Building a 21st-century library
Over the past 20 years, the advance of the digital age has wrought significant change for academic libraries, shifting the focus from preserving materials to providing access to the content of those materials. That access has become increasingly multidimensional, with information now available via electronic books, Internet resources, streamed video, full-text databases and open-access digital archives, among other sources.
The rise of technology and its impact on library collections has led to physical changes within academic libraries. For example, the profusion of materials now available online has allowed libraries to repurpose the space once used for printed materials. With the renovations, Shain’s book-stack footprint was reduced by one-third, which created space for the Academic Resource Center, as well as additional study and collaboration areas.
The increased emphasis on technology and digital resources does not, however, spell the end of print. Today’s progressive libraries continue to acquire and curate legacy print materials — both in the general collection and in special collections — but the way those materials are treated is evidence of another major change in academic libraries. In the past, it was common for archivists to err on the side of preservation and limit access to special collections. Today, the number of undergraduate classes making use of these primary research materials is a point of pride among library directors, and this change in practice has allowed students access to unique materials.
“In the past year alone, we’ve seen a threefold increase in the number of classes using our special collections,” says Benjamin Panciera, the Ruth Rusch Sheppe ’40 Director of Special Collections. “Thanks to the generosity of Linda Lear, we were able to completely renovate the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections & Archives several years ago. With the greater library space completely renovated, we expect use of this important resource to increase even more.”
Perhaps counterintuitively, library staff members remain key resources in the age of technology. While the vast and fast capabilities of search engines like Google have led to an increase in do-it-yourself reference behavior, librarians and other personnel remain essential to a successful library — and not just for research assistance. Modern academic libraries are likely to offer myriad support services provided by instructional technologists, computer technicians, programmers and learning specialists.
These professionals have much more to work with in the renovated Shain’s Technology Commons, which features two gifts from Diane Y. Williams ’59: a bank of high-performance, dual-monitor workstations that are able to run the most demanding software applications, and a Christie MicroTile Visualization Wall — the first of its kind among New England liberal arts colleges — that allows students and faculty to develop and view projects on a large, high-definition “digital canvas.”
Near the Technology Commons is the Digital Scholarship and Curriculum Center (DSCC), which uses advanced instructional technology tools to help faculty develop innovative teaching methodologies and help students produce quality multimedia projects. Professor of Economics Rolf Jensen, for example, uses the DSCC for video editing for his economic development course, as well as his own documentary film work.