When Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD, Drexel University’s dean of libraries, took over the position in 2010, she pulled together several groups and hosted a planning retreat to update the department’s strategic vision.
That vision included such points as: ensuring access to authoritative information, building learning environments in physical and cyber space, deepening Drexel’s connection to scholarship and modeling a collaborative, data-driven organization that effectively leverages all resources.
Then, when Nitecki and her team decided to take a new look at these goals last year, they realized they have instead become overarching commitments.
The Libraries’ new strategic direction, according to Nitecki, aims to support and reinforce the University’s mission and ambitions as a whole.
“We asked, ‘What are some challenges that the University has for which the Libraries can uniquely offer our resources, our knowledge and our networking?’” Nitecki recalls.
So now, Nitecki and her team are striving to help Drexel students, faculty and staff contain the affordability of higher education, shape future scholarship and inspire a life-long quest for learning. However, there are several misconceptions about the Drexel University Libraries — and libraries in general — that might be standing in the way. Nitecki shared a few that may prevent students specifically from utilizing the Libraries’ resources.
I don’t need the library! Everything is online and free.
When most people think of a library, they think of a physical place and the physical books that fill it. And although Drexel University Libraries has both of those — four physical locations and over 300,000 books — Nitecki said 98 percent of its collections budget now goes toward providing access to electronic resources through a combination of purchasing, resource-sharing and licensing.
The Libraries’ resources exceed what students could find with a quick Google search by returning more effective and relevant search results, said Nitecki.
“Anyone can search Google for [information] and get a huge number of results in fractions of a second, which is far quicker than it would take you to ask a librarian your question,” she said. “But the issue is, with Google, you don't really know how relevant what you're finding is to your problem.”
The Libraries’ value, according to Nitecki, is in its ability to help students “sift through the noise” presented by online search results linked to advertising or your prior search history. Plus, the Libraries offer real people to interact with and assist students, as opposed to relying on an algorithm.
“The benefit that we offer goes beyond using Google,” she said. “We're helping you become ‘Google Plus.’ You're becoming a more educated searcher. You're learning how to evaluate what you’re finding. … Sure, you can find an answer, but how do you know who wrote it? By being discriminating in terms of your searches and then critically sorting through what you uncover. That’s the value.”
Only certain students need to use the library.
Nitecki recalls a freshman who, upon sharing with friends what the University Libraries has to offer, stated that some of his peers thought its resources were “only for English majors.”
She said she worries other students share that same misconception, even though the Libraries serve all Drexel students. She’d also like to squash faculty and staff beliefs that the library isn’t for them: another major benefit of the library is that it brings together scholars from a variety of backgrounds.
“One of those learning behaviors that we encourage is to expose yourself to people with different viewpoints than your own,” she said. “The library is an incredible place that stimulates you to interact and observe others equally interested in learning, and realize that your whole intellectual life is part of a bigger universe of knowledge exchange.”
The proof is in the numbers. Over 900,000 people entered the Libraries’ four locations (W. W. Hagerty Library, Hahnemann Library, Queen Lane Library and the Library Learning Terrace) last year, and people searched nearly 4 million times for information. The Drexel Libraries is also accommodating to the local community, allowing anyone with a valid ID to enter and utilize the Libraries’ three main facilities.
Accommodations for students include the Libraries’ extension of being open 24-hours a day during finals week and the opportunity for employment for more than 100 students during the year to become “über Information Explorers.”
“We want to make our student employees the prime models of what it means to be a really savvy information-alist,” Nitecki said, “and then, require as part of their job, to help us figure out how to get other students involved in self-directed learning through the Libraries.”
The library is quiet and boring.
Just as the University Libraries provides safe spaces for all members of the Drexel community, Nitecki also considers it a “shopping mall” of different types of spaces to aid individual and collaborative study. This goes against the age-old idea of getting shushed by an uptight librarian when you’re caught talking.
“We have places for quiet, individual study. We have places for groups to work,” she said. “And the concept of ‘working along’ — working amidst others but not necessarily on a common problem or project — has become recognized as an active learning phenomenon. And it’s delightful to hear our students in their own words saying that's what they're looking for.”
Expanding on this idea of “working amidst,” Nitecki said one student recently noted that he often invites friends to go with him to the library to study and “keep each other on track,” even if they aren’t studying the same things.
For groups, the Libraries also offers great spaces for social learning, like the Dragons’ Learning Den and the Library Learning Terrace. In addition, there are a total of 38 small rooms that can be reserved for groups to work around a table and to use a dry erase board or display screen together.
There’s nothing I’d find useful at the library.
Along with these different learning environments, the Drexel Libraries also offers a number of additional resources that students may not know about.
Did you know that the Hagerty Library has a sound booth? That’s right, realize your podcast dreams, or create an audio recording for your next class project in the Tales of the Dragon sound booth.
Students can also access the University Archives to find out more about Drexel’s history.
“It takes a different path to go through the Archives because it's not all digitized,” Nitecki said of the Archives. “But we’re excited to have hired our first digital archivist, so we're trying to look at some of the activities that will be involved with digitizing and expanding access to our digital collections. I think that's an underutilized source for learning.”
And a future goal? To help students access all their required class reading materials without extra expenditures. Nitecki cited the national average $1,200–$1,500 students must pay each year beyond their tuition to purchase the necessary textbooks for their courses.
“Current studies estimate that 60 percent of students in the U.S. don’t ever buy their textbooks, often because of expensive price tags,” she said. “Our goal is to help contain student costs of college education by enabling and encouraging faculty to assign open textbooks and readings from scholarly publications.”
Librarians are also working to make Drexel faculty aware of the free and low-cost materials available in the Libraries’ arsenal — as well other resources like the Open Textbook Network —that they can assign as opposed to using high-cost text books.
There’s nothing fun going on at the library.
Nitecki said she and her staff are also constantly trying to figure out ways to increase attendance at student-oriented events. With their reoccurring ScholarSnack events they have been hosting for the last two years, they employ one age-old adage: give them food and they will come.
“ScholarSnack events include different types of sessions to get students talking to each other and to help them practice different research skills, presentations skills and to exchange ideas,” said Drexel University Libraries Communications Manager Stacy Stanislaw, adding that students should look out for ScholarSnack events coming up in the new academic year. “We’re experimenting with different ways of interacting with students to help them explore what they can get out of the Libraries and to understand what they want and what they seek from us.”
The Libraries’ programming is constantly evolving, Nitecki said. Other event ideas underway include Toastmaster events to help students build confidence in public speaking, a Dean’s Tea and a panel conversation with faculty sharing their experiences with research and publishing.
If any students have feedback about the Libraries or ideas to engage with others around learning how to discover and use information, Nitecki invites them to get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org