Arts and Culture

The heart of the university

by Janet Smith


SUMMARY: Today's academic library is uniquely positioned to meet students' needs for academic integration and social integration.

From Winter 2017 Madison magazine

Once upon a time … “the academic library was a way stop,” says Adam Murray, dean of Libraries and Educational Technologies. “You came in and got what you needed and left.”

Today, instead of counting volumes, librarians focus on door counts, square footage and how many full-time students can be seated in a library at any given time.

“Now, the library becomes a destination spot. It’s a place that people opt to go to. They voluntarily choose to be here, and while they’re here, they’re engaging in a wide spectrum of activities that range from solitary work all the way up through very highly collaborative work that is loud, noisy and messy, and not at all what you think of as part of the traditional quiet library.”

The changing landscape of the physical library reflects and, more importantly, supports the changing nature of university scholarship on the parts of students and faculty members. Through its individual sites—Carrier Library, Rose Library and the Music Library—and its comprehensive online services, LET is providing the space patrons need now as well as looking to the future for more changes.

“Scholarship is not just writing a paper anymore,” Murray says. “Elements of digital scholarship, such as including designs or including data from a geographic information systems project, are filtering their way into scholarship at all levels. We need to be ready to work with faculty as they teach this process and expect their students to know how to ‘do’ scholarship.”

To help faculty and students engage in newer scholarship opportunities, LET recently fine-tuned the focus of the Center for Instructional Technology. Now known as Innovation Services, the area seeks to support the university’s Innovation-Collaboration-Creation-Entrepreneurship commitment by providing space and expertise for faculty and students as they pursue creative endeavors requiring 3-D printers, a virtual reality lab and a design and video-editing lab.

For JMU’s more than 21,000 students, the libraries are crucial for more than just their academic integration. Research supports that academic integration coupled with social integration is key to student retention, Murray says.

JMU officials cut ribbon to reopen Carrier Library door
Provost Jerry Benson, President Emeritus Ronald Carrier, Dean Adam Murray, SGA President Matthew Mueller and JMU President Jonathan Alger officially reopen the front door of Carrier Library during a Sept. 23 ceremony.

“The academic library, at any university, is one of very few places on the campus that is specifically designed for both of these [academic integration and social integration],” he says. “It is specifically designed to help students to feel integrated with their curriculum—to give them the resources they need to complete their assignments and their research.

“But it is also, because it is a destination, a place that is fostering collaboration. Students can be exposed to diversity, too. They can be exposed to people from different cultures, backgrounds and experiences. That can really help students feel more plugged into the social environment of the university.”

LET sponsors events and programs within its community of buildings to strengthen that sense of connection. De-stressing events before final exams and sessions with JMU nursing faculty members to answer students’ medical questions are among the academic and social integration-building activities.

Librarians, who are university faculty members, are committed to ensuring that their colleagues have the resources they need to engage in teaching and scholarship. “Technology enables us now to use a just-in-time delivery model,” Murray says. Instead of educated guessing on which resources will be needed, librarians can provide materials to faculty and students via interlibrary loans and document delivery services.

E-books, specific articles or chapters of larger works can be purchased at the time they are needed rather than the library purchasing resources that may or may not be used. “It lets us be more efficient about how we’re spending money and building the collection,” Murray says.

As library collections and resources are moving to digital formats, concerns emerge on the concept of faculty members’ identity as researchers, the dean says. “We live in a world of linked data in which information can flow across boundaries online much more seamlessly than previously,” Murray says. “Helping faculty have control over their works, the things they’re publishing and their identity as the authors of those items, becomes increasingly more important.”

He points to the expectation for faculty to share not only their research findings but also their research data, a requirement of many agencies granting financial support for research, as an emerging digital-age challenge. JMU librarians are investigating various platforms to make research findings and very large data sets available, while making sure faculty members maintain copyright protections on both.

“As professional librarians, we have a charge to support students and faculty as technology changes and to have the best collection possible,” Murray says. “But access to the library is something that never changes.”

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Published: Thursday, December 29, 2016

Last Updated: Friday, May 18, 2018

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