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[Fresh] The Library, it's more than books

This is a posting from Fresh@News, Villanova's e-mail newsletter for parents and friends of the class of 2012. Please forward this e-mail to anyone who would like to open a subscription. They can open their own subscription by sending an email to Majordomo@news.villanova.edu. The message should have just two words: subscribe fresh   To be removed from the list, just reply to this e-mail and tell us you want to be off the list.  Today Fresh@News interviews Mr. Joseph Lucia, Director of Falvey Library.  His title makes it sound as though he is in charge of a building with a lot of books, but as we learned, a modern library is a lot more than that.


F@N: How do first year students feel about the library?

Joseph Lucia: I hope freshman students see the library as a welcoming and inviting place to socialize, interact and explore intellectually. My concern is that they not assume that the library is unimportant to them because they came to maturity in a pervasively digital world that makes the library’s bookish heritage seem irrelevant to current learning and study needs. A good contemporary academic library functions as a setting for group study, a collaborative environment for interacting around computers, a place to connect with complex digital resources while receiving instructional assistance from a librarian, and a venue for a broad mix of cultural and intellectual events (lecture, readings, discussions, debates, exhibits, book signings, receptions). We provide students with a lively & diverse learning environment.


F@N: Often, freshman students report that the library is overwhelming and intimidating. What can we do to help relieve some of these anxieties?

JL: A lot of students, but especially freshmen students, are anxious about admitting they don’t understand what an academic library can offer them. They are often unwilling to approach a librarian and ask for assistance. Students would rather find things on their own than admit that they don’t know where to find it. Our goal is to make them comfortable when they are afraid of asking. It’s easy for students to think they’ve found all the information need for their assignments. We exist in a world of information super-abundance. When you do a Google search, you always get something. It’s not necessarily the best thing but it’s probably at least somewhat relevant to the question at hand. We need to collaborate more with faculty to find ways to help freshman learn more about what actually is available through other sources. Much of what the library provides is accessible on the web, but it’s in “hidden” resources that don’t show up through the usual search engines. What’s in those “hidden” resources is often authoritative information in an academic context. This library spends several million dollars annually for licensed content of that caliber – and that’s what the freshmen need to learn to find and use in their course work. 


F@N: What are freshman students coming to the library for?

JL: Students visit the library for a number of reasons. They come to study, both individually and to meet in groups. Often, students use the group study rooms available. They come for quick access to email if they don’t have their laptop with them or they borrow one of our laptops and use the wireless network to sit on a couch and write, browse the Web, view Facebook or MySpace, IM and other similar tasks. They come for assistance with class assignments. In general, freshmen are not in a lot of research-oriented classes, which require frequent visits for research. I would say that they are more casual users of the library. With that in mind, our mission is to make them feel comfortable from the start, so they will see the library as a place to come when they need assistance in the future.


F@N: Is there anything new happening at the library this year?

JL: We’re always doing new things.   We added new computers to the first floor, including a classroom/lab space that can be accessed via WildCard whenever the room is not in use for library instruction.  That means that on evenings and weekends there are 32 more computers available on the first floor for student use than we had in place last year.  And there are times when every one of the 6o or so computers (including several iMacs) there are in use for hours at a stretch.  In addition, last year we received the class of 2008 senior class gift and used those funds to improve our printing services for the public computers.  Last year 1.2 million pages were printed in the library, even though we had a lot of downtime because of printer failures.  This year we have far more reliable printing.  And the Falvey Print Center came online to offer more sophisticated services – color printing, binding, poster printing, etc.  In terms of digital resources, in the past yea though the acquisition of a number of collections we added well over 400,000 digital books to our collection, comprising most of the print output of the English-language world from the earliest history of the printing press through the early 19th century. 


We are also continuously working to better connect the library to academic departments &  curricula. In addition, the library is a key partner in the sponsorship of One Book Villanova, and we have a number of events planned around Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle.  We are working very hard to make the library a center for intellectual and cultural exchange, almost a civic center for campus life. And we are drawing more and more students into that through events involving students as presenters, such as poetry readings, panel discussions, and even debates.  We feature presentations every spring by students who have demonstrated excellence in undergraduate research through their. We call these “Falvey Scholars” awards.  That program has been focused in the past on students from the Honors program in the College of Arts & Sciences.  This year it will extend to all four undergraduate colleges.   


F@N: Are you doing any new things with technology?

JL: This year we brought up a new library Website (http://library.villanova.edu) that was developed through a careful study of student information seeking activities.  It’s a beautifully designed site that provides a locally-developed “open source” search interface incorporating a lot of Web 2.0 features – tagging, favorite lists, comments & book reviews, texting of search results to cell phones – including some really nice browsing functions.  It includes a research help system that enables students to ask and answer each other’s research questions while also getting assistance from librarians.  It includes comprehensive research guides for almost all of our academic disciplines.  And it includes current news about things going on in the library.

F@N: Is it important, beyond having students using the Web, to “get them in the door” to properly use the library?

JL: Well, to be honest, we don’t always have to “get them in the door.” The library website is just as much a part of the library as the building itself is. Given the nature of technology, we are able to reach out to students in a number of ways. We’re open and receptive to their needs. The website offers a large number of learning and research resources.


F@N: What services are available on the library web site?

JL: All of the library’s digital resources are available, including databases, research aids, full texts of e-journals, e-books, and reference sources, course reserves, online reference assistance, and services to directly borrow resources from other libraries. In addition, students can get research assistance online by subject. We’ve developed online tutorials that are available on demand by any user. Guide to common request such as: How to find a journal? How to access a database? How to do a database search? How to get the journal articles not available at Villanova? We see the web as a personalized full service environment.


There are, of course, still many important print materials that you can’t get on the website and that require students to come into the building. For the most part though, the website is one source that is as complete as we can make it. Students can access it from their room or any building on campus, 24 hours a day, 7 seven days a week.


F@N: Given the amount of resources available in the library, do students have any formal training on what’s available?

JL: Many faculty who teach entry level courses for freshmen bring students in to learn about the basic research tools in their fields. It doesn’t have to always be in the library. Often librarians come to their classes and teach students about the resources available.


F@N: You talked a lot about the internet and how students use it for research. Aren't many of our students already familiar with the web?

JL: Yes. Students are very familiar with the web. Students think they know more than they do. What they don’t understand is that information on the web comes that comes from different channels and varies in how it’s produced and authenticated. Students are very familiar with doing searches on the web, but don’t have a picture of what piece of the web information that represents. The library offers many scholarly resources that are not available on the open web. It’s considered proprietary and there is a fee attached. The library pays for it and makes it available to the larger community. These resources have been authenticated.


F@N: What advice would you give to parents? How they can be helpful?

JL: Most parents will do this anyway. Talk to your children about what they are learning and doing here. Ask them if they have ever used the library. If they say no, ask them why not? Our parents tend to be very involved with students.


F@N: You’ve been at Villanova six years now. How do you like being the Director of the Library?

JL: I love it. It’s full of challenges and new things form one day to the next. This is an exciting time to be in academic library. Living through a revolution of how libraries carry out their mission and deliver services. We’ve gotten past the naïve assumption of the first “dot com boom” that libraries were going to wither away and everything was going to be available online. We’re able to focuses more clearly on the library’s educational role and the ways the library can be a partner in student learning. And because of Villanova’s special character as a diverse medium-sized university with a strong funding-base for the library, we are seizing the opportunity to make our library a leading model of the best things a contemporary library should be. For more information, please visit the library’s web site at http://library.villanova.edu/