Hyperlinked Environments: Academic Libraries
When I was an undergraduate at UCSD a decade ago, I went into their spaceship-like library twice. Even with a familiar patron, I found Geisel Library intimidating and overwhelming. If only I knew then what I’ve learned in this program. Simply put, I am now more information literate. I understand source quality, databases, and search techniques. I know how to combine words and phrases to get the most beneficial results. I also know the value of academic librarians and the skills they wish to pass on to the students who walk through their library doors.
As I read through the literature, I find myself asking the same question: how do we ensure academic librarians are utilized? More specifically, how do we get students to utilize academic librarians? Let’s explore.
The internet has changed the landscape of academic libraries in several ways. With the almost-instant access (Fister, 2016) to online academic journals and interlibrary loan, academic libraries are more hyperlinked than ever. This interconnectedness allows academic libraries to share resources, providing expansive access to collections. Additionally, virtual collections allow academic libraries to shift print collections to off-site facilities, creating more space on campus for students to study and interact within the library walls (Straumsheim, 2017). Library staff are reporting increased foot traffic in their libraries even while use of reference services has declined (Webster, 2017). All of these changes are physical, tangible. From changing the layout of communal spaces in the library to the layout of the reference desk (Mathews, 2015), they all pertain to an actual space. Is this enough?
A common mantra in the hyperlinked library model is to meet users where they are; to adapt to the users’ needs. What do university students need from academic librarians? Information literacy. Students are, more than ever before, using online access to their libraries on their own, conducting research without seeking librarian assistance (Webster, 2017). On the one hand, this independence indicates students are able to navigate online databases with confidence. On the other hand, confidence does not always signify competence. It is one thing to be able to navigate an online database to locate articles relevant to a topic, it is another thing to be able to find good sources that will add substance to a research paper. The difference between finding sources and finding good sources is information literacy.
This is where the change—and the reevaluation of the role of academic librarians—comes into play. Students need more than a change in seating or reference services. Students need to know what they are missing, what programs and resources are available to them, and that the library is not an intimidating behemoth of books and librarians who insist on quiet.
Academic libraries are restructuring their facilities to be more user-centric, adding cafes and varied seating options (NCState, 2013). Academic librarians should also be reconstructing themselves to be more user-centric, perhaps by developing more dynamic skillsets and resources. Here are some ideas:
- Develop instructional aids, such as videos, to help students understand the search process, learn search tools, and determine the relative value of various databases
- Develop and market mini courses (ideally in conjunction with the university and/or introductory courses) to teach information literacy to students
- Partner with the university’s writing center to further market resources
- Seek out additional training in technology, programming, outreach, etc.
The role of the academic librarian is expanding to meet the changing landscape of academia. Like public librarians acting as hubs of social need-meeting (Nonko, 2019; Rey, 2018; Smith, 2017), academic librarians are using creative ways to assist patrons (Hardenbrook, 2019). These librarians are connecting to patrons through their humanity. This is a positive beginning. Academic librarians should take note of the comprehensive approach public librarians are taking and employ similar methods to deliver more user-centric services. Meeting students where they are at—and approaching academic librarianship as extending beyond the academic needs of students—will ultimately improve student engagement as they learn to see the library in a new light.
Fister, B. (2016, March 23). Reframing libraries. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library-babel-fish/reframing-libraries
Hardenbrook, J. (2019, September 13). Starting a food pantry in an academic library. Mr. Library Dude. https://mrlibrarydude.wordpress.com/2019/09/13/starting-a-food-pantry-in-an-academic-library/
Mathews, B. (2015, May 27). The evolving & expanding service landscape across academic libraries. The Ubiquitous Librarian. https://www.chronicle.com/blognetwork/theubiquitouslibrarian/2015/05/27/the-evolving-expanding-service-landscape-across-academic-libraries/
ModArchitecture (Photographer). (2012, March 18). Geisel Library. [digital image] https://www.flickr.com/photos/88017382@N00/8394694784/in/photolist-dMP1hY-8j9j28-2m8Y195-9yuLB5-F2SKAY-wYByCq-Yd8SJX-4US46j-4UMQK8-aeJ88S-4UMPWp-4US4nu-4UMQuK-4US3YU-4US4sb-4UMQqK-4UMQ5H-4US4vw-4UMQDx-2j3BXBE-4US3Us-2abWtsn-4UMQj2-4US4dw-2m9a1D4-4UMQzx-4US4yw-4US4aG-dQwCe8-4US4ib-4UMPZP-4US41Q-4UMQdk-B3UzZw-kKvg6C-LuRvwC-JdR3pn-7ZathY-6vJdnT-LYN27z-LLP3fU-24hsdKX-xN1kSG-NfrHrB-7Z3fUu-296pfBA-wcpMVZ-LYN1PF-RFaq4u-ScBanS
NCState. (2013, July 30). The Hunt Library story (updated) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Okr78MUrImI&t=19s
Nonko, E. (2019, January 22). Library systems embracing their new roles as social service hubs. Next City. https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/library-systems-embracing-their-new-roles-as-social-service-hubs
Rey, D. (2018, December 10). How Seattle’s public library is stepping up to deal with the city’s homelessness crisis. The New Statesman. https://www.newstatesman.com/world/americas/north-america/2018/12/how-seattle-s-public-library-stepping-deal-city-s-homelessness-crisis
Smith, C. (2017, June 25). Madison’s library takeover. American Libraries Magazine. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/blogs/the-scoop/madisons-library-takeover/?utm_content=buffer8a08c&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
Straumsheim, C. (2017, March 4). Arizona State U librarian reorganization plan moves ahead. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/03/24/arizona-state-u-library-reorganization-plan-moves-ahead
Webster, K. (2017, February 15). Reimagining the role of the library in the digital age: Changing the use of space and navigating the information landscape. LSE Impact Blog. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2017/02/15/reimagining-the-role-of-the-library-in-the-digital-age-changing-the-use-of-space-and-navigating-the-information-landscape/?platform=hootsuite