Equity is a key component of what we do with everything we do. Do our services and resources thoughtfully and intentionally remove barriers to information access? This is our goal and our constant refrain.”
The old days of absolute quiet and fines for overdue books are gone now. The abandonment of these practices are just two examples of the ways in which Maxwell Library is changing with the times and evolving with student needs.
“The traditional model of the academic library is that it’s the ‘heart of the university.’ A place that students and faculty flow through to have their information needs fulfilled on their way to completion of research or coursework,” said Maxwell Library Dean Kevin Kidd. “It was somewhat passive in a sense: the library waiting for people to visit. Of course, while supporting research and learning is central to what we do, what’s different now is that we are actively reaching out to bring students and faculty in, to make them aware that we are an important resource and that we are here to help them succeed.”
Equity of access is a key consideration in all Maxwell Library does. In fact, whenever a decision is made regarding a particular policy, service or program, the central question these days is: Does this add or remove a barrier to access?
Why this question? “Libraries have always been about providing access to information, generally.” Mr. Kidd said. “On the other hand, libraries have also tended to play a sort of gatekeeper role when it comes to that access.” For example, libraries often have lots of rules around who can borrow what resources, how long they can have them, who can access which library spaces, how much one has to pay if materials are late, etc. “We see now that some of these traditional rules and policies can be barriers to equal access and to student success,” he said.
Mandatory silence throughout the library and fines for overdue books are now seen as barriers to equal access and are history at Maxwell Library. So, too, is the blocking of student accounts due to outstanding book fines or late returns. It used to be that having overdue library books could leave students unable to register for classes.
“There may be valid reasons to put a block on a student’s ability to register for classes but having a few books overdue is not one of them. There are other ways to incentivize students to return library materials.” Mr. Kidd said. “That’s an equity thing. The university wants students to reenroll, but blocks and fines can create unnecessary barriers to encouraging students to continue with their education. That’s something we want to avoid wherever possible.”
The issue of equity of access to online information resources is also a big concern for the library. Since the 1990s, people have been under the mistaken belief that these days any information a student needs is just a click away. Not so. Not everything comes up in a Google search, and often there are paywalls or other barriers to access once needed materials are found online. Also, some online academic resources are complex and dense enough to require a user to reach out to a reference librarian for support and guidance.
Toward the goal of making access to online information resources easier, the library is redesigning its website as well. The aim of the redesign is to ensure it is truly accessible, inclusive, reflective of the university’s diversity and welcoming to all users.
Mr. Kidd, who arrived at BSU two years ago this month, has, along with his Maxwell Library colleagues, been removing barriers anyplace they were suspected to exist. This has already resulted in a number of changes.
For instance, the main Library Services Desk is now also a “one-stop shop” area, where users can find answers to a variety of questions, get help with a range of issues and even get some basic tech problems addressed.
In addition, librarians and staff are working with faculty to increase the use of library course reserves so students can read and/or scan course materials without having to pay what is often a high cost for those materials. The library has also streamlined the process for booking group-study spaces in the building.
Speaking of those spaces, they’ve added many in recent years, and Mr. Kidd hopes in the near future to provide more comfortable seating, as well as things like movable whiteboards and other enhancements, all meant to make the library even more inviting to students looking to study, perform research or just hang out.
“We hope to make the space more welcoming so that students have a sense of ownership of the library,” Mr. Kidd said. “It is one of the few spaces on campus that isn’t owned by an academic department or program. It belongs to the students, and the space should encourage that feeling.”
The Maxwell staff and Mr. Kidd have been spreading the word in various ways that the library has much to offer today’s students. The work of the library boils down to a fundamental question: Why do we do what we do? “We always frame our resources, programs and services within the university’s overarching goal of student success,” Mr. Kidd said. “And equity is a key component of what we do with everything we do. Do our services and resources thoughtfully and intentionally remove barriers to information access? This is our goal and our constant refrain.”