-the-time reference services to people wherever they happen
to be. The idea is a good one. We know that students do their work and
the general person will have questions at a time when the local library
is no longer open. With a certain amount of coordination, librarians around
the world can take a little bit of time and provide this service so that
it is seamless all-the-time reference service. The only question I have
about it is, how will we pay for it?
I think the impulse is a good one, and I think in an era when we can do
a lot of things because of digital technology, we also have to think about
what changes in the economic models are needed if these services are to
be sustainable. Purely voluntary efforts don't have a good track record.
Question from Jeanette McQuitty,Northeastern State University (OK): If
students are using libraries less, why are they demanding longer hours
-- even 24/7?
Despite the evidence that Scott Carlson found for his Chronicle article
about the use of libraries, there is still great disagreement about whether
academic libraries are being used less. In the first place, when students
resources online that the library provided, they are using the library.
A number of years ago, academic librarians knew that we needed to capitalize
on the potential of technology and planned to move to libraries without
walls, as well as libraries with walls. A major point I'd like to make
is that a student doesn't need to be in the library physically to be using
the library. In the second place, in my experience, we are reaching more
students through formal instructional programs and other outreach services.
The next point is that I, too, have observed a building boom in academic
libaries in the last five to 10 years. In North Carolina and Tennessee
alone, there have been six academic libraries built or totally rennovated
and added to in the last two years. This buildling boom is reflective
of at least two things. One is that many buildings were simply inadequate
to meet the increasing needs of technology. We could not continue to add
wiring and telecommunications infrastructure.
Another point is one that Scott makes in his article: Libraries are adding
all kinds of features -- cybercafes, coffee shops, comfortable furniture--
that are more attractive to students. And library buidlings constructed
now incorporate these features from the beginning.
To summarize, like Jeanette, I'm not sure that students are really using
libaries less. They use libraries every time they use one of our resources
online. They also use the physical facility for collaborative learning
Comment from Jonathan Buckstead, Austin Community College: Librarians
need to start thinking about how they can draw students back to their
libraries; a renewed emphasis on the "socializing" aspects of
being at the library should definitely be considered.
Comment from Sara, small four year university:
I can appreciate Deanna's answer to Ross Burns' answer, but how do we--a
full time staff of less than 5--actually put that into practice? We are
already spread thin, and we try to do what we can to address the needs
of faculty and students in terms of making them aware of what we have
to offer, but it seems like we are missing that ONE way of actually working
with what we've got, which isn't a whole lot. Am I grasping for straws?
Or is there something we haven't thought of for 'putting our name out
Question from Toni Aiello, St. John's University School of Law: What is
the evidence in undergraduate libraries that librarian-conducted workshops
on computer-related topics (Internet research, business databases, etc.)
increase (or do not increase) the overall gate count at an institution?
Deanna B. Marcum:
I don't have any evidence that it does increase the gate count, and my
concern with the question is that gate counts do nothing more than record
how many bodies crossed a line. Knowing how many people walked into the
library gives us no information about what they did when they were there.
One of my concerns is that because library budgets depend, at least in
some institutions, upon things like gate counts, librarians have tried
hard to get more people in the door. I would like to see that budgeting
model turned around so that we are thinking about the full range of services
provided by the library. We're thinking about the different kinds of uses
students make of the resources, and not thinking about how many people
walk through the door.
Question from Marie, non-university librarian:
I'm wondering if you can paint a picture for me of what you think the
future holds for reference and information services in academic libraries?
Deanna B. Marcum:
What we know is that having a librarian at a reference desk waiting for
someone to walk in and ask a reference question is not a sustainable model.
We also know that students learn most when they have ways of acquiring
information at the time they need it. So the picture I see for the future
is that we will have a blend of services available. As you know from my
previous comments, I have a strong belief in the librarian working with
the faculty as a key component of my vision of how libraries ought to
operate. The corollary to that is that librarians are available to work
with students as they are doing
database searching, as they are working on their projects they're thinking
of ideas, and the librarian is one of the teachers in this learning environment.
But I also recognize that students see the Web as a kind of library, and
they're doing much of their own questioning. Many of them are using Google
as the reference librarian. My hope for the future is that we take seriously
a responsibility forputting online resources into a context that will
make it possible for students to find what they need and to make sense
of it and to use it effectively. This means that the librarian's role
becomes one of teacher, one of coach, and one of information technologist.
Question from Andrew Dudash, Juniata College, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania:
Do you agree that information-literacy programs directly relate to library
usage? At Juniata College, we find this to be true. Through a strong first
year program and the promotion of library instruction services for upper
classes, we find ourselves more busy than ever. Hopefully these stats
will provide for better institutional support in the future.
I really agree with Andrew's point. In my own library, we have seen greatly
increased usage by students throughout the curriculum when we have enhanced
our information literacy programs with different departments. One example
is we recently started a multi-session information literacy program with
a music appreciation course. This course is taken largely by freshman
students who are non-music majors. The faculty member realized these students
could really benefit from an increased awareness of the variety of library
resources necessary to understand a music project. A number of my colleagues,
with the faculty member, have developed a multi-session instruction program
with a serious bibliography assignment attached. This has greatly increased
the students' knowledge, and we see those students using the library more
efficiently in subsequent semesters.
We also have model programs on information literacy, such as the program
at Earlham College, which has led to increased student usage of the library
and increased faculty awareness of the importance of students using the
Comment from Steven Bell, Philadelphia University:
The role of the library as a technology leader on campus has expanded.
Many libraries are administrating new learning tools such as Blackboard
(which we do for my institution) or ERes for their institutions. As such,
when students and faculty use these resources, they are also using a library
resource -- even though they might not realize it -- and they are definitely
not in the library.
Question from Joyce, for profit education sector:
Are distance-education library services or virtual libraries impacting
the use of traditional brick and mortar libraries?
Deanna B. Marcum:
I think this goes back to an earlier question I had about non-traditional
students. Certainly distance education is making a difference in gate
counts. What interests me most is that every campus practically has a
number of students who are not residential, and who are behaving more
like distance education learners because they're not available at the
usual times. In some ways, the electronic libraries are serving the needs
of the non-traditional students in the same way they serve the needs of
Question from Dr. Michael Binder, Dean of Libraries, Western Kentucky
University: Shouldn't we (the university librarians) take proactive steps
and accept the responsibility of educating our administrators about the
value of librarians and libraries in this new environment wherein our
resources and services are both physical and virtual? What suggestions
do you have in that context?
Deanna B. Marcum:
Certainly we need to make the administrators aware of the possibilities.
But it's not a simple matter of educating them about a good cause. University
and college administrators are drowning in good causes. Our challenge
is to improve our services so much that our users speak for us. They let
others know that we're providing what they need. I know it's too simple
to say we're judged by what we do, not what we say, but in fact I think
that's what we must do. We must make the changes. We must think about
how technology can be used more effectively. We must make the transition
from library as information dispenser to library as educational partner.
It means we will change the way we work. We will make changes in the way
we work. One of the individuals interviewed in the article made the point
that we need to begin understanding what users really need and provide
it. If students and faculty are happy with the library, the administrators
will surely know it. One of the things I think librarians can do is study
objectively what the users' needs are rather than imagine what they are.
Question from Gary Thompson:
How can you create a community of scholars and learners, if everyone is
hidden away in their private spaces studying and researching in isolation
I would like to say that this question gets at the heart of what I think
the importance of the library is. In the mission statement for my universtiy
library, we say, "University library provides facilities conducive
to learning, research, and the building of an intellectual community."
For myself, the idea that campuses are learning communities is a fundamental
one. I don't believe that a learning community environment can be successful
if there isn't collaborative learning in a shared physical space. What
we see in new academic library buildings -- computer work stations geared
to more than one person using the computer -- is one example of how libraries
build a learning community environment. Another example is group study
rooms. Faculty members in many disciplines are making more group assignments,
and group study rooms are invaluable to facilitate those groups and their
When I was a doctoral student, one of my fellow students told me about
the experiences she had in libraries, and how important is was to have
a place to go where the main focus was learning and intellectual life.
The environment encouraged her to concentrate on and absorb what she was
working on. I think we find that sentiment repeated over and over about
the value of a physical library space where the campus focuses on the
life of the mind.
But I don't minimize the social aspect of what happens in a library, either.
Some of you will know I met my husband in a library.
Comment from David Smallen, Hamilton College:
Earlier Deanna suggested that at liberal arts colleges the libraries are
not empty. While that's probably true, it is nevertheless the case that
the nature of the way students use information resources has changed -
more use of online materials, less books being checked out, etc. Might
this not be just a result of the changing nature of the assignments given
Comment from Mary J. Miller, IEEE:
In addition to students, there are a number of other worthy partners in
determining what the new college/university library might look like: architects,
furniture manufacturers like Steelcase, known for its innovative approaches,
faculty, and perhaps, publishers and other creators of information products.
Question from Barbara Fister, Gustavus Adolphus College:
This is really an odd question -- what should librarians do about it?
Isn't it really a question for faculty in the disciplines? Students aren't
very likely to use the library if they aren't asked to do so as part of
the educational process. Maybe what librarians should do about it is talk
to faculty about how to integrate authentic and meaningful research activities
into their courses -- which many librarians, of course, are doing. What
are some ways the faculty can become more invested in research as a meaningful
activity for students?
Deanna B. Marcum:
As you know from my previous comments, I agree wholeheartedly with this
comment. Libraries are a product of their campuses. One of the reasons
see such disparities among libraries is that the campus culture varies
greatly from one place to another. If what the students learn is a measure
against which campus activities are judged, it's much easier for the librarian
to work closely with the faculty for an appreciation of research, even
at the undergraduate level, to be evident, and for faculty to take a strong
interest in how the student learns, not just what has been learned. Not
all librarians find themselves on this ideal campus I've just described.
So for them my adivce is try to find those faculty who are interested
in working with you; I'm sure there are some. And begin to develop programs
with the faculty who are interested and take the first step in making
Comment from Jonathan Miller, Augustana College, IL:
I think we need to step back for a moment and ask whether, in fact, libraries
are being used less now than in the past. Obviously, Mr. Carlson was able
to find some libraries at which this is the case. Discussion amongst librarians
since the appearance of the article seems to indicate that there are plenty
of libraries (including Augustana's) that are seeing steady or increased
use. One question, of course, is how do you define a library? As a place
or as a constellation of collections and services some physical, some
digital, some place bound, others not. I lean towards the latter, in which
case use is changing and increasing, certainly not declining.
Comment from Claudia Timmann, U. of Arizona:
Don't you think you should consider that just because students are not
physically in the library does not mean that they do not use library services?
Many libraries have virtual reference and online databases, which students
can access off-campus. Although it may seem that college libraries are
empty, the library services are still being used.
Question from Andrew Scrimgeour, Drew University:
Should not our institutions pay more attention to (a) creating an array
of student environments in the library that reflect the way that students
prefer to study, and (b) how faculty evaluate the resources that inform
student papers? Has not the book inadvertently been ignored given student
delight in electronic documents and the paucity of online monographs?
I think I'll focus on part b of this question. The Chronicle, as well
as other journals in higher education, has had frequent articles on the
faculty's concern about the quality of resources that students use. I
truly think this is an important issue that faculty and librarians must
address together. We all know that every book in the library is not high
quality, but with books, and with print journals, there has been greater
evidence of the quality of the work than with electronic resources. So
again, I return to the point that we really need to emphasize students
learning to evaluate the material they're using for research. They need
to evaluate it whether it's a book, a data set, a journal, or a Web site
that's been put up by a fellow student.
One way I would suggest that faculty and librarians can work together
on this is to have librarians become more involved in assessing the quality
of the sources used for various research projects. This is very time-consuming
on the librarian's part, and a little atypical of what we do, but it's
valuable for really evaluating those sources.
Scott Carlson (Moderator):
That's all the time we have, folks. I want to thank those of you who sent
in questions -- I'm sorry that we could not get to all of them. And I
want to thank our guests for taking this time to talk with us.
I've been delighted to participate in this online discussion. I'd like
to repeat the point that, in my experience, libraries are being used,
and they're being used heavily. Our success in providing online resources
has changed the way students and faculty do research, but the importance
of the physical building remains unquestionable. I, for one, think it's
great that we are adding comfortable spaces to libraries -- spaces where
students can get coffee and snacks, and spaces that encourage collaborative
learning and work. Perhaps in this era when we have such wonderful opportunities,
we'll begin to have an understanding of the impact of academic librarians
and their role in the education and research process. It is the librarians
that really specialize in helping students to understand the importance
of background information, research, and synthesizing resources in order
to understand a topic. Librarians are crucial in helping students learn
how to learn.
Deanna B. Marcum:
We're talking about a complicated issue. We know that students prefer
the ease of use of online resources. We know that libraries are making
valiant efforts toward putting electronic materials in the hands of students.
There are barriers to making more materials available online, notably
copyright restrictions and lack of money to do as much as all libraries
would like to do. The challenege for the profession is to create a new
library in close collaboration with faculty and administrators. The new
library should be the one that will help students learn, help faculty
do their research, and it will be a blend of primary resources that some
scholars still want to use, print journals, print books and electronic
resources. But we must go into the creation of this new library with the
understanding that we won't be able to do all that we're doing now and
some more new things. We must reconceptualize the library.
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