Each year, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) surveys individuals in higher education about what is most “exciting, pressing, consequential, and relevant” in teaching and learning. These key issues are published as part of their “7 Things You Should Know…” series.
The 2018 Key Issues in Teaching and Learning identified Digital and Information Literacies as the #5 issue. Digital and Information Literacies shows up on the “Key Issues” list regularly. In 2017, in part due to the 2016 election and the rise of “fake news” as a household phrase, the issue was #3, while in 2016 it was #11. Regardless of its place on the list, the fact that it is consistently present makes it a topic that institutions of higher education should be discussing and addressing.
ELI defines literacy as “the ability to find, evaluate, select, use, and create something.” And the focus on digital and information literacies is based on the demands of 21st-century learning and working, as they are identified by the National Council of Teachers of English. ELI highlights the extent to which technologies are changing the workforce and how many jobs that current students will have in their lifetimes do not exist yet. This makes it “critical for workers to be agile, adaptable, and willing to continue to learn.”
What is Randolph-Macon College doing to ensure our students are information and digitally literate?
Every ENGL 185 class has an information literacy component, often in partnership with a librarian who ensures that students know how to use the latest library resources in their research. Unfortunately many students can place out of ENGL 185, but students who take it learn not just how to find information (peer-reviewed articles, books, news stories), but also how to evaluate those resources in light of the assignment (the information need). Picking the right source to meet that need and using it properly and ethically are also important parts of being information literate, and using the work of others to create something of your own, be it a research paper, poster, presentation, or anything else.
Librarians are available to meet with students one-on-one to discuss these topics, and are working to bring these skills, at a more complex level, to upper-division classes in the majors.
Digital literacy skills are being taught by the Instructional Design & Technology staff in workshops and sessions that teach digital storytelling and our electronic portfolio system.
These interactions with students provide a good foundation for addressing information and digital literacy needs on campus. Embedding these skills more formally into the curriculum and providing scaffolded support throughout a student’s four years at R-MC would strengthen students’ abilities in these areas, allowing them to transfer those skills to a work environment.
While the tools and the context will change over time, skills such as knowing how to evaluate information or media, taking into consideration issues of ownership and authorship, will help ensure that R-MC students have what they need to continue to be flexible and creative learners long after they graduate.
Whether you learn about current events through a particular news site like the New York Times or BBC News, or through social media sites like Twitter, information moves quickly, and it’s easy to learn about an event or issue and then lose sight of it as another quickly takes its place. Because of the speed at which information flows, it can be difficult to educate yourself with the background needed to thoughtfully evaluate the events that are occurring. Often all we end up with are snippets of stories, anecdotes, or clickbait headlines designed to generate a gut reaction. Yet our understanding of these events and their social and historical contexts influences our beliefs, and may ultimately impact who we vote for.
The library has created a guide, called “Campus Conversations-Resources” to gather together resources on some of these topics. The goal is to provide more information about subjects that can sometimes be hard to talk about. Books, websites, DVDs, and other resources are made available on these topics, along with call numbers, if the resource is one the library owns. Topics include Free Speech, Race, Colorism, Disabilities (learning and physical), Religion, and others.
Use these resources to become more informed about important topics being discussed around the world, and help move the conversation beyond opinion and hearsay. Know of a topic that should be addressed? Email the McGraw-Page Library at library [at] rmc.edu.
I am pleased to introduce the new McGraw-Page Library logo. This logo represents several months of collaboration with the Marketing/Communications office at Randolph-Macon College, to whom we owe our thanks.
Libraries are constantly changing, and how they represent themselves in their print and digital materials needs to change periodically so that they accurately represent themselves.
This logo highlights three areas that the McGraw-Page Library currently emphasizes:
Resources (open book icon) continue to be an important service provided by the library, although print books do not represent the majority of what we provide. Ebooks, print and electronic journals, DVDs, streaming videos, databases, and our unique special collections and archives are equally if not more heavily relied upon by our students and faculty. We also provide access to many more resources through our interlibrary loan service and our cooperative borrowing agreements with other libraries. Other resources include our knowledgeable reference librarians and staff and our variety of study spaces, both of which meet critical needs on campus.
Technology (smartphone icon) is essential to any college degree obtained in the 21st century, and the library helps to provide both the hardware and software needed for academic and creative work. We provide hardware such as laptop and desktop computers and iPads, and software such as Microsoft Office and the Adobe Creative Suite. Our new MakerSpace includes a 3D printer, Legos®, virtual reality opportunities, and more. Workshops and one-on-one training are available.
Creativity (light bulb icon) is facilitated when the resources, environment, and technology are right. The library encourages creative approaches to assignments, thinking, and life by providing the spaces, tools, and support needed to maximize opportunities for creativity.
You can expect to see this logo appearing soon on our website as well as on posters, the annual report, and other materials associated with the library.
The McGraw-Page Library uses its annual report to communicate with stakeholders about the previous year. It provides a window into how we spend our time and our resources, and should reflect our goals and priorities.
A yellow jacket sticker on the spines of books in the library indicates that the work was written by a member of the Randolph-Macon College community. The McGraw-Page Library has nearly 1000 works written by current and former R-MC students, faculty, and staff. Books by Randolph-Macon College writers are found in the College Archives and the Juvenile and Popular Reading collections, as well as in the circulating collection on the second floor.
The video below (highlighted by the Scholarly Kitchen blog last week) discusses the success of independent bookstore in spite of online retailers such as Amazon.com.
If we see our product as books, and what we compete on as price, we lose. If we see our product as a service and a community, of which books are one piece, then we can compete. –David Sandberg
As is the case for independent bookstores, the “product” of an academic library has changed. It is no longer just a warehouse of books and the other resources. Rather the academic library provides a place for the community of scholars that exists on the college campus, and the resources are a piece of that community.
Like any community, a community of scholars includes experts (the faculty) and newbies (undergraduates). Courses, readings, research papers, and projects help to bring undergraduates into the community they are choosing to join, be it political science, business, English literature, or education, and moves them ever-closer to being experts themselves.
The academic library is the “intellectual hub” that supports that endeavor, providing the resources, people, services, and tools that make it possible. It has been almost twenty years since academic libraries functioned primarily as warehouses for resources, yet we’re still battling out-dated perceptions of what we do. I look forward to changing the conversation on R-MC’s campus.
[Adapted from a Faculty/Staff Luncheon presentation, November 7, 2017.]
Last month’s post discussed the ways in which the 21st-century academic library is similar and different from academic libraries of the past. This month we’re going to look at how many 21st-century libraries are adapting to these changes.
Paper to Digital
Many libraries, including McGraw-Page, are shifting more and more toward digital resources, and this trend is likely to continue. The culture of the library and the institution of which it is a part plays a huge role in determining what digital resources are purchased, how they are integrated into the rest of the collection, and how quickly this shift takes place. A medical library will likely shift more quickly to digital resources than will a residential liberal arts college. Space constraints encourage the acquisition of digital resources, while financial constraints can limit their acquisition. Usage patterns and preferences of faculty and students also come into play. The technology itself continues to develop, requiring libraries to be flexible in their approach. Some resources are not available digitally at all. One advantage to a major shift from print to digital resources can be a gain in space that can be repurposed to meet other needs.
Collections to Users
Libraries are also shifting away from their collections to become more focused on users and their needs. Because so much is available online, and because there are many (fast!) options for getting resources not available locally (e.g., document delivery, interlibrary loan, Amazon), developing a collection that will anticipate the needs of a college or university is no longer as essential as it once was.
The library has become more important as a place on campus. Several studies have confirmed that students view libraries as sacred spaces—that being in a library, even if not using library resources, makes students feel more “academic,” closer to the educational mission of the college 1. Which perhaps why using a library is positively associated with student success and retention.
The library is now a place that is expected to meet the space needs of the entire population. Students value the library as a place where it is possible to study without distraction. But it is also a place where the space and technology facilitate and encourage collaboration. It should inspire creativity and academic success as an intellectual center of campus, and be both a sacred space, that connects students to the academic mission of the college, as well as comfortable, a place where students can fall asleep on the couch.
This need to be everything to everyone creates obvious challenges, as the library tries to provide a variety of space, seating, and working options to meet those needs.
Passive to Proactive
Libraries are also shifting from passively waiting for users to come to them, to proactively reaching out. In some ways, this is a direct results of the competition that libraries now face. But it also comes from the teaching role that more and more libraries are embracing. Many academic libraries are now actively involved in:
Making the community aware of available resources
Connecting the community with those resources
Supporting the use of those resources
Recognizing that students frequently struggle to know how to research, and that even faculty can easily forget about newly acquired resources, libraries are becoming more and more outward-facing with what they provide, accepting their role as educators on campus. The goal is to raise awareness of available resources and services, so that if a student encounters an issue they know where to go for the support they need.
So how does the learning commons fit into this? The idea of a learning commons, or an information commons, has been a part of library conversations for almost 20 years. I see it as a natural extension of the shifts that libraries are making as they adjust to the new reality. The library used to focus almost exclusively on information seeking needs–collecting, finding, and helping the community use information of various kinds and in various formats. If students in a particular major don’t write many research papers, there’s no real need to come to the library. In reality, the library is crucial to the entire academic process. It’s not just about finding information, it’s about what you do with that information, and how you communicate what you’ve learned. Creating a product that communicates learning is integral to the educational process, and the library provides the technology, tools, and support to make that happen.
A learning commons can facilitate library involvement in student academic work by helping to combat the artificial divisions that exist among the elements of the academic endeavor. Class work, research, reading, writing and presentation creation, editing, and publication (here meant less formally as simply publicly sharing information) all work together to facilitate learning. Research is often best if grounded in the classwork that has already been done. But a trip to the library is seen as a separate event that isn’t really related to the classes that a student has been attending all semester. Tutoring is a natural part of going to classes, taking tests, writing papers, and pushing the boundaries of one’s knowledge. Career services is in many ways the culmination of what we do. Most students expect to get a job at some point after college. Why do we pretend that the education process and the process of getting a job are somehow unrelated?
It’s good for students to see the all elements of the academic endeavor together, to see their research, tutoring, writing, and creating in a similar context with The Edge, and what they hope to do when they graduate. Visualizing how the pieces are supposed to fit together in the end gives meaning to each step in the journey.
Ultimately, a learning commons would significantly improve R-MC’s academic support for students. It would bring almost all of their academic resources together into a single location, making support more coordinated and coherent.
Who would be involved?
A learning commons at Randolph-Macon College would include the McGraw-Page Library, the Higgins Academic Center (HAC), which is already located in the library building, the EDGE career center, the Office of International Education, the Honors program, and I.T.S.
The goal is not to simply co-locate these services, but to integrate them so that students can seamlessly move from one office to the next without realizing that they are interacting with separate organizations within the library.
What have we done so far?
Below is the timeline for what has taken place thus far:
Oct. 2015 – CREDO report suggests moving HAC services into the library
Feb. 2016 – Site visits
Mar. 2016 – Memo regarding creating a learning commons, based
Sum. 2016 – HAC moves into the library
Dec. 2016 – 4 architecture firms gather information and submit proposals
Feb. 2017 – Presentations and selection of architecture firm VMDO
Apr. 2017 – Workshops, focus groups, data collection
May 2017 – Presentation of findings and initial recommendations
Aug. 2017 – Presentation of 5 possible space configurations
Oct. 2017 – Merging of attractive elements into a single version
What are the next steps?
The next steps are to create a shared vision of the learning commons space among the learning commons partners, and begin exploring funding options. We can then move forward with the details of the space renovation and addition.
If you’re interested in learning more about the learning commons project, please contact me at NancyFalcianiWhite [at] rmc.edu.
1. E.g., Jackson, H. L., & Hahn, T. B. (2011). Serving Higher Education’s Highest Goals: Assessment of the Academic Library as Place. College & Research Libraries, 72(5), 428–442.↩
[Adapted from a presentation given at a Faculty/Staff Luncheon at Randolph-Macon College on November 7, 2017.]
The academic library is a challenge to discuss in mixed company. To those in the know, the academic library is a dynamic place of innovation, the location of epic battles for information literacy, freedom of information, preservation, open access, and educational technology. To others, the academic library is an obsolete warehouse, facing inevitable decline.
Members of the Randolph-Macon College community have likely noticed emails stating that the library is discarding microfilm and microfiche in favor of new digital resources such as The New York Times Archive Online, and The Economist Archive. Many have also realized that there aren’t as many books on the shelves as there used to be, as we’re weeding our book collection and discarding resources that haven’t been used in many years. These are indicative of broader trends in academic libraries, and it seems worthwhile to explain what we’re thinking when we do that.
Primary Goals of the Library
It may be most helpful to begin by thinking about the role that the library has traditionally played on college and university campuses as the intellectual center, or the heart, of the campus. The library has always had three primary goals:
Keeping things for a long time
Providing the information that the current community needs
Helping members of the community find and use the information that was made available 1
Let’s look briefly at each of these goals.
The library preserves the heritage and traditions of an institution, keeping both qualitative and quantitative data that can tell the story not only of college life in the mid-1800s, but also the necessarily record of changes to policies or curriculum.
Information needs change regularly, and the library has always tried to be responsive, even anticipatory, to what students, faculty, and staff need, whether it’s books, journals, or data. When word processing first took off and before everyone had a personal computer, computers were available in the library. That was what was needed. As the needs of the community change, the information provided by the library changes.
The size and quality of the local collection have historically been very, very important, because it used to be more difficult to find books not held in the collection. Before Amazon, the options were scouring local new and/or used bookstores or using interlibrary loan to request the book from another academic library, an option that could take weeks or even months.
Access & Use
Making sure the community could use the information years ago really meant serving as de facto gatekeepers. Users of information almost always needed to go through the library to access the information, so there was a fair amount of control over what and how information was used. It was also possible to simply wait for students to come to the library—eventually, they had to—and then they could be helped if needed.
We now find ourselves in a period of transition. For hundreds of years, the academic library has existed in print. Papyrus, scrolls, vellum, wood pulp. These things were physical items that could be stored, retrieved, opened, read, preserved. They took up physical space, could only be in one location at a time, and would typically only be used by one person at a time (reading aloud does happen, but it is unusual for two people to independently read the same item at the same time).
Now, in the space of forty (or so) years, we find ourselves in a very different environment.
Few libraries have transitioned to a fully digital library model as of this date (Nov. 2017). Some resources fit the digital format well: encyclopedias, dictionaries, and almanacs have been quickly replaced by digital options in which it is quick and easy to look up a discrete fact. Journals have transitioned well because they are made up of many individual articles. Edited volumes are transitioning fairly well, but monographs less so. There are also distinct differences among disciplines. The sciences have shifted quickly: they rely heavily on journal articles, and many books in the sciences are edited volumes. It’s not unusual to hear of science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) libraries that are entirely paperless (e.g., UT-San Antonio, Florida Polytechnic). It’s important to note that these institutions still build libraries for their campuses, even though those libraries no longer house print books. The humanities are transitioning much less quickly, in part because of their dependence on the monograph. The transition in the social sciences falls between the two on the continuum.
There are other challenges facing the transition to a fully digital library: money to digitize and make electronically accessible material that is less in-demand, and the simple fact that some people like using and reading digital texts, while others do not. Even acknowledging that we are not fully digital, the implications of this shift have been huge.
Both the amount of available information and the amount that a given library can provide have increased significantly.
Despite what one would consider cost-saving digital publishing options, costs of one-time and subscription resources have continued to increase, often rising 6% per year or more.
Smaller libraries often need to choose between owning resources and leasing them. With many budgets continuing to shrink or plateau, it can be a difficult decision to choose between owning 50 resources versus leasing 160,000.
Scholarly communication is changing almost as quickly as the technology is. Scholarly communication is:
“The system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use. The system includes both formal means of communication, such as publication in peer-reviewed journals, and informal channels, such as electronic listservs.”3
The line between formal and informal communication is blurring more and more. Disciplines are becoming more and more specialized. The role of peer‐review continues to be valuable, but is questioned frequently. How can a student learn to differentiate between a blog published by a notable scholar and a peer‐reviewed article by that same scholar? What should be collected and preserved by the library?
Within academic libraries, the topic of scholarly communication is usually discussed simultaneously with open access (OA). And this association with open access comes from the belief that scholarship is a public good that should be publicly available. As the price of formal scholarship continues to increase, putting scholarship behind paywalls that soon only elite institutions will be able to afford, academic libraries, particularly large, well-funded institutions, have been trying to break what essentially amounts to a monopoly on scholarship, by encouraging faculty to publish with OA publishers, and by devoting more resources to supporting OA publications, in some cases starting their own publishing endeavors. At institutions where the impact factor of a journal can decide whether or not a faculty member gets tenure, you can imagine that progress is slow!
Libraries are facing competition they haven’t faced before: Google, Google Scholar, Google Books, Amazon, and Wikipedia are all readily available, free, and for many students indistinguishable from resources available through their library.
Students, while in many ways the same as they have always been, are frequently:
Overconfident in their ability to search (and find)
Impatient, needing to have content available instantly
Hesitant to ask for help
Have misperceptions about libraries and librarians, and how both can help them succeed.
In part because of the changes that libraries have been undergoing in the past few decades, and because online resources both lack the dramatic appeal of physical resources and continue to become more expensive, academic libraries are being regularly asked to justify their existence. Library are more than just the books and journals they provide, of course, and they always have been. But in today’s assessment-conscious environment, research is being done to look at how libraries contribute to student success and retention.
A recent 3‐year project at over 200 post-secondary institutions looked at multiple library factors and their potential impacts on students’ academic outcomes.
Students benefit from library instruction in their initial coursework.
Library use increases student success.
Collaborative academic programs and services involving the library enhance student learning.
Information literacy instruction strengthens general education outcomes.
Library research consultations boost student learning. 4
In light of all of these changes, how have the three primary goals of the library changed?
In the digital library world, preservation of the College’s history remains an important part of the library’s mission, even as it has gotten more complex. What do we do with slides or VHS tapes as the technologies become obsolete? How do we preserve the website or the social media of the college in such a way that it can be used in a telling of the College’s history 50 years from now? For the first time, we need to make decisions about what is
worth preserving, rather than preserving everything, as has been the habit.
As more and more information is available and easily accessed, library collections, especially among similar types and sizes of institutions, will look more and more similar. The library collection at Randolph‐Macon College will not differ significantly from the collection at Hamden‐Sydney or Lynchburg. It will be the unique special collections that will really set the libraries of these institutions apart. They will provide unique research opportunities for students, and can attract faculty in a number of disciplines.
The types and nature of information needed to support research have changed. We’re still purchasing print books in addition to online archives and databases, and this isn’t a function of our size and budget. Every library director I’ve talked to recently is still doing the same. But a technological solution invented next year could change that. So as we look to the future, we need to do so in a way that can continue to accommodate change. Because change is coming.
Access & Use
Finding information is no longer a problem. Now it is a question of finding the right information. We have moved from an environment of information scarcity to an environment of information overload. Students still need to learn how to tell a book citation from an article citation from an essay citation, and they still need to understand how to evaluate the information they’re finding to be able to tell the difference between a peer‐reviewed resource and “fake news.” But now they also need to know how to navigate constantly changing interfaces, while learning how to cite a tweet in their paper.
What we may think of as the “traditional” library, full of print journals, silent book stacks, students working alone on individual paper assignments, is likely gone for good. In its place is an academic library still preserving institutional history, providing information resources for its community, and teaching students how to access and use those resources. Academic libraries are striving to navigate a complicated environment, and to succeed, they need to be discussed in a much more nuanced way among librarians, faculty, students, campus leaders, and donors.
My next post will look at some of the specific pivots libraries are making to adjust to this new environment, and how a learning commons model in the McGraw-Page Library can support those changes.
Reading is important, and literacy matters. Connecting people with books and information is one of the primary missions of libraries, both public and academic. The contemporary conversation frequently centers around whether books should be made available in print or digitally, with many suggesting the the print book is dying. In academia, this conversation is not irrelevant, as it has implications for budgets and space planning.
It is important, however, in the midst of these conversations, to not lose track of the ultimate goal. In the end, whether someone reads a book on a Kindle or a phone, or tosses a paperback into their purse or backpack is irrelevant. What matters is that they are reading.
Lisa Lucas, Executive Director for the National Book Foundation, shares her perspective on why books matter in a PBS News Hour “Brief but Spectacular” segment. The highlights are below, but watch the video at the bottom of the page for the full impact of her words.
“We think of reading as something we do alone. But in reality, books connect us.
We talk about books, and we bring the ideas that we learn from books, the stories that we’ve heard about books, the characters that we’ve fallen in love with–we bring them into our conversations.
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to Randolph-Macon College for the Fall 2017 semester. Some of you are returning after a fun/ productive/ boring summer, while for others, this is your first semester at R-MC. This is not my first semester, but it is my first fall semester in this community. I am looking forward to experiencing autumn in Virginia this year.
In the library we often talk about what we really want people to know about the library. It tends to come down to the nouns for us: People, Places, and Things, in that order. Or, if you prefer alliteration: Staff, Spaces, and Stuff.
The librarians and staff at the library can answer your questions, and make your search for information more efficient and effective. Whether you are a freshman or a professor who has been teaching and researching for thirty years, we want you to succeed. Resources and tools change frequently, and our friendly staff can connect you to the most current information available. If you aren’t sure who to ask, start at the Information Desk, and they can connect you to the person who can best answer your question.
The study and social spaces in the library have been designed and arranged with you in mind. The library tries to provide a space for everyone, so that you can study with: background noise, silence, friends, alone, in a comfortable chair, spread out at a table, at a desk, or standing up. If we don’t have what you like, let us know, as we plan on renovating our spaces in the next several years.
The stuff, or resources, that we provide include research databases, print books, ebooks, software, media equipment, and much more. Our electronic resources can be accessed anywhere you have internet access. If we don’t have what you need, we can connect you to it through local college and university libraries, or interlibrary loan.
Look for this button in our databases: . This button connects you to all the library subscription holdings, our print holdings, and interlibrary loan options, all with the click of a button. A librarian can help connect you, if you have any questions.
VIVA Cooperative Borrowing Program allows faculty, students, and staff of Randolph-Macon College to borrow from participating college and university libraries in Virginia. If you need a resource immediately, a university in Richmond might be able to lend it to you.
More tables in a popular location. Because of some online resources that we recently acquired, we were able to consolidate our microfilm and microfiche into smaller cabinets. This freed up space for an additional table in a popular study area near the DVD collection, and allowed more space between them.
What will we be doing this fall?
Working on a strategic plan for the library, to determine where we want to be in 5-10 years, and how we can get there.
Planning and preparing for our upcoming renovation.
Continuing to adjust our collections and services to the continually changing needs of our campus.
We want to hear from you. If you have suggestions for resources we should acquire, spaces we should reconfigure, events we should hold, or anything else, we would love to hear them! We don’t have an unlimited budget, but there are often creative ways to get things that we do with a little bit of planning.