The Changing Role of the Campus Library

Meredith College celebrated the 50th birthday of the Carlyle Campbell Library on February 27 during the College’s 2019 Founders’ Day. In honor of this celebration, read this recent Meredith Magazine feature about the ways the library contines to adapt in order to meet the needs of a modern college community.

In popular imagination, libraries are silent spaces filled with dusty books and stern staff who shush overly talkative patrons. In reality, especially at Meredith College, libraries are places of collaboration where students can study together or confer with librarians about research projects.

Over the last few years, intentional changes have been made at Meredith’s Carlyle Campbell Library, both in its physical space and its professional focus, in order to best serve the needs of students, faculty, and the wider community.

The changes have made the library a more appealing place for students to study and work. And the immense amount of information available online has made it more important than ever that library professionals help student researchers parse what is good information and what is not.

Improvements to the library’s physical space

According to Laura Davidson, dean of library information services, one of the important needs the library fulfills is providing an academic space for students outside of classrooms. Renovations have been made to make the space an inviting one where students want to spend time. Changes like loosening the rules against food in the library and remaining open 24 hours a day during exams have also made it easier for students to study longer.

“This is a place where students can come together and find support,” Davidson explained. “We’ve done things like enhance the group study rooms, we’ve got monitors they can plug their computers into and share screens, we’ve put whiteboards out on every floor so students can take notes, do equations, whatever they need to do.”

The main floor and the lower level of the library have been redesigned to allow more group work. There’s still a “quiet study” space on the third level.

“We’ve tried to furnish the floors appropriately to encourage group work on the lower two floors and quiet study up on the top,” Davidson explained. “There are a lot of physical arrangement steps that we’ve taken to promote that idea of an academic space that’s not the classroom.”

A major change has been made to the main floor thanks to a redesign of the service areas near the library’s entrance.

“When I first came to Meredith, what you got on the main floor were a concentration of services – when you walked in, there was a service desk right there, computers on the side, and a bunch of reference books behind,” Davidson said. “There was a reference desk, media services desk, and the circulation services by the exit. And that was pretty much all we had room for on the floor.”

Library usage patterns showed that students wanted to be able to be on the main floor – those tables seemed to be the ones that always filled first – so changes were made to open more space for study and discussion. New café tables with electric sockets for device charging have proven popular.

“Library literature talks about ‘monolithic desks’ so when we redesigned this space, we intentionally went after a design that was not fortress-like,” Davidson said. “We’ve combined our two main service desks into one, with a design that encourages more interaction. You can choose to work on your own, or to ask for help.”

Another change that provides more resources occurred when the Learning Center was relocated to the library’s lower level in 2015.

“The Learning Center’s previous location was further out of the way. Now, it is on the academic side of campus in a familiar building for most students,” Davidson said. “This is a combination that has a lot of synergy. They are working on the same things we are in a lot of ways.”

Carmen Christopher, the director of the Learning Center, agrees. “Having the Learning Center in the library seemed like a natural fit. Students go to the library to study and to work on academic projects, so the tutors are there to help when needed. While the Learning Center offers individual tutoring in individual spaces, the library offers a variety of options for group study. The tutors can work with students to find the best way to approach subjects for a particular assignment.”

Sharing a space has led to collaborations. Through a new Peer Research Tutor program, the library identifies students who have excelled at information literacy, and the Learning Center trains those students as tutors.

“Meredith students have a chance to work with a highly-skilled and highly-trained peer tutor to assist them with navigating databases and other research tools. They also help students select appropriate and credible sources for the types of projects they are doing,” said Christopher. “A peer program tends to work well because students are less afraid to approach someone that they see in classes and in the dining hall.”

Providing options like peer tutors to meet the changing needs of students is another goal of the library.

Davidson says she considers the library’s website a branch of the library. “Students can expect to get services online just like they can get services walking into the building. They can do things online like renew their books, they can start a chat session with a research and instruction librarian and ask questions, we have extensive holdings of electronic books, and almost all of our journals are now online,” Davidson said.

A student at the front desk of the library talking to a librarian. Ensuring information literacy

Meredith’s librarians aren’t just available as resources – they are actively working with students and faculty in classes. Research and instruction librarians serve as liaisons to academic departments, making themselves more knowledgeable about the specific needs of those programs.

“A lot of times the students writing senior thesis papers or doing advanced research will be referred by their faculty to come to us,” said Jeff Waller, head of Research and Instruction. “Those thesis papers, which require 20-25 different sources, can be intimidating for a student, so working with a specialist librarian who is a liaison in that field is beneficial. We already know the techniques to use, the best places to search, and we are able to work with those students in a more informed way.”

All students at Meredith receive instruction from librarians in English classes.

“We have an excellent program that supports collaboration between English professors and librarians,” said Visiting Assistant Professor Tina Romanelli.

“At the beginning of every semester, each English instructor is paired with a librarian for the General Education courses of ENG 111 and ENG 200. We meet to discuss the research assignments in the course and information literacy outcomes and instruction. The librarian teaches two classes in the library, and the students learn that solid research is important, doable, and even fun.”

In every major there is a course designated to fulfill the Information Literacy thread in General Education. Research and instruction librarians present in many of these classes. Professor of Economics Anne York teaches one such course.

“I worked with Jeff Waller to better understand how librarians view information literacy.  Together we developed an information literacy log in which the students would record each search term they used and what research sources they found,” York said.  “The students turned in their information literacy log with their final project and we as faculty and library staff were able to view each student’s search process and not just the end result.”

Having information literacy embedded into the College’s curriculum is unusual, and provides students with much needed skills.

“It is the envy of many other colleges and universities, because at so many places, it is really hit or miss on which students get library instruction and which majors really work with the library on teaching research skills,” Waller said.

“Meredith’s program is pretty unusual in having that embedding within the curriculum and across the board support from all academic departments. It helps ensure that students are meeting that learning outcome of becoming savvy consumers of information.”

Waller says it is a misconception that online resources make research easier now.

“Research has gotten more complicated in many ways. There are more resources available to people than ever before but getting to it can be pretty challenging. Our librarians play a key role in helping to guide people to the best sources for their needs,” Waller said. “It is our job as librarians to steer them back toward more reliable sources of information that we know are credible because they have been produced by scholars and reviewed by editors.”

While at some schools the number of students seeking reference support has declined, Meredith’s numbers are on the rise. “Because we’ve been so involved in instructing students, a lot of students are seeking out our help more than they used to,” Waller said. “We understand that research is a challenging undertaking, and we’re [the student’s] partners at finding what is needed.”

Faculty also see the librarians as partners.

“As a member of the teaching faculty I absolutely think of the library staff as my support staff or as co-teachers,” said Beth Mulvaney, professor of art history and head of the Department of Art. “In my upper-level and research courses the research librarians help my students understand how to locate important information that they will not find by simply Googling. The research librarians help them understand that peer-reviewed sources are substantively different than what you might find through a simple internet search.”

Library’s role in campus community

Beyond the classroom, the library serves the entire Meredith community in a variety of ways, from hosting academic events such as the poster session of Celebrating Student Achievement Day to supporting campus programs.

Three students in a dark room holding flashlights reading clues.Each year, the library hosts a “Murder Mystery Night” in which students have to use research skills to solve the literary-focused crime. Jane Austen and Harry Potter have been recent themes for this night. Students learn while having fun, another way the library makes itself more approachable to students.

“I love to have events in the library because it brings more people in, and it gives us a chance to maybe correct their impression of what they think the library is,” Davidson said.

Librarians serve on a variety of campus committees and support campus events such as orientation and public lectures.

“I encourage everyone in the library to be engaged with the campus in some way so they aren’t always inside the building,” Davidson said. “Being out on campus talking to people about things that may not start out as a library conversation gives us the capacity to be more responsive to campus needs and to be more aware of shifting interests.”

The Archives department serves the College community in a special way – by collecting and preserving the history of Meredith. Archives Director Carrie Nichols encourages alumnae who have questions or memorabilia to share to get in touch. They’ve answered queries about people with connections to the College, provided information on historic events, and they support the research of students, faculty, and journalists. Archives was essential in celebrating Meredith’s 125th anniversary, including preparing a time capsule that is now housed in the Thomas Meredith memorial. The library website includes a wide variety of archival resources.

Whether helping protect Meredith history, supporting student research, or providing a place for study, the library continues evolving to meet the needs of the campus community.

“My goals for the library are that we stay engaged in the curriculum and with the faculty at Meredith. That’s really it – we want to be a supporter of Meredith’s mission,” Davidson said. “At the heart of it, we are supporting the curriculum and advancing education.”

Provost Matthew Poslusny said the library continues to hold a special place in the academic life of the College.

“I am heartened to see how our library is evolving and becoming a much more welcoming space for students, a place where students want to be,” Poslusny said. “I truly feel that our library is the center of campus in so many ways.”

Melyssa Allen

News Director
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