A McGraw-Page Library Learning Commons

[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.

Learning Commons

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:

Timeline of Learning Commons Project 10-15 to 10-17

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.

From Special Collections and Archives: World War II Comes to Campus

During World War II, most of R-MC’s students either joined or were drafted into the military. In order to keep the school going, President Moreland lobbied for military training programs to be held on campus. Coursework was taught by College faculty as well as military instructors.

In 1942-43, 96 young men attended the Navy’s V-1 pre-flight training on campus while learning to fly at a nearby airport in Hanover County. The Navy moved the training elsewhere in 1943, so the College brought the Army to campus. R-MC was chosen to give courses designated as Basic Engineering One under the Army Specialized Training Program and was assigned 250 men who were known as the 3322nd Service Unit. Eventually, 438 men passed through the training program during 1943-44 when only 83 regular students were enrolled at the College.

After the military programs ended, 1944-45 was a lean year for the College with fewer than 100 full-time students, and a jump to only 200 the following year as the war ended left the College struggling. By the fall of 1946, the G.I. Bill brought many new students and helped the College rebound with an enrollment of over 550, 439 of whom were veterans.

image of the Army Specialist Training Unit
The Army Specialist Training Unit
image of The Army Specialist Training Unit Marching across Campus
Marching across Campus

The Library is Dead! Long Live the Library!

[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.


Image of the RMC College Catalog, 1839
R-MC College Catalog, 1839

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.

Paper to Digital2

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.Graphic showing transition from paper to digital library

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.

    1. Students benefit from library instruction in their initial coursework.
    2. Library use increases student success.
    3. Collaborative academic programs and services involving the library enhance student learning.
    4. Information literacy instruction strengthens general education outcomes.
    5. 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.

1. Lewis, D. W. (2016). Reimagining the academic library. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
2. Buckland, M. (1992). Redesigning library services: A manifesto. Chicago: American Library Association.
3. Association of College & Research Libraries. 2003. Principles and strategies for the reform of scholarly communication 1. Accessed 3 November 2017.
4. Association of College and Research Libraries. 2017. Academic library impact on student learning and success: Findings from assessment in action team projects. Prepared by Karen Brown with contributions by Kara J. Malenfant. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

If you are looking for an image, try the Artstor Digital Library database


If you need a picture for a class or conference presentation and usually go to Google images or Wikimedia Commons, try the Artstor Digital Library next time! The Artstor Digital Library is a database containing over 2 million high-quality images for education and research from a wide variety of contributors around the world. As you would expect, Artstor includes images of paintings, drawings, photographs, sculpture, and other objects from major museum and library collections, but this database includes much more! There are medical and botanical drawings; images of clothing as well as drawings for fashion design; architectural and landscape images; photojournalism collections; maps; manuscript page images – just about anything that can be scanned or photographed, including this image of R-MC’s own Washington and Franklin Hall from ArtStor’s Historic Campus  Architecture Collection. Complete information about the image or the object represented by the image is also included. Find Artstor on the Databases A-Z list available on the McGraw-Page Library website.

image of Washington-Franklin Hall

Three on the Third – November – Politics

In honor of election day, our three on the third will focus on America and the current political climate.

Polarized: Making Sense of a Divided America
by James E. Campbell
Cover of the book Polarized Making Sense of a Divided America.
Many continue to believe that the United States is a nation of political moderates. In fact, it is a nation divided. It has been so for some time and has grown more so. This book provides a new and historically grounded perspective on the polarization of America, systematically documenting how and why it happened. Polarized presents commonsense benchmarks to measure polarization, draws data from a wide range of historical sources, and carefully assesses the quality of the evidence. Through an innovative and insightful use of circumstantial evidence, it provides a much-needed reality check to claims about polarization. This rigorous yet engaging and accessible book examines how polarization displaced pluralism and how this affected American democracy and civil society. Polarized challenges the widely held belief that polarization is the product of party and media elites, revealing instead how the American public in the 1960s set in motion the increase of polarization. American politics became highly polarized from the bottom up, not the top down, and this began much earlier than often thought. The Democrats and the Republicans are now ideologically distant from each other and about equally distant from the political center. Polarized also explains why the parties are polarized at all, despite their battle for the decisive median voter. No subject is more central to understanding American politics than political polarization, and no other book offers a more in-depth and comprehensive analysis of the subject than this one.
JK 1726 .C359 2016
Catalog Link – Polarized

Web 2.0 and the Political Mobilization of College Students
by Kenneth W. Moffett
Cover of the book Web 2.0 and the Political Mobilization of College Students.Web 2.0 and the Political Mobilization of College Students investigates how college students’ online activities, when politically oriented, can affect their political participatory patterns offline. Kenneth W. Moffett and Laurie L. Rice find that online forms of political participation–like friending or following candidates and groups as well as blogging or tweeting about politics–draw in a broader swathe of young adults than might ordinarily participate. Political scientists have traditionally determined that participatory patterns among the general public hold less sway in shaping civic activity among college students. This book, however, recognizes that young adults’ political participation requires looking at their online activities and the ways in which these help mobilize young adults to participate via other forms. Moffett and Rice discover that engaging in one online participatory form usually begets other forms of civic activity, either online or offline.
LB 3610 .M64 2016
Catalog Link – Web 2.0


Covering American Politics in the 21st Century: An Encyclopedia of news media titans, trends and controversies
by Lee Banville
Cover of the book Covering American Politics in the 21st Century.Over the last 20 years, political campaigns and the media that cover them have been fundamentally altered by a mix of technology and money. This timely work surveys the legal, financial, and technological changes that have swept through the political process, putting those changes in context to help readers appreciate how they affect what the public learns, and doesn’t learn, about the candidates and lawmakers at the local, state, and federal levels. The encyclopedia offers a critical examination of a broad range of topics organized in a narrative, A-to-Z format. Written by journalists and political experts, the two volumes cover the major issues, organizations, and trends affecting both politics and the coverage of political campaigns. Some 200 entries treat everything from news organizations, think tanks, and significant individuals to questions concerning money, advertising, and campaign tactics. Objective, unbiased, and comprehensive, the encyclopedia is an unequaled resource for anyone seeking to understand American political journalism and news coverage in the 21st century
PN 4888 .P6 B36 2017 V1 & V2
Catalog Link – Covering American Politics in the 21st Century


From Special Collections and Archives: Tiny Shoes

These tiny, exquisitely handmade silk shoes, part of the Methodist Collection in Special Collections and Archives, document the practice of foot binding in China. They were brought to America in 1875 from China by Mrs. J.W. Lambuth, mother of Bishop Walter Russell Lambuth. The accompanying documentation states that they were a gift from Mrs. Lambuth to Mrs. Georgianna C West in 1875, and that the shoes served as “the inspiration to organize a Woman’s Missionary Society.” They were first exhibited in 1875 in Richmond at Clay St. Methodist Church, and used by missionaries in later years during fundraising efforts to illustrate a Chinese cultural practice that missionaries sought to end.

image of tiny Chinese Shoes
Tiny Chinese Shoes


Interlibrary Loan: R-MC’s Best-Kept Secret

Welcome back from Fall Break! As you settle back in for the rest of the semester and kick your research into high gear, I want to remind you about the Interlibrary Loan Service here at the McGraw-Page Library.

Interlibrary Loan, or ILL, is a free service you can use to borrow research materials not available from R-MC from other libraries. It can be a real research project saver! Below are some things to keep in mind when using the service.


Place your requests early! Waiting until the last minute to make an ILL request greatly reduces my chances of being able to get the research material you need. If you don’t know how to set up an ILL account or have forgotten how to get into your account then COME SEE ME, SEND ME AN EMAIL OR CALL ME! That’s why I’m here, and I’m always happy to help you!

By waiting until the last minute to request research material through ILL, you are only hurting yourself. Don’t do that, it’s not cool.


Having a complete and accurate citation greatly increases my chances of finding what you need and finding it quickly. Complete book and journal titles, book chapter and article titles, authors, volume and issue numbers, page numbers, they’re all important! Knowing an ISBN or ISSN is also helpful.


This doesn’t apply to book chapter and journal article copies, but if you borrow a book or other returnable material through ILL, please come get it when you get the notice that it’s here and ready for pickup! And if you come to get the book and realize it’s really not what you needed please tell the person at the Information Desk that you don’t need it and we’ll send back to the lender.


Please return you ILL book(s) on time! If you need an extension, please let me know and I will be happy to ask the lender for you. Repeated late returns of ILL books can cause a lender to block us from borrowing from them. That would hurt not only you, but everyone else here at R-MC. #NOTGOOD

CLICK HERE to learn more about our Interlibrary Loan Service and to create or log into your ILL account.

Kelli Salmon
kellisalmon [at] rmc.edu
Location: Behind the Reference Librarian’s Office


Accessibility of Course Documents

True or False?  “The library e-reserve and Canvas LMS make reading and learning materials more accessible to R-MC students.”

The answer: It depends. Documents and media materials posted on the systems may not be accessible to students with disabilities. For instance, PDF documents scanned as images pose a challenge to blind students. Voice-over PowerPoint slides without an accompanying transcript do not serve those with hearing impairment.

To assist the efforts to make course sites and e-reserve accessible, the Head of Instructional Design and Technology will begin to develop online tutorials and hold consultation sessions with faculty on accessibility techniques. More information will be available soon.  Meanwhile, please check out these resources:
University of Washington IT Accessibility Guidelines
Design guidelines published by the CanvasLMS.

America’s News: A Great Source for Local and Regional News Articles

The Library provides R-MC users access to several terrific news resources. One of these, the America’s News database, is particularly great for its coverage of local and regional news. It includes over 2500 full-text newspapers and additional news content from blogs, journals,  and broadcast transcripts. from around the U.S., including the Richmond Times-Dispatch and nearly 50 other Virginia news sources. Many of these news sources are small hometown papers that include coverage of community events, people, organizations, schools, and businesses, and these articles may be the only published information on topics of local interest. Although lots of newspapers provide free access online to some of their articles on a daily basis, very few allow complete access or provide access to past content for more than a few days, while ten or more years are usually archived in America’s News.

Another reason to use this resource in your research is that local reporting of events of regional interest is often more extensive and frequently provides a perspective that varies from the news coverage by large national or international news organizations. The database includes Hot Topics and Special Reports sections as well as a helpful Find a Topic section for guidance in doing your research.

Check out all of our contemporary and historic news sources on our Newspapers and News Magazines guide.

On the Role of Books

“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.

  • Books make us more empathetic
  • They connect us to one another
  • They make people who are not like us more human”