Macalester’s DeWitt Wallace Library is a constantly evolving space, changing through the decades with shifts in both technology and student needs. A recent alteration to its interior was the conversion of a third floor reading room into the Barbara B. Davis SPACE (Scholarship Partnership and Collaborative Engagement) last summer. This Tuesday, the new hybrid room hosted the first of four conversations about changes affecting academic libraries.
A small group comprised mostly of library and other Macalester staff — no students or faculty were in attendance — gathered in the SPACE to offer their expertise and ask questions about the future of Macalester’s library and academic libraries.
Budget and Institutional Services, ITS, and Administration and Finance were all represented at the event. The conversation was a free flowing discussion, with library staff teaming up to answer questions and respond to comments.
Library Director Terri Fishel opened the session with a brief explanation of the intent behind the conversation series.
“There’s been quite a few changes in the library over time, and for students just beginning, they don’t know what changes the library has been through. There’s no prescribed thread for this [the conversations] — the goal is more or less to be a listening session for questions that students, faculty and staff have about services and programs in the library and our direction in the next few years,” Fishel explained.
“Part of the trend is as our resources have gone digital, what we actually need for physical space changes. The entire first floor of the library was once books, and is now 90 percent computers.”
Noting that recent student needs have trended towards flexible and multifaceted spaces, Fishel noted, “We do know that students want more study space and spaces that can be reconfigured — there are different services of interest, such as maker spaces.”
A major concern expressed by library staff throughout the conversation was the preservation of open and equitable access to all library materials in the face of increasingly digital-only subscriptions and e-books.
“Part of equity of access is having our broader collection out there accessible to libraries in general for the long run,” said Angi Faiks, Associate Director of Access, Instruction, and Research Services.
“We don’t want to shoot ourselves in the foot, so to speak, by subscribing to content which doesn’t allow us to function as we normally do, built on a model of sharing. If you have restrictions on [certain digital publications], we are restricting the possibilities for libraries in general pretty seriously,” she continued.
“It’s a good question—when I started working in academic libraries, The New York Times had just brought up the first online database of any newspaper. Then once the Internet went commercial, change was constant. The thing that people are gonna have to pay attention to if net neutrality goes away, we will have a whole different ball game. That will be a huge factor in equal access,” Fishel said.
In addressing Vice President of Administration and Finance David Wheaton’s second question, Fishel was quick to point out that the Macalester library’s physical design alone puts the college in a excellent place as far as space and flexibility go.
“In terms of the building, the architect was brilliant. He envisioned it as a building that could change and adapt over time, and he really did an excellent job in creating a building that could accommodate different uses over time,” Fishel said, citing the former reading room in which the conversation was being held as an example.
Another question about other major trends in libraries today elicited a response from Connie Karlen, Library Specialist, Access, Instruction, and Research Services.
“Two trends that I see are that in Interlibrary Loan, the number of patrons who want book chapters or articles is increasing, and the demand for physical books is going down. Secondly, reserve programs are growing. Students are wanting textbooks more and more, and that’s a whole other thing—can students afford the increasing cost of materials?” Karlen said.
Although this first library campus conversation did include staff perspectives from across campus and a strong variety of topics covered, Fishel and other library staff members hope that students will attend the next three conversations throughout the semester.
They will be held on the following dates:
Tuesday, February 28, 11:30-1:00: Library Spaces.
Tuesday, March 28, 11:30-1:00: Collections.
Tuesday, April 25, 11:30-1:00: Digital Publishing and Projects.