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Librarians are undervalued but ‘smarter than Google’

According to Patrick Dawson, director of the Albin O. Kuhn Library, what is the most under-used resource in the facility? Computers? Printers? Multi-media equipment? All wrong. The answer: librarians.

These professionals earn a bachelor’s and master’s (or sometimes a doctorate) in a subject area for their specialization. They also have a master’s in library or information science. According to Dawson, these individuals know what it’s like to be a student and are excellent resources for research.

“They’re smarter than Google,” he said.

This was one of the many topics discussed at the first-ever library forum on Mar. 17. The event came about when Dawson contacted Bentley Corbett-Wilson and Mona Patel, president and executive vice president of the Student Government Association respectively. Dawson requested they distribute a survey that he created about the library to their organization. SGA leadership expressed in interest in sponsoring a forum event to discuss these issues, and Patel took the initiative in organizing the event. A separate survey was distributed to all faculty members.

During the forum, Dawson reviewed the survey responses from undergraduates. The most requested item, by far, was 24/7 access to the entire library building. Currently, the Retriever Learning Center on the first floor is open 24/7 to students via swipe access. Dawson explained the complications of making the entire building 24/7, or even 24/5, including hiring additional staff members, security and student marshals. However, he expressed interest in potentially expanding the RLC.

Dawson noted that free printing, another highly-requested item, would not be possible due to cost. At a previous institution in which Dawson worked, free printing cost $3.5 million annually, which had to be cut from other programs and services.

Other suggestions, however, are being implemented. A pilot program on the third floor allows students to reserve study rooms online at a kiosk. If the program proves successful, library administration will add additional kiosks throughout the building. The university is also negotiating with an outside vendor to expand food options and hours available in the atrium, which currently houses Pura Vida Café. The details are not yet available, as the potential vendor is not university-affiliated.

Suggestions from students present at the forum included enforcing quiet hours in the RLC to control noise and creating a “nap area” so students are less inclined to sleep on the silent floors of the library. A staff member present noted that she has been called up to silent floors several times due to snoring that disrupts other students.

In responding to the survey, some requested services that the library already offers, such as the ability to rent multimedia equipment. According to Dawson, that indicates a need for more effective advertising. They have recently installed a screen above the atrium gate that advertises tutoring opportunities on the first floor and indicates where computers and media equipment are available for use throughout the building.

While those present discussed many relevant issues, turnout for the forum was underwhelming. The six library representatives (including Dawson) outnumbered the students in attendance, including those representing SGA. Patel cited the forum taking place on the Friday before spring break as a potential explanation and expressed interest in holding another forum later in the semester.

Despite the low turnout, Dawson passionately encouraged the students present to make their wishes known on campus. “You guys have a lot more political clout on this campus than you think you do,” he said.

“If you [the students] really want something and you petition to the provost’s office, they’ll listen to you. When you’re asking for something, do it collectively and with a lot of support.