A Library for a New Century

Michael P. Olson, Ph.D., Dean of Libraries
Michael P. Olson, Ph.D., Dean of Libraries

By Michael P. Olson, Ph.D., Dean of Libraries

As Loyola University New Orleans celebrates its centennial during the current academic year, it is fitting to ask how the J. Edgar and Louise S. Monroe Library will evolve as it enters the university’s second century. As one of six colleges and principal academic units at Loyola, the Monroe Library aligns its goals with those of the university: enhance Jesuit values; improve student retention; and enhance our reputation and stature. Since the opening of the new library building in 1999, the library and its remarkable team have won several national awards, while the library ranks perennially among the top 10 university libraries in the United States by The Princeton Review.

Loyola’s students and faculty in 2013 succeed whenever the library can provide useful—and highly used—resources, services, and spaces. Gabrielle Gatto, the February “Monroe Library Friend of the Month,” states: “You guys are doing a great job!” Gabrielle, a sophomore, is a film writing major from Long Island, N.Y. She calls the library her second dorm because she is always in the library, especially during midterms and finals, and enjoys the camaraderie among students studying for exams. Gabrielle checks out many movies in support of her coursework and says that the library’s Learning Commons—a collaborative, multi-purpose area centrally located on the first floor—is a good place to focus. Gabrielle is also a big fan of the library’s use of social media to connect to the students on campus. Last but not least, she believes that the library’s staff is “always so friendly and eager to help.”

Student experiences such as Gabrielle’s become valuable catalysts for life-long personal and professional development. Several semesters ago, I read a first-year student’s reply to an essay question, “What did you pack up as you prepared for college?”

The student’s reply: “I feel as I prepare to embrace college and all its attributes that it is appropriate to accept the task with full responsibility. Being the first person in my entire family to attend a university, there is no room for failure. I have many people behind me, pulling for me, and I cannot let them down. So, I packed my try-hard pants and came ready to go. Hopefully I will succeed.”

The work my team and I wish to accomplish at the library, if done well, contributes to students and faculty realizing their dreams more successfully than if they had never met us. To this end, every student and faculty member has a personal librarian: a library faculty member who adds value to class-related research, connects students and faculty to innovative products and services, and more.

Today’s university students use mobile devices and social media capable of retrieving and transmitting vast stores of digital content from a place far and distant, even in a “cloud.” They desire speed, options, and convenience. The Monroe Library responds by offering choices: digital, print, or archival content; quiet or collaborative spaces; the ability to study in the library, in a dorm, or elsewhere with a Wi-Fi or 4G/3G connection to the Internet… the list goes on.

The library is pleased to add recently key information resources at the request of Loyola’s faculty, e.g. Cambridge Companions Online, subject- or theme-based collections of content superbly suited for many undergraduate courses (the collections are, in many cases, also available at the library as physical books); and L’Année philologique on the Internet, the digital version of a standard bibliographic reference work devoted to the Classics. The library’s media and music collections are particularly strong, and items are added regularly in support of the curriculum. If the library does not actually own certain materials, then our reciprocal-borrowing agreements generally provide users with broad and timely access to those materials.

The library embraces technology as it facilitates learning, instruction, the discovery and use of scholarship, online and hybrid education, and the use of media in classrooms. The Special Collections and Archives unit digitizes a wealth of materials—including the student newspaper The Maroon, the university yearbook The Wolf, and historical photographs documenting Loyola’s first century—to enable “anywhere, anytime” access. Other library faculty and staff collaborate with Loyola’s instructors to improve and increase the latter’s use of Blackboard in online and hybrid course development, or deploy computers, software, and ancillary equipment that support the academic work of students and faculty in the library and across campus.

As a new New Orleanian, let me state: Let the good times roll! Since arriving last August, I’ve become increasingly impressed with the library’s team of faculty, staff, and student employees. They achieve tremendous feats by combining skill, creativity, and good cheer. While I’m very proud of my colleagues, the best arbiters of our effectiveness are, I believe, the Loyola community—alumni, faculty, students, parents, and friends. A recently completed standardized survey indicates that, among all institutional priorities and student satisfaction items listed, Loyola’s 2012 undergraduates are most greatly satisfied with “library resources and services.”

As Loyola enters its second century, the Monroe Library will continue to demonstrate and promote its value—throughout the university, in New Orleans, and beyond. My team and I wish to stimulate interest and traffic, thereby positioning the library anew as a center of intellectual, social, and spiritual life.

We welcome your feedback and appreciate your support.

Michael P. Olson, Ph.D., became dean of libraries and professor at Loyola on August 1, 2012. He had been a senior-level library administrator for more than 20 years at Harvard, UCLA, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Clark University; has written two books and produced more than 100 articles or conference presentations; and has raised more than $3 million for libraries.

View the complete spring 2013 issue of LOYNO.

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