If you’ve paid a visit to the CSP Library in the past several months, you’ve likely noticed a few changes to its space. These changes include minimal things like new blue paint on the library’s interior columns and more noticeable changes like empty bookshelves and the return of certain student services to the library including the Help Desk, Writing Center, and Multilingual Language Lab.
Every change plays a role in the library’s ultimate goal: to become the main student hub on campus and provide relevant, accessible information for students as they study and navigate an ever-evolving world. CSP Library Director Jon Neilson offered a glimpse into the library’s updates to help the campus community understand not only the magnitude of the changes but how and why Concordia is embracing them so wholeheartedly.
A Collection Revisited
One stark change that visible even without entering the library is the numerous shelves coming down along with the books that once called them home. “We took a hard look at the bulk of our collection of print books,” Neilson explained. “We have data going back about 17 years and 64% of that collection had not been used once in that 17 years.”
It was clear that the library’s collection was in desperate need of upkeep. The project was a huge, data-driven undertaking: from the library’s main collection, just over 20,000 books were removed. The library staff consolidated the collection into 75 percent of the space they once took up and moved downstairs to the library’s lower level. The first floor’s collection, which included more specific literary collections and student scholarship work (theses, etc.), were also consolidated and moved downstairs.
The library’s staff spent time evaluating each of the library’s titles with data that they have including how many times the book has or has not been used. They used that data to build a foundation of making decisions about individual titles and built on top of that. For example, one library staff member is the liaison to academic programs including health sciences. She used her skill and those connections to evaluate health science titles. The critical thing remaining is that each of the 20,000 books moved out of the collection had a conscious decision-making process to support it. According to Neilson, while it was a successful “first go,” all indications show that they aren’t done yet.
A Fantastic Problem to Have
What inspired and motivated such a huge consolidation? CSP’s students. “We had some times this past fall semester where at peak times of the day – of the week – we were absolutely full on the first floor,” Neilson recalled. “You could not find a seat, an open table – that’s a fantastic problem to have!”
CSP’s library is unique in terms of its location and position on campus in comparison to other colleges with it being connected to the tunnel system, close to classrooms, and off of the “drag.” Because of that, it has become a multi-purpose space.
The library features academic services like the Writing Center and Multilingual Language Lab and tutoring as well as campus support services like the Help Desk. This presents an obvious benefit of becoming a hub for student support. What the library formerly called the “Circulation Desk” has now been renamed the “Information Desk” to better guide students in the right direction based on their needs. “It’s a work in progress, but the vision is there,” Neilson explained.
He emphasized that while it’s still a library, it’s good to challenge the notion of what people think libraries are supposed to be.
“We should be open to campus for career fairs, faculty spotlights – even Residence Life did an event in the library after closing.”
So Neilson asked the question, “We’re a big space – why don’t we use it for that?”
The Shift to Digital Resources
The culmination of the physical book consolidation and revamped space highlights CSP’s focus on the importance of information and resource accessibility in a world where information literacy is more vital than ever. Concordia’s library staff have targeted the accessibility factor for their resources.
Along with getting rid of outdated materials, the library is changing their acquisitions process. In the past, the library acquired materials based on best guesses, course requirements, and good intentions and the hope that students would use it or professors would craft an assignment around those materials. It often didn’t pan out.
“We pivoted toward electronic items first like eBooks,” Neilson described. “But now it’s around “just in time” or “demand-driven” and we put thousands of titles into the library’s website and catalog and any student can access them and we [the library] only buys them once it’s been used by a student.”
This means the material access is instantaneous for the student. For the library, it means acquiring materials shifts from a “best guess” process to a data-driven one. In the future, the library is aiming to work closely with faculty members to utilize these electronic resources as much as possible and in some cases, basing entire course syllabi on electronic resources versus textbooks which are often viewed as a hidden cost to students paying for college.
The Emphasis on Information Literacy
Shifting CSP’s collection to digital adds to the already important need for information literacy in a world where evaluating, digesting, and sharing information responsibly has become more critical than ever. In the age of misinformation, the library wants to provide a compass that students can use during their academic pursuits and beyond. CSP sees its role in that and wants students to be successful not only in their academic endeavors but in creating, using, and evaluating information effectively and ethically in their professional and personal lives as well.
That’s where library staff like Rachel Wightman come in. Rachel is associate director of instruction and outreach for CSP’s library. She plays an instrumental role in the library’s instruction, information literacy, understanding technology, and helping students find the best sources available to them. She also spends a lot of time interfacing with students in the library and sometimes is invited into classrooms.
“Libraries are still asking: ‘how do we help our patrons use information and evaluate it?’ More and more is available online, so those questions have shifted to ‘how are we going to make a plan to navigate those resources and the internet? Are the students really finding the best sources?’” she commented.
Because students can find more online, it is increasingly important to be able to determine the source as well as evaluate it. Wightman wants to give students the tools to do just that.
“The way you search with library tools is different than Google. I always try to add in the context, the ‘why,’ as well as teach students about nuances when they’re researching. We want to continually supplement and reinforce that,” Wightman confirmed.
Neilson agrees. “We know we’re biased in the library to the lifelong learning concept, but we would love to instill that interest among our students,” he noted.
The Ultimate Goal
On his hopes for the future direction of CSP library, Neilson described students finding a welcoming space that isn’t just the physical library, but online as well. In addition, he hopes that they find a space that’s comfortable and encourages collaboration with other students, faculty, and more. He wants faculty to embrace the library as a classroom space and for office hours.
It’s that eagerness to evolve and change to keep up with student needs and an ever-changing environment that has been the biggest surprise for Neilson since he arrived at CSP.
He noted that faculty members and deans have approached him, thrilled to engage with the library about what the definition of a library is and ask, “what should a library do today?” He also stated that CSP isn’t afraid to push those boundaries and while other places put up their walls and end up pigeon-holed, CSP hasn’t done that.
“We’re so lucky to have our library that is on display on the main drag of campus,” Neilson added. “The reality is that people might walk by on campus and wonder where all of the books are. I suspect for most prospective students that seeing other students working together and filling up those tables – that has to be way more powerful.”
Updates to the library’s physical space, including new furniture, new wall graphics, and new shelves, will wrap up during the spring semester. Neilson expects that the project’s full completion will be seen by fall semester and that prospective students will see a library that looks dramatically different than a year ago.