Univer­sity li­braries turn a page in meet­ing mod­ern stu­dent needs

New dig­i­tal cen­ters, car­dio desks among en­tic­ing in­no­va­tions

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - CITY | STATE - By Lind­say El­lis

Col­lege stu­dents no longer need to hit the gym to pedal an el­lip­ti­cal or ex­er­cise bike. At Texas A&M and Rice uni­ver­si­ties, stu­dents can get their car­dio at the campus li­braries.

The col­leges spent about $3,100 com­bined on desk bikes and un­der-desk ped­als this year, part of a grow­ing ef­fort to keep li­braries rel­e­vant to a gen­er­a­tion of stu­dents for whom in­for­ma­tion never has been bound to a dusty book.

The ad­just­ments are part of a dra­matic re­shap­ing of the very def­i­ni­tion of a li­brary for stu­dents and other vis­i­tors.

“Li­braries typ­i­cally used to be the gate­keep­ers to knowl­edge — in the olden days, the stacks were closed,” said Su­san Good­win, as­so­ci­ate dean for user ser­vices at A&M. “Now, I see us as a gate­way. We are fa­cil­i­ta­tors to bring (stu­dents) to other ex­perts.”

Cam­puses across the state are pour­ing money into ren­o­vat­ing li­braries, adding study rooms, café-like booths and, yes, ex­er­cise ma­chines so stu­dents can multi-task while study­ing.

Li­brar­i­ans have shut­tled books off-site as cir­cu­la­tion has dropped, open­ing up floor space for clubs to gather or for mak­erspace cen­ters to build elec­tron­ics or use a 3D printer.

A need for li­braries to in­no­vate, of course, is not ex­clu­sive to col­lege cam­puses. Mu­nic­i­pal and county li­braries across Texas and the coun­try have swapped book­shelves for com­put­ers, added cafes and pro­vide a slate of com­mu­nity events in a bid to make them more at­trac­tive for to­day’s con­sumers.

But uni­ver­si­ties have an added ur­gency to keep up: faster turnover in user de­mo­graph­ics as each suc­ces­sive class en­rolls and grad­u­ates.

“Ev­ery year, there’s a new group of stu­dents com­ing in,” said De­bra Ko­lah, head of user ex­pe­ri­ence at Rice Univer­sity’s Fon­dren Li­brary. “You have to learn what th­ese new stu­dents need to be suc­cess­ful.”

Along with the un­der-desk el­lip­ti­cals, Rice has added stand­ing desks and a room for nurs­ing

“Ev­ery year, there’s a new group of stu­dents com­ing in. You have to learn what th­ese new stu­dents need to be suc­cess­ful.” De­bra Ko­lah, head of user ex­pe­ri­ence at Rice Univer­sity’s Fon­dren Li­brary

moth­ers this year. Stu­dents low on cell­phone juice can check out a charger from the li­brary, and if it rains un­ex­pect­edly, um­brel­las are avail­able for loan.

Chang­ing, too, are the func­tions of the li­brary staff. The Univer­sity of Texas at Austin hired a data man­age­ment spe­cial­ist to work with campus re­searchers. A&M’s li­brar­i­ans no longer ex­pect to an­swer ques­tions that can be Googled. Now, they teach vis­i­tors how to nav­i­gate on­line data­bases or an­swer deep, sub­ject­spe­cific re­search ques­tions.

So far, col­lege li­braries’ ef­forts to stay rel­e­vant ap­pear to be ef­fec­tive. Sixty-four per­cent of stu­dents sur­veyed in 2015 by EBSCO In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices, a li­brary con­sult­ing com­pany, said they used li­brary re­sources for re­search.

Check­ing out books, how­ever, no longer is a draw. Re­search li­braries’ cir­cu­la­tion dropped 58 per­cent from 1991 to 2015, while the to­tal num­ber of stu­dents en­rolled rose 40 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­a­tion of Re­search Li­braries.

UT-Austin’s li­braries saw cir­cu­la­tion, ex­clud­ing e-books, drop from 1.9 mil­lion in 2007 to about 242,500 in 2017 through early De­cem­ber. At the Univer­sity of Hous­ton, cir­cu­la­tion — ex­clud­ing course re­serves, re­newals and e-books — dropped from 129,403 in the 2006-07 aca­demic year to 76,978 in 2016-17.

Luis Ro­driguez, a 21-year-old UH ju­nior, goes to the li­brary to study.

It’s of­ten packed, he said, adding that he “can see the jus­ti­fi­ca­tion” for cam­puses’ spend­ing on li­braries.

But he per­ceives the li­brary’s books as “old” and “out­dated” and says he’d pre­fer to search for sci­en­tific ar­ti­cles on­line. Of­fer­ing open houses

The first step to en­cour­ag­ing li­brary use is get­ting new stu­dents in the door, staff ac­knowl­edge.

Mar­ket­ing cam­paigns, open houses, even in­te­grat­ing the li­brary into the campus tour aim to teach stu­dents about re­sources they could find on-site. Cam­puses across the state have so­cial me­dia ac­counts for their li­braries, post­ing pho­tos and event list­ings.

UH’s li­brary Twit­ter ac­count ear­lier this month shared pho­tos of dogs brought in for a pre-fi­nals re­lax­ation event.

About 3,000 stu­dents come to a Texas A&M li­brary open house for food and bev­er­ages each fall, Good­win said.

“It’s anx­i­ety-pro­vok­ing to come into a build­ing our size for the first time and ask a ques­tion,” she said, adding that many A&M stu­dents come from small Texas towns.

Dur­ing orientation, new UT-Austin stu­dents meet a first-year ex­pe­ri­ence li­brar­ian, who ex­plains what the li­brary has to of­fer.

“I al­ways en­cour­age them to make a li­brar­ian their best friend for­ever,” said Lor­raine Hari­combe, vice provost and UT li­braries di­rec­tor. “It’s a re­source that will ben­e­fit them for the rest of their lives.” Get­ting with the pro­gram

Some stu­dents don’t re­ceive the mes­sage.

Rea­gan Hahn, a 21-year-old ju­nior at Rice who works as a li­brary ”am­bas­sador,” said many of her peers are “pretty un­fa­mil­iar” with what the li­brary of­fers.

Hahn, who stud­ies ki­ne­si­ol­ogy, said stu­dents use Fon­dren for group home­work projects or as a meet­ing place.

The li­brary needs to stay in tune with what stu­dents want to re­main rel­e­vant, she said.

Rice’s ef­forts to ren­o­vate Fon­dren, per­haps typ­ify the lengths to which uni­ver­si­ties will go to keep the fa­cil­ity in touch with stu­dent needs.

In 2005, Rice re­designed Fon­dren’s west en­trance, con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing a “main street” through the cen­ter of the first floor to ac­com­mo­date a high vol­ume of stu­dent traf­fic.

Over­head is an art in­stal­la­tion — glass blue, yel­low and red boats form Lino Tagli­api­etra’s “En­deavor,” cre­ated in 2008.

Ko­lah later started lead­ing user ex­pe­ri­ence ef­forts at Fon­dren. Her of­fice now sur­veys Rice’s stu­dents and holds fo­cus groups, ask­ing how the li­brary could bet­ter serve their needs.

A dig­i­tal me­dia cen­ter, com­plete with pod­cast sta­tions and a graph­ics lab, nes­tled into the li­brary’s base­ment in 2014, the same year @fon­dren­li­brary sent its first tweet.

The read­ing room was ren­o­vated in De­cem­ber 2015. Ad­min­is­tra­tors added cu­bi­cles with cush­ioned chairs and bar ta­bles, scat­tered around the room.

Smaller changes came through­out. Stu­dents can scrib­ble on new glass ta­bles on the quiet sixth floor with dry-erase mark­ers avail­able for re­serve from the li­brary.

Else­where in the build­ing, what once was a com­puter lab now is a con­fer­ence room.

“If you are mak­ing sure you’re creat­ing spa­ces that are rel­e­vant to the next gen­er­a­tion, you will con­tinue to be uti­lized,” Ko­lah said. There still is work to do, she added.

The Asian ref­er­ence al­cove, for ex­am­ple, still holds stacks of books and jour­nals.

“In the near fu­ture, will this change? Yes,” she said, adding that one pos­si­ble use could be a space for grad­u­ate stu­dent col­lab­o­ra­tion. “It doesn’t mean the books are not im­por­tant. (But) space is one of the most valu­able com­modi­ties. What could this be to make our stu­dents more suc­cess­ful?” Start­ing fresh with new site

Texas South­ern Univer­sity is start­ing from scratch with $43 mil­lion in con­struc­tion on a new li­brary to re­place its ex­ist­ing one. Jan­ice Pey­ton, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of TSU’s li­brary, says it will be a “tech-rich” en­vi­ron­ment.

Ten­ants of the fa­cil­ity will be TSU’s dis­tance and on­line ed­u­ca­tion divi­sions and tu­tor­ing. Ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fices and a board room also will be in the new space, which is ex­pected to be com­pleted in sum­mer 2019, she said.

“Tra­di­tion­ally li­braries have been more one-fits-all,” Pey­ton said. “Now, I think we’re get­ting more into un­der­stand­ing that learn­ers learn in a va­ri­ety of styles at dif­fer­ent times. That’s what they’re ask­ing for.”

Books will oc­cupy parts of two of five sto­ries in the new li­brary. Staff mem­bers have weeded out 40,000 books as they pre­pare to move, Pey­ton said, look­ing at how fre­quently and re­cently they have been taken out.

TSU placed th­ese books in a stag­ing area for passers-by to take on campus. Pey­ton said she is look­ing into re­mote stor­age but called that “ex­pen­sive.”

“It’s a very emo­tional topic,” Pey­ton said. “We are in a pe­riod right now where books and e-re­sources will co­ex­ist.”

God­ofredo A. Vasquez pho­tos / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Fon­dren Li­brary at Rice Univer­sity ren­o­vated its en­trance in 2005 and up­dates con­stantly.

Stand­ing desks can be found in­side Fon­dren Li­brary. Desk bikes and un­der-desk ped­als keep hearts pump­ing.

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