The Library at a Crossroads

Last month, the Pew Research Center released its most recent report on the place of the public library in American society. Libraries at the Crossroads documents a critical moment in the history of an enduring social institution, as public libraries continue to support traditional services such as literacy programs for children at the same time that they make strategic commitments to emergent services such as support for job-seekers, entrepreneurs, and new technologies such as 3-D printers. The library’s role in addressing the digital divide is also noted by respondents to the Pew survey, who support the public library’s role in providing access to the Internet to those who do not have it at home, school, or work, as well as its role in providing information literacy instruction to children and adults in areas such as the use of mobile technology, managing one’s online identity, and protecting one’s privacy. Commitment to these new roles, respondents understand, may mean shifting the library’s approach to traditional roles such as the management of large print collections. It is a challenging time to be a public librarian, but an exciting one.

This is also true at DePaul.

Over the past three years, the DePaul University Library has made choices aligned with its strategic plan that have placed our facilities, our collections, and our staff in the middle of a range of exciting changes at DePaul and in the City of Chicago. The second phase of the Richardson Library renovation allowed us to launch the Learning Commons and the Scholar’s Lab, and to bring faculty from a number of departments into the library to teach classes and to learn how new technologies can facilitate innovative approaches to teaching and learning. Employing a holistic approach to collection management, we have enhanced the space available to our users both in the Richardson Library and the Loop Library while increasing access to digital content and providing the DePaul community with access to a wider range of research materials through partnerships such as the Consortium of Academic & Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI), the Center for Research Libraries, and the OCLC Reciprocal Faculty Borrowing Program. Our teaching programs have been updated to promote newly-defined undergraduate learning goals both in information literacy and in the use of primary source materials. Our library publishing services have provided support to faculty launching peer-reviewed journals, as well as to undergraduate research initiatives. And, working with the Division of Enrollment Management & Marketing, we have extended our services to DePaul partners in the broader community, including DePaul College Prep.

All of this work continues as we start the new year. The DePaul University Library was named a member of the Federal Depository Library Program in the Spring, and we will celebrate that designation with a public “launch” of our “digital depository” later this Fall. We are deepening our engagement with DePaul College Prep as a key support for its International Baccalaureate program, and we joined DePaul faculty in a recent meeting with colleagues from local community colleges to share strategies that promote transfer student success. As part of planning for the next phases of the library renovation, we have met with faculty from multiple colleges to discuss the potential that library spaces and services may have for promoting faculty collaboration as well as for providing greater student access to emergent technologies of use across the curriculum, including media content creation and 3-D printing. At the same time, we are working with colleagues in the DePaul Art Museum, the Division of Student Affairs, and the Office of Teaching, Learning, and Assessment to consider a broader view of the undergraduate learning that takes place in the co-curriculum, and beginning to think about how the Loop Library space might be “refreshed” in order to better reflect the academic programs and unique opportunities for collaboration available in the Loop. Finally, our work with faculty in the Digital Humanities and in the Data Sciences programs have helped us to identify new approaches to providing library support in these areas, which we hope to begin implementing in the coming months.

The Pew study found that public support remains strong for libraries even as those libraries are challenged to balance commitments to the combination of traditional and emergent services that have kept them at the center of their local communities for a century or more. At DePaul, we find our library at a crossroads defined not just by the changes in reading, technology, and user behavior found in the public library, but also by equally significant changes in the ways in which we conduct our teaching, learning, and scholarship. The past three years have been exciting ones, and with your continued engagement and with the continued support of DePaul students, faculty, and staff, we look forward to continuing to find ourselves at the center of the academic community.

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