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Northeastern Libraries Evolve to Meet Needs of Modern Students and Faculty

If the word "library" conjures up images of matronly librarians glaring over half glasses and shushing restless students, it's time to his the refresh button.

"The library is not just a repository. It has a major teaching function, particularly because co-op puts our students out in the real world early, where information skills are in very high demand."

Gone are the days when a mere book closing or a chair sliding across the floor would jolt the daydreaming student to attention, or a few well-balanced pencils would hold one's place in the antiquated card catalog.

Today's library is abuzz with students clicking keyboards, loading websites, and using everything from traditional print collections to the Internet, DVDs, scholarly databases, and e-journals to do research.

In 1990, the University Libraries moved from cramped quarters in Dodge Hall to Snell Library, a spacious and modern building that is now the intellectual heart and soul of an increasingly residential community.

With more than 1.4 million visitors each year — 500,000 of whom access services remotely from residence halls across campus and co-op jobs across the country — Snell Library is beginning to look a lot like its counterparts at leading research institutions, a group it aspires to join as Northeastern continues its ascent toward the nation's top 100 universities.

"The library is not just a repository," says Edward A. Warro, dean and director of the University Libraries. "It has a major teaching function, particularly because co-op puts our students out in the real world early, where information skills are in very high demand."

For that reason, the University Libraries are an important priority of the $200 million Leadership Campaign, which seeks $3 million for this purpose. To date, more than 960 alumni and friends have supported a range of library initiatives — from facilities to the collections to technology.

For example, the Snell Construction Company has given $100,000 for library acquisitions; the Alden Trust provided $100,000 to upgrade the online catalog; and parents Daryl W. Wong recently designated his $25,000 annual gift to the library.

The accomplishments of the past few years are impressive. The library now holds close to one million volumes. Students and Faculty enjoy services that help them access growing collections and resources, such as Ask 24/7, which uses chat technology to deliver real-time, web-based reference assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Research and Instruction Department, staffed by 14 professional librarians, teaches more than 10,000 students annually how to use the library.

The Peer Tutoring Program, which matches student tutors with students needing assistance in any subject, delivered more than 6,900 hours of academic support to more than 1,500 students this past year, double the number from the previous year.

The InfoCommons, a centrally located computer lab providing online access to a breadth of resources and services is ensuring all students have the technical support they need. And Snell Library now provides patrons with wireless Internet access throughout the building.

Other programs contribute to the intellectual and social life of the community. A "Meet the Author" series brings celebrated poets and writers to campus. The CyberCafé offers computer stations, network connectivity for students' laptops, and a creative coffee menu. It has become a popular destination for studying, socializing, and Internet browsing.

"These programs and services allow students to go beyond the classroom, to explore important topics and issues of the day," notes Warro.

"Deans and administrators increasingly recognize the integral role the library plays in academic life, and have made enhancing the library a priority," says Maria Hudson Carpenter, research and instruction librarian.

However, the library still has much to do to keep pace with students' expectations and competitive institutions. Current needs include expanding the undergraduate research collection, scholarly journals (print and electronic), and digital collections; improving facilities; and increasing instructional support.

"As the library plays an increasingly prominent role in the educational and cultural life of the University, we must continue to enhance our programming to enrich the education of our students," says Warro. "We will continue to work hard to build the library necessary to support a nationally acclaimed research university."

University Libraries
Ask 24/7
Research and Instruction Department
Peer Tutoring Program
  This article appeared in the Spring 2005 edition of Pathways: The Leadership Campaign.          

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