Originally published in MOREnetworking Vol. 2 No. 7, Sept. 2006
A common area in the MU College of Engineering has students renewing an interest in the college’s library
During the fall semester of 2005, the University of Missouri–Columbia Libraries and IAT Services helped the College of Engineering turn its library and former computer lab into a technology commons similar to the James B. Nutter Family Information Commons in Ellis Library on the MU campus.
The new Engineering Library and Technology Commons (ELTC) opened in January 2006 on the second floor of Thomas and Nell Lafferre Hall with 50 desktop computers, five wireless-equipped laptops for checkout, three printers furnished by IAT Services, and six computers provided by the library. A second phase of the project will add meeting and collaboration spaces at a later date.
Judy Maseles, engineering librarian and head of the science branch libraries, says the area is now the “in” place to study, and she has the stats to prove it. Library traffic soared 150 percent since the grand opening in February—more than 55,000 visits compared to 22,322 visits during winter semester 2005. Similarly, the use of electronic reserve materials increased by more than 130 percent compared to a year ago.
The library originally held 75,000 volumes. To accommodate the renovation, Maseles says 27,000 books were shipped to off-site storage to make room for computers. The remaining books were moved to the former IAT Services computing site while the bound journals’ current issues are shelved in the new technology commons.
Maseles says the goal is to introduce the library’s resources and services to engineering students who need to use the computers but never have been in the library.
“The library’s use was declining and people were not using it,” says Maseles who adds that she now sees as many as 20 groups each with four and five students studying together.
And they are finding the resources. She says reference inquiries are up 16 percent and reserved book loans are up more than 50 percent, demonstrating that print on paper is not an obsolete technology.
Jim Cogswell, director of University Libraries, says the project has been so successful that in March ELTC’s hours of operation were extended from 10 p.m. until midnight in order to meet student demand.
Full-time staff from IAT Services are there to answer questions and solve problems. “This has been a happy convergence of expertise,” Cogswell says. “We’re learning a lot from each other and the students are the ones who win in the bargain.”
Q: Should the lesson other libraries take from this be that adding more computer labs automatically leads to increased circulation? What other pieces were crucial to making that happen?
Cogswell: The lesson (for me) is that integrating technology with traditional information tools enhances the learning environment. Whether the space was once a “computer lab” or “library,” the end result of this integration is that students encounter new resources—including people—to aid them in the discovery process. As for what are the crucial elements, people are always the most important resource. The staffs of both the Libraries and of IATS were the ones who made this happen.
Q: What does the success of this project indicate about the future look and feel of academic libraries?
Cogswell: I have felt for a long time that the future of libraries is as a learning environment on par with classrooms, lecture halls, laboratories and other traditional spaces for learning on campus. New spaces like the ELTC also enable libraries to serve as catalysts for community within the academy. Universities and colleges have long been communities of scholarship, but libraries used to be a more or less passive resource in support of that scholarship. Today, they serve a much more active role as a locus for learning and discovery. That’s why we have students streaming through our doors, in spite of the vast array of information available via the Internet.
Q: Did it surprise you that a decrease in on-site volumes and an increased focus on computers led to increased circulation of print materials?
Maseles: I was surprised that our reference stats increased along with in-house use and the reserve book items, although our regular circulation declined. I believe reserve increased because many people found themselves in the library while using the computers, and they decided to look up items on their course reserve lists. I have met several seniors who said they never set foot in the library—that will not happen in the future.
Q: Is the newer generation of students more comfortable finding materials through the electronic catalog rather than browsing the shelves? What challenges did you encounter from older students and faculty?
Maseles: Students prefer not to use print journal resources and they are definitely comfortable with online resources. I had one student decline to walk twenty feet to get a journal article in a print volume even though that was the only format for that citation. He looked online for additional cites.
A few faculty members had to adjust to the removal of the print journal volumes, but this had more to do with the rapid migration from print subscriptions to online journals.
Reprinted from Mizzou Weekly, MU’s faculty and staff newspaper.
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