Winter 2010: Campus Beat

Matheson Reading Room then and now

then and now: The quietude of the Matheson Reading Room remains a draw, as in days past; students today also use the libraries’ online resources and collaborative spaces.

Courtesy Emory Libraries (left); Erica Endicott (right)

Student using library computer

Jon Rou

Beyond Books

Emory’s Libraries have become a digital commons for study and collaboration

By Mallory Goldberg 10C

It’s 6:00 p.m. on a Sunday, and the Robert W. Woodruff Library is packed. Students fill every desk, computer space, and spare study room, and it’s not even finals week. Notebooks, calculators, and study guides clutter each student’s workspace, yet there are virtually no books in sight.

The role of libraries on university campuses may be changing, but Emory’s nearly seven thousand undergraduates still rely on the library as a place of refuge, study, technology, and socializing. Some even check out books.

Digital and multimedia resources, though, have become fully integrated throughout the main library’s ten floors, ranging from plasma workstations for group study and projects to centers with video cameras, iPods, and laptops available for loan.

Emory’s Center for Interactive Teaching (ECIT), located in the center of the main library, provides training for creating technology-enhanced materials, including digital media assignments. ECIT hosts workshops for faculty and students to demonstrate the benefits and effectiveness of technologies in teaching and learning.

“Today’s research library still is, and will continue to be, the centerpiece of the university campus,” says Richard Luce, director of Emory Libraries.

Even though undergraduates may not be scouring the stacks or lining up at the circulation desk, many take advantage of Emory’s libraries for the experience—whether that means sipping coffee at Jazzman’s CafĂ© with a study group or perusing periodicals in the silence of the Matheson Reading Room.

“Ten years ago, we couldn’t have imagined what the library would be like today,” says Liz Cooper, reference services librarian. “We’re not sure what it will be like in five to ten years because there’s so much more aggregation of resources going on.”

Library use depends on the individual student, and, more specifically, on his or her major.

Lauren Jacobson 10C, a history major, averages five days a week at the library—but rarely checks out a book. “The library is just a much better study environment than my room because when I’m here I know that I’m here for a purpose,” Jacobson says. “If I’m at home, I have temptations like the TV, my roommates, napping.”

For Jacobson, who typically has one major research paper each semester, the computer is her preferred destination. “I always go for the online resource first,” Jacobson says. “Sometimes I will even discount something if I can’t find it online. While the index of a book can be helpful, it’s even easier to use control-F.”

For other students, though, nothing can replace the tangible experience of flipping through the pages of a book, dog-earring and underlining important facts.

International studies major Lauren Winowich 10C, the granddaughter of two librarians, sees these benefits as superior to scanning a computer screen.

“Historians and political scientists have written countless shelves’ worth of books that offer well-researched, well-documented, and unbiased perspectives,” Winowich says. “Using these sources helps me write the best papers possible.”

Whether an undergraduate is using an online resource or a book, the role of the reference librarian is still essential to the research process.

“Right now, you have to ask a librarian to do a review of the literature and know what’s out there because it’s not intuitive for a user to figure out,” Cooper says. “The library community in general, not just Emory, is working on trying to make this easier.”

Emory’s librarians are available in person, on the phone, through email, and through instant messaging to answer students’ questions and help them find the appropriate resources. From fall 2008 through summer 2009, more than nine thousand questions were answered at the main library reference desk. Subject librarians interacted with more than 750 undergraduates to assist with projects and assignments.

Undergraduates in the business school, where collaborative projects are the norm, tend to use the library as a digital commons. “I go with groups to work on cases or presentations,” says Glenn Newman 12C. “I can count the number of times I’ve been there alone this semester on one hand.”

“We are much more than a place and books on the shelf,” Luce says. “We are learning laboratories convening dialogue and inspiring new ways to think about a different future.”

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