Dean of Libraries

A few years ago a visitor to campus walked into the Library, observed students working at terminals or leaning into laptops, didn’t see many book stacks, and muttered, “What happened to the Library?”  His bewilderment betrayed him as a latter-day Rip Van Winkle who had slept through the digital revolution.  The explosive expansion of electronic databases and texts, as well as global interconnectivity, may be the greatest change in learning since book collections replaced oral traditions, and he missed it.

Rip II was looking for a library that is no more—a library constrained as a building and its physical contents, a facility that has a limited number of hours, a silo unto itself.  Loyalty to print resources alone is as obsolete as was Rip’s fealty to King George III.

Many of our resources and services are available 24/7 to our students and faculty through their computers wherever they are as long as they can log into the university network.  Over 60% of our total acquisitions budget is now devoted to the purchase of digital resources.  A few years ago, we had over 2,600 subscriptions to print journals.  Now that number has dipped to less than 600, but we provide access to over 45,000 electronic journal subscriptions.  We also subscribe to 170 academic databases.

Analysis of our usage logs shows that our catalog and databases are heavily used in the lonely stretches of the night.  The information world is now available at the hour of our choosing.  I used to take delight in having a master key to the library buildings.  I could always get what I needed regardless of the day or hour.  Now students have their own master keys and come and go as they need in the digital stacks.

Drew still has extensive book collections, and we still purchase printed books.  Some people opine that we should stop buying them altogether.  After all, aren’t they all available online and for free?  Hardly.  If faculty in the humanities and many areas of the social sciences were told that the Library would no longer be investing in codex books in their areas and that they were to depend exclusively on electronic resources, they would have proof certain that the Library did not understand the primary modes of scholarly communication in their areas.

But that is changing as academic presses slowly, even reluctantly, expand to the digital.  We are experimenting with digital alternatives, especially since e-readers have come into their own and are getting better as the competition intensifies between Kindle, Nook, iPhones, iPads, and other mobile devices.  Through our dynamic catalog, we will increasingly offer an expanding array of electronic books.  We won’t own them; they will become ours when someone chooses to open the title.  The model of purchasing is moving from limited just-in-case inventories to extensive pay-per-view options.

Through these changes, student demands on library spaces have intensified.  Our hours have had to expand as the academic climate on campus has intensified.  The Library supports the many ways in which people study best—whether after midnight, with a cup of coffee, with a snack, with other people, or alone in the nether reaches of the stacks.

Students also want spaces that inspire, spaces that, as librarian Barbara Fister expressed it, help the individual “feel a connection to great ideas . . . feel an almost spiritual sense of purpose,” in the manner of the great Reading Room of the New York Public Library.  To that end, the former lobby of the Rose Library will be renovated this summer and will become the Thomas H. Kean Reading Room & Gallery—a place of beauty and inspiration.

What happened to the Drew Library?  It still provides access to scholarly collections and information resources.  But now it has become, as former English professor Robert Chapman saw it, “the infinite candy store” of academic delight.  And the store is always open.

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