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2012 November 12 - 12:00 am

COVER STORY: By the Books

Photo courtesy Bronx Community College

Top, the architecture of new North Hall and Library matches that of other buildings on the historic Bronx Community College campus. Bottom, students work inside the library.

C  O  V  E  R    S  T  O  R  Y

By the Books
New Bronx CC Library Blends Digital with Traditional
By Paul Bradley

By the time the ribbon was cut to officially open the North Hall and Library on the campus of Bronx Community College last September, students already were working inside the 98,600-square-foot, three-story structure.

They had already seen the vast central study area, known as the “information commons.” Perhaps they used one of the 42 Apple Macs and 158 Dell PCs placed around the room, or used their own laptops or portable devices with the building-wide wi-fi connection. Maybe they had worked in 25 group study rooms ringing the commons, the places where small gatherings of students can engage in collaborative learning just steps away from the library’s resources.

As the first major new construction project on the campus since BCC moved to the University Heights section of the Bronx nearly 40 years ago, the building has quickly emerged as a campus jewel, praised as a combination of functionality and elegance.

“We haven’t had major construction on the campus since we moved here in the 1970s,” said college President Carole Berotte Joseph. “This has been huge for us. The architecture blends the old with the new. Our students love it.”

But more than an imposing structure that completes the north side of the college’s quadrangle overlooking the Hudson River, North Hall and Library also stands out as a symbol of the new challenges and opportunities facing academic libraries and librarians in the rapidly unfolding age of digital information.

Community college libraries today must assume a dual identity as a home to both traditional printed resources and contemporary information technology. In the North Hall and Library, that duality plays out on the second floor. There, on one end, is the circulation desk, where students can check out books that are part of the library’s vast collection.At the other end is the New Media Desk, where students can order videos to be streamed to screens in the group study rooms. IPads, laptops, cameras, and calculators can also be checked out. Students in some courses can borrow a laptop for an entire semester.

“Being able to combine the old with the new is so important,” Berotte Joseph said. “I really want to bring our library into the 21st Century. Our librarians have to be tech savvy. But we also have to blend the traditional with the contemporary, and that’s what this facility does.”

Teresa McManus, BCC’s chief librarian, is enthusiastic that the building she’s been working on for several years is now a reality.

“This beautiful library with its hub of activity is a priceless treasure for Bronx Community College and the City University of New York and for current and future students,” she said in an email. “The environment is designed to accommodate student needs for access to information and learning resources in multimedia as well as print formats for research and to complete assignments. The library provides access to 21st Century intellectual products and learning tools, for example with delivering access to multimedia educational resources 24/7 from any location, as well as e-books supplementing print and web delivered collections of research and scholarship.”

While BCC officials are proud of the new library, they are also mindful of the unprecedented challenges facing today’s libraries. Just as the digital revolution has forever altered newspapers and magazines — once at the very core of what libraries have provided their users — so too has it changed the libraries and the way librarians do their work.

A policy brief from the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy puts it this way: “In the 21st century, the digital revolution shows no signs of slowing. To remain relevant, any institution, including one as established as libraries, must evaluate its place in a world increasingly lived online. The good news is that many library professionals recognize this need and are driving adaptations designed to ensure that libraries remain an integral part of our society’s commitment to education, equity, and access to information.

“While some individuals are pessimistic about the future of libraries, many in the community envision future library services that incorporate new philosophies, new technologies and new spaces to meet the needs of all users more effectively than ever before. These changes go beyond merely incorporating technological advances to include rethinking the very core of what defines a library — the sense of place, of service, and of community that has characterized the modern library for the last century.”

Among college librarians, there has been no small amount of hand-wringing that the information revolution would mean that they soon would be made obsolete by technology. Who needs a librarian when you have Google?

“We are not going to be replaced by technology,” said Kenley Neufeld, library director at Santa Barbara City College and a past winner of the ALA’s Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Community and Junior College Libraries Section Leadership Award.

“It’s a shifting environment and will continue to be so. The needs of students, and the method of study, have changed. The role of the librarian is to help students think critically about the resources that are available. Scholarly inquiry takes more than a Google search. We can guide them to other resources. We’re an indispensible part of the learning environment, and I think we can position ourselves to be a key player in the future.”

At SBCC, librarians work with faculty, identifying their needs, visiting their classrooms and meeting the research requirements of students. The library strives to be a place where students want to come, Neufeld said. That entails new thinking about the library’s physical space and how to use it. With today’s emphasis on active, collaborative learning and teamwork, many library spaces are not the quiet, contemplative places of the past. Many modern libraries feature cafes and other spaces that encourage working together and are by definition loud.

“A community college library is not going to be the collection of all knowledge,” Neufeld said. “Our philosophy is geared toward the student. We can’t specialize. We are generalists. Our job is to guide the students through the learning process.”

At Bronx Community College, that means helping students develop information literacy, the set of skills needed to find, retrieve, analyze, and use information, McManus said. In one sense, information literacy represents a concession to the reality that no student can learn all they need to know in just a few years of college. Instead, libraries aim to equip students with the skills they need to become lifelong learners, she said.

“People need help to access information,” she said. “The Internet search engines are wonderful tools, but they don’t often access the kind of scholarly inquiry that we expect in higher education. That kind of material is not out there on the Internet for free. We are trying to teach students how to find and evaluate information resources.”

In the City University of New York system, The Library Information Literacy Advisory Council has promulgated a set of information literacy learning goals and objectives for CUNY students to achieve by the time they have completed 60 credits. The purpose is to ensure that our efforts at information literacy fully articulate within CUNY. These learning objectives have been approved and endorsed by the CUNY University Librarian and the CUNY Council of Chief Librarians, who have agreed to work with campus leaders, faculty and administrators to ensure that the learning objectives are met.

The goals include teaching students how information in various formats is organized and how to locate it; how to define and refine a topic and how to search for information related to that topic; how to evaluate information and its sources; and how to use information responsibly.

“We work with faculty to help students develop these skills across the curriculum,” McManus said.

McManus said that even as the librarians’ role changes, some things about libraries remain the same.

“The printed book is not going away. Some students prefer books. We need to have both (printed and electronic) formats. But there is something about browsing the stacks that is comforting. That will always be true.”

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