The importance a library to the average person

By this point I’ve droned on and on about the importance of libraries, both public and private, to the average college student/child/librarian. We’ve touched on funding, technology and even career prospects within the industry, but we have yet to discuss the actual importance of these massive publicly/university funded buildings.

A library is a place that sees you at your absolute worst and your absolute best. It is in the library that you find yourself, half deranged and in need of a sixth cup of coffee from the attached Starbucks while studying for your finals. It is in the library that you found that first book as a child that made you realize that maybe, reading wasn’t so bad after all. It was in the library that after putting it off for weeks, you finally sat down and churned out that 10-page essay, the one that you actually did well on. It was in the library that you learned that procrastinating was definitely bad, even though that revelation didn’t change your study habits at all.

We can go into the pros and cons of library funding for technology and librarian service requirements until I’m blue in the face and you’ve died of boredom; because lets face it, libraries really aren’t that interesting. They’re vital to the way we function, especially at a collegiate level, but they aren’t a place we’d willingly spend our college football Saturdays. The thing about libraries is that, while we certainly don’t like them, we just as certainly need them, and that need spurs the need for well run and up to date facilities like the ones we have on our campus and in the surrounding communities.

Libraries, unlike a fine wine, do not age well over time. They have required copious amounts of effort from librarians and library workers to keep them up to date, functioning and relevant in this day and age of smart technology. Working towards the future, these institutions are faced with a society that tells them they are irrelevant with every new technological advance, yet turns to them when their next term paper needs to be written.

The truth of the matter is that libraries are complex, multifaceted institutions, and even though they have been forced to change and adapt over the years, their overall purpose remains the same: to help people seek knowledge.

With modern online subscription services available to patrons as well as the occasional physical, bound book at their disposal; libraries are a quiet but important resource to students and anyone generally seeking information.

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Lets face it, this is more descriptive of a modern academic library than a stack of books. Photo taken by Jamie Shapiro.

 

Taking Action to stay relevant

For most of us, the library is a place that is avoided unless given an express reason to go. Whether it be to study, find research materials or attend an event, there is typically something that has to spur us into action before we will set foot in a library.

While libraries are safe havens for stressed out students who need a relatively quiet place to sit down and do work, they are also not often the first choice of destination on any college students list. However, some campus and public libraries are looking to change this stigma surrounding libraries.

The Alachua County Public Library Department has dozens of plans in motion to encourage students and residents to visit some of their locations. Events like Fandamonium and meet and greets with popular authors are just a few examples of these plans, according to Nickie Kortus, Marketing and PR director for the Alachua County Library District.

Local libraries aren’t the only ones taking action to bring in more visitors, campus libraries are constantly updating and changing to encourage students continued patronage. While the initiatives taken by campus libraries are more intended to keep students happy and coming, they are just as notable, and can be seen in upgrades like the 3D printing lab and more frequently used social media pages.

“I usually just go to one of the university libraries if I need to study or work on an assignment,” Kasey Rolen, a sophomore Healthcare Education Major at the University of Florida said, “But if they had an interesting event, and I wasn’t too busy, I would definitely check it out.”

Events pop up in and around the libraries on campus all the time, whether it’s a Starbucks food truck, offering free samples of their preciously caffeinated beverages; or a banned books week display, featuring all of the books deemed too inappropriate to be stocked in certain libraries. These events are meant to draw students to the libraries and to give them a well earned (or not so well earned) break from their studies.

While the necessity of libraries on university campuses and in public locations is undeniable, it’s a nice change of pace to see them trying to lighten the atmosphere and give patrons a reason to actually want to visit their local library. Even though most students would still visit the library without these events, it’s a good thing to see the libraries care about their visitors perception of them.

Libraries for the next generation

Contrary to what many of us believe, libraries were present in our lives before we entered college, though in a somewhat different capacity. Think back to the libraries of our secondary schooling years, full of both resource books and the latest in fiction best sellers. The libraries that were often home to the annual scholastic book fair and to your schools computer lab.

These are the libraries that taught us the basic skills of computing; how to save, print and type; all things we now may think we’ve known since birth. While many collegiate libraries are focused on providing newer and better resources for us to use for research purposes, these libraries are focused on teaching you how to do research.

According to Bronwyn Main, head librarian at Joseph L . Carwise Middle School the technology gap existing for adolescents is very real.

“Students may be more exposed to technology, but they continue to struggle with basic technology skills like typing and being safe online,” Main said, “I tell my staff to never assume our students know something related to technology.”

While developing the basic skills of using technology and the internet safety are a huge part of the job of middle school librarians, they are still looking to develop new and interactive ways of incorporating technology into student’s daily lives.

“I would love to have an interactive screen where students can incorporate coding and gaming into projects that they are working on,” Main said, “I am also continuing to purchase more eBooks and audiobooks for students to read on mobile devices.”

While public school libraries are often home to a series of computers, many of us don’t remember the libraries of our youth for their technologically advanced states. For most of us, the library from our middle school years was a place where we would go to check out our next Judy Bloom book or look for the next book on our Battle of the Books list.

As these libraries do progress and work towards modernization through technology, they do not stray as far from their paper bound roots as their college-aged counterparts have. It is the responsibility of librarians like Bronwyn Main to weed through sites like Goodreads.com and student suggestions to find books that are relevant, popular and appropriate for the demographic they cater to.

Technology in the Library

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Marston science library, home to UFs 3D printer among other library advancements. Photo taken by Jamie Shapiro

As most of us know, a modern academic library more a place to sit with our laptops out while we do online research and check Facebook on the down low. Most of us don’t go to the library to check out books or spend some honest time with the microfiche machine. So if this is the case, how are libraries adapting to fit their new purposes?

Of course there’s the obvious, the instillation of outlets and USB plug ins at many of the library desks and work spaces. There’s the instillation of computer equipped study rooms and and even a fully functional 3D printer that always seems to be printing something, but what else is coming? How are libraries going to adapt to fit the needs of a technology obsessed demographic?

University of Florida Academic Librarian Rachel Elrod believes the future of libraries lies in these adaptations and how we as students are taught to use them. As a member of the Library Leadership and Management Association Assessment Committee, Elrod is devoted to keeping up the relevance of libraries in the midst of the current technological revolution.

“We deal with students,” said Elrod, “We help them to find the resources they need, while also analyzing their choices so that we can provide more useful resources in the future.”

Libraries have adapted physically to accommodate our electronic baggage, but according to Elrod the real development is happening online. Our libraries provide us with access to online resources that many students don’t even know are available to us. Websites like Lynda.com and resources like eBook files of texts we may need for class are all available to us at the click of our trackpads.

With so much going on online, campus libraries and librarians are constantly adapting, looking for the latest online resources and technological updates. One major perk of being an academic librarian is that travel is a constant in your yearly schedule, according to Elrod. Librarians must travel to an assortment of national committee meetings across the country, during which they are typically given access to the latest innovations in library furniture, furniture like those fancy tables in the basement of Marston Science Library with a place for you to plug in your laptop charger and your iPhone charger at the same time.

With so much happening in the world of technology, Libraries may certainly sound archaic to us. However, these institutions are a staple in our lives as students. Libraries provide us with an endless list of resources, both physically and digitally and they are constantly growing and changing to meet the challenge of our constantly updating technology.

Public Relations in the library

 

For many people, public libraries are a fond remembrance of childhood, somewhere we went to read the latest R.L. Stine book and get our summer reading for middle school done. In these remembrances, we rarely recall who was in charge, save for the disembodied shush that would emanate from behind the main desk where the librarians sat.

As it turns out, these librarians had a job other than shushing rowdy preteens in the summer reading section. Being a librarian in a public library is actually a pretty major responsibility Nickie Kortus, Marketing and PR Manager for the Alachua County Library District, said.

A librarian’s job includes providing information services to patrons, organizing the libraries materials, understanding and implementing the libraries policies and having an immense knowledge of bibliographic, reference and database use, Kortus said. Librarians must also aide in budget preparation, creation of library research, reports, proposals and statistics, Kortus said.

Becoming a librarian isn’t such an easy task either, Kortus said. The absolute minimum requirement to be a librarian in the Alachua County Library District is a master’s degree in Library or Information science from a school accredited by the American Library Association, Kortus said.

But it’s dealing with people that makes the job worth it, Kortus said. Alachua County Libraries host over 300 programs per month, that range from one on one technology tutorials to the upcoming Fandomonium, which will be celebrating its third year in April, Kortus said.

“My personal favorite as a library staff person is watching children get excited selecting their own books after enjoying a story or puppet show,” Kortus laughed.

A big issue with libraries in the past decade or so has been whether or not technology will render them obsolete, Kortus said. However, libraries currently play a major role in bridging the digital divide, by providing internet access to all citizens and teaching them how to use it resourcefully, Kortus said.

“Library spaces are now designed to accommodate more computer workstations and places for people to work on their laptops or mobile devices,” Kortus said.

There are also plans for the near future for the addition of early learning computers, Kortus said. These computers would allow children aged 2-8 to learn computer skills through the use of educational games, Kortus said.

Specially created teen spaces will also be added in the near future, equipped with materials that will encourage teens to hang out, play games, study and read, Kortus said. In the past year the Library district purchased 64 concurrent use Minecraft educational licenses, allowing them to offer the popular building game on their new fiber optic internet service.

 

 

Getting an education in educating

For most people, the last time they set foot in an academic library is while they’re still receiving an education. For Rachel Elrod, these academic power houses are her career.

While spending her days surrounded by books sounded idyllic at first, Elrod soon discovered that the life of an academic librarian is so much more.

“We’re required to meet three columns,” Elrod said.

Librarianship, research and service. The three basic pillars of librarianship at an institution like the University of Florida, Elrod said.

Librarian’s are responsible for all of the book buying done in campus libraries, determining what is necessary to stock physically and electronically for students to access, Elrod said. On top of stocking books, they are responsible for providing aid and teaching classes to students on how to do research, Elrod said.

“We share the best ways to get the resources students might be looking for,” Elrod said.

While providing all the help she possibly can to the student body, Elrod is also working on three grants she has, as a part of her research requirement. One of these grants is the Institute of Museum and Library Services grant, which is almost $500,000 dollars for three years of research.

“We’re looking to see what choices students as young as the 4th grade all the way through graduate school make regarding selecting information sources,” Elrod said.

Elrod, along with six others, three from UF, are one year into their research and are looking forward to being able to apply what they learn to the types of resources they provide for students, both at the University and in surrounding areas, Elrod said.

Another of the grants being worked on involves the use of 3D printing as a part of the curriculum for certain courses, Elrod says. However, Elrod said, this grant is still under review and nothing has been set in stone yet.

One of the perks of the job is traveling, Elrod said. As a part of the service pillar, she is a member of several national librarian committees that meet once or twice every year, Elrod said.

While most of these trips are spent at meetings, she also gets to see the latest in books, technology and even library furniture, Elrod said.

“It’s just kind of fun to walk through all that,” Elrod said.

While Elrod has many responsibilities to both the students at the university and the members of the committee she serves on, she also enjoys working on more fun events for the Baby Gators. On March 2nd, Elrod is hosting a birthday party for Dr. Seuss, which will include live readings of some of his stories by education majors for the children, Elrod said.

“It’s going to be a really great time, for the kids and for us.”

Welcome to Gainesville Reads

My name is Jamie Shapiro, and I’m a second year journalism student at the University of Florida. I love books and reading, and I have been involved in numerous literary organizations, from book clubs to honor societies since primary school.

One thing I have discovered since coming to college is the importance of a library in my everyday life. As a lover of books, I was no stranger to the public and school libraries in my youth; but now, much older and wiser, I’ve learned just how important these institutions are.

Upon making this discovery, some questions started to come up: Who actually maintains these places? Do you actually need an education to be a librarian, or can you just get by liking books a lot? Do they care that all I do in the campus libraries is sit on my laptop and work on MyMathLab assignments?

Well the answers to these questions are: Librarians; Yes, and it’s a lot more school than most students would care to wager; and no, they encourage it actually.

To get this information, and probably a lot more than that; I’ll have to talk to actual librarians, both on the collegiate level and others; as well as other library staff members and maybe even the average student or two.

Libraries are a lot more than just some untouched books on shelves and those cool tables with USB ports. They’ve gone totally digital, in an era where information is just a Google search away, they’ve found and organized the best sources and put them on display for us to find. They’ve found ways to take the resources we need most, from free and paid for platforms and give us access to them, as students and library card holders.

On Gainesville Reads you’ll find an assortment of librarian profiles, detailing the process of becoming and working as a librarian. You’ll find interviews with collegiate and public librarians, maybe with a few others thrown in for good measure. The importance of the library will go unnoticed no longer, and the complex and constantly shifting challenges that they face will finally be brought to our attention.

Check back to see the latest librarian profiles and get inside the minds of these literary warriors.

You can contact me at jamieashapiro@gmail.com or on twitter @jamie_A_shapiro

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All books you can get from your local library! Photo taken by Jamie Shapiro.