State of America’s Libraries 2015


The American Library Association recently released its annual State of America’s Libraries report. The publication discusses challenges and opportunities facing libraries of all kinds. The following relevant figures are offered for academic libraries.

  • Fifty-nine percent of upper-level academic administrators consider library resources and services “very effective”. This rating is higher than that for many other services, including on-campus instruction, online programs, and scholarly research.
  • A third of college freshmen believe that their institution’s library has played a major role in their academic success and intellectual growth. Nearly half (47 percent) of seniors felt the same way.
  • Over the past three years, more than three-fifths (62.6 percent) of academic libraries have changed how certain space in the library is used, modifying the layout to accommodate study spaces, writing and tutoring centers, and technology labs. The percentage of libraries that have made these changes is highest among research and doctorate-granting institutions (79.5 percent).
  • Construction of new buildings has continued, although the pace has slowed considerably. In 2014, only four new buildings were constructed; this compares to an average of over 16 per year from 2000 to 2013.
  • Research and doctorate-granting institutions continue to employ the largest number of individuals who are professional librarians, with an average of just under 50. Institutions that award only associate’s degrees have an average of just over 5 professional librarians.
  • The percentage of recent library-school graduates whose first job was in an academic library declined from 33.3 percent in 2012 to 26.3 percent in 2013.
  • Discouragingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, less than one percent of college freshmen wants to become a librarian.

To view the entire report, click here. Apps for Easter tomb          Gethesmane

With Easter just around the corner, here are two apps that present a new way of “visiting” a few of the sites most closely associated with the holiday. The Gethsemane 3D and Garden Tomb 3D apps, both produced by (the company has created a number of other apps related to important sites in the Holy City) allow one to take a walk-through tour, at either a brisk pace or a leisurely stroll. As on a real tour, one can stop and learn more about each part of a site, including background on the significance of various locations to Christians worldwide. Adding to the “you are there” feeling is the level of visual detail, such as wear-and-tear on rocks and chips in paintings. The apps could provide more historical background on life in Jerusalem during the first century. Also, a recreation of these locations as they may have appeared during the time of Jesus would enhance the educational value of the apps. That having been said, the apps effectively meet their goal of transporting the user to the sites, an experience that is particularly valuable, as it is becoming more difficult to visit these places in person due to the ongoing turmoil in the region.

Cuban Missile Crisis App


In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, and March as Irish-American Heritage Month, here is an app that covers the foremost crisis of the presidency of John F. Kennedy, one of the most noteworthy Americans of Irish descent. “To the Brink”, which is based on an exhibit at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, chronicles the key moments in the Cuban Missile Crisis. In addition to information on the crisis itself, the app includes documents, such as memoranda, from the major participants. The strength of the app is in its presentation. The account of events is divided into paragraph-long sections, requiring one to slide to the next screen in order to continue reading. This makes the story of the crisis read like a thriller, with a cliffhanger “ending” for each snippet. Also, the documents are easy to view, including zooming in, which is especially helpful given that some of them have notes in handwriting.

The app is a bit short on content, however. A guide to the key players, in addition to more information on the events leading up to the crisis, would have been helpful for understanding the broader historical context. (A sliding timeline of events, something that has been used effectively in other history-oriented apps, would have been another nice touch.) These concerns aside, “To the Brink” is a good value for a free app, and it can serve as a useful starting-off point for a more in-depth examination of one of the pivotal events of the Cold War.

Future of Libraries: Combining Technology and Teaching

Kyle McKenzie and Corey Meade's 3D-printed audio bracelet. Photo by Marc Hall

This article, from American Libraries Magazine, discusses the future of academic libraries, particularly collaboration between librarians and faculty. Reaching out to faculty has, of course, been a hallmark of academic libraries for some time. Giving classroom instruction sessions and, when possible, embedding in a course to help students complete a semester-long project, has helped libraries demonstrate their usefulness in the broader academic mission of the institution. At the same time, these activities give libraries an opportunity to make both faculty and students aware of the resources they offer, which will, one hopes, encourage increased use of the library outside of the classroom setting.
Author Joan Lippincott goes a step further, however, in suggesting that libraries use trendy new technologies–along the lines of 3-D printers and Google Glass—in helping students complete assignments. Libraries have already promoted technology in the classroom setting, but that has generally taken the form of databases. Databases are probably not considered a “cool” technology, at least by younger learners, especially since databases can be cumbersome to navigate, even if they do retrieve more results that are useful for schoolwork than does Google. (For adult students who are old enough to remember plowing through the card catalog or paging through magazines, being able to search for and retrieve article instantaneously probably does come across as something neat and exciting.)
The other side of the coin is that, while libraries do possess trendy new technologies, the purpose they serve is generally restricted to the library itself. For instance, while students may use QR codes to play a game during orientation, how many of those students actually go on to use QR codes in schoolwork? In other words, their use pretty much begins and ends during the first week of a student’s college career. To some on campus, it may seem as if the technologies are simply there for show, without really having any purpose in helping the library fulfill its mission and that of the broader institution.
Lippincott’s approach solves both of these problem, while, at the same time, fostering collaboration with faculty and teamwork among students (many technologies are most appropriate for group work). There are added benefits, however, to libraries’ wholeheartedly embracing these new technologies. Beyond  just being useful for classwork, these technologies may, to many students, be a novelty, something about which they have read but that they have not had an opportunity to try themselves, mainly because the technologies are some time away from being affordable to individuals. College-level databases are likely a novelty for students, but students gain experience using a search engine any time they type something into Google or Bing. Even if the technologies are not required for a class assignment, students may have a desire to go to the library simply to take a look at them. (It is hard to imagine students, beyond the most motivated ones, exploring JSTOR or Hoover’s just for the sake of experiencing a database.)
Furthermore, promoting the use of these technologies in completing assignments increases the library’s relevance to students, particularly as a place that is more than just a repository of academic materials that may seem dry, even if some of those materials are online instead of gathering dust on a shelf. On top of that, it increases faculty familiarity with the technological resources a library offers. Just as with students, faculty may be aware of these new technologies but have not had an opportunity to use them. As mentioned earlier, including library technology in assignments gives librarians yet another way to insert themselves into the learning experience.
What are your thoughts on this approach? Does promoting library technology, beyond just databases and other online “research resources”, build on what libraries have already done in fostering collaboration? Or, is it another step away from the “traditional” role of libraries, a step that gives ammunition to those who believe that libraries are becoming too much a social space where students play with technological gizmos?

Library Branches in Airports and Malls

mall library

This article, from American Libraries Direct, discusses the growth of library branches within airports. These branches take the form of kiosks, from which one can check out e-books. For travelers who need something to read on a trip and would prefer to avoid lugging around a print book from a newsstand, a library kiosk is a great convenience. Having a library presence in an airport is not only a creative way for libraries to promote their presence, but also, in the case of international airports, advertises civic institutions to visitors from other lands. About only a half-dozen airports in the U.S.–most of them large international ones–currently have library branches, but the number is expected to grow. Airports, however, aren’t the only “non-traditional” location for branch libraries, however.

Malls are another location that has seen a growing library presence in recent years. (In my personal experience, I have visited just one mall library, at the Genesee Valley Center in Flint, Michigan.) While some library “traditionalists” ridicule the notion of placing what is supposed to be a beacon of enlightenment into a bastion of materialism, the idea makes sense on a number of levels, especially since attracting patrons is becoming ever more crucial to libraries’ survival these days. Branch libraries have been around for years, of course, but they have often been freestanding buildings in residential areas; outside of neighborhood children needing a place to hang out after school, these locations are unlikely to draw many other people, beyond those who have a specific intent to use that particular library.

Putting a library branch into the middle of a commercial development, however, draws people who may have had no intention of using a library on a shopping trip but who find it a convenient place to stop and rest (and, perhaps, find a good book or two). Also, since larger malls tend to be in the outlying areas of cities, locating a branch there makes library use more feasible for those who, for whatever reason, do not make the trip to the downtown location. An added benefit of having a library branch in a mall is that it gives the library’s system an opportunity to build relationships with businesses, who play a crucial role in the community outreach, such as offering classes on various hobbies, that is such a large part of libraries’ missions these days. And, unlike in an airport, the majority of the visitors to a mall are likely to be locals, meaning that a higher proportion of the people who use a mall library are likely to continue using the library’s services outside of the mall, including visiting the main branch.

Even if one does not have an interest in browsing books, one can still use a mall library for working on a personal laptop or a library computer. (The library might be one of the few places in a mall in which one can find much peace and quiet, particularly if the mall lacks a sit-down restaurant or café.) One key to the success of any mall library is putting it close to the entrance, so that shoppers will be hard-pressed to miss it on their way into, or out of, the mall. The branch of the Genesee District Library located in the Flint mall is right next to one of the entrances and has always been busy when I’ve dropped by.

Expanding the discussion to academic libraries, would putting a branch into a mall be feasible? Interestingly, the University of Phoenix has a “campus” in that same mall in Flint. While it might be hard to include a physical library as part of a college or university’s mall presence, this is where the kiosk comes in. Not only would it promote a library’s services, but it would also make current and potential students more aware of a key library resource, e-books, that is underutilized. Although it is hard to know the extent to which kiosk users might build on their use of e-books, or a library’s services more generally, students and others would at least become aware that an academic library has more to offer than just dry print books for writing papers. At the very least, having a presence of some kind at a mall–still a major hangout for high school students–enables a library to play a role in recruiting prospective students to a college or university; this gives libraries another opportunity to prove their continuing usefulness to the larger institutions of which they are a part.

Any thoughts on the feasibility of having an academic-library presence of some kind–whether it be a kiosk or a small physical location–in a mall?

Mount Rushmore Virtual Tour app

Mount Rushmore Virtual Tour

In honor of Presidents’ Day and Lincoln’s Birthday, here is an app offering a virtual tour of the most famous presidential monument, Mount Rushmore. The Mount Rushmore Virtual Tour presents a photographic overview of the monument’s construction, including the scale model upon which the monument was based. There are also interesting facts about the construction process, such as that more than 800 million pounds of stone had to be removed in order to carve the presidents’ faces, or that it took over 400 workers 14 years to complete the monument.

The app goes beyond just the monument itself, however, to give a “walking” tour of the entire national park, from the Avenue of Flags at the park’s entrance to the Presidents’ Trail that runs in front of the monument. For those who yearn to know what it feels like to stand on Mount Rushmore (the monument itself is off-limits to the public), the app provides stunning views from the cliff leading up to the presidents’ faces and from the very top of the monument,conveying a sense of the size and grandeur of Mount Rushmore, something that is not as easily captured in a photo from a distance. Unlike most apps, Mount Rushmore Virtual Tour actually explains the methods by which such stunning images, including 3-D laser scans, are captured. (In this case, the images were taken by rappellers who scanned the monument as part of a digital-preservation project.) Although this app does have a tendency to crash, that it is free and offers a stunning visual overview of the monument and its park more than compensates. This is one app that truly lives up to the “Virtual Tour” part of its name.

Fire at Moscow Library


This is the biggest fear of any library, although, in this case, luckily, no one was hurt. The blaze at the main library for the Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences damaged or destroyed about 15 percent of the library’s 14 million documents (about 2.1 million items). The library has a number of rare Slavic texts, in addition to works on politics and economics that were removed from Germany after World War II. There are also many government documents, dating as far back as 1789, from various countries, including the U.S. Even though some of the materials, particularly United Nations documents, can probably be replaced, the damage is expected to hinder seriously the Institute’s role as  a research center. Also, although the blaze has been extinguished, there is still a possibility that the building could collapse, due to structural damage and high temperatures. Arson has been suggested as a cause, but authorities claim that a short circuit likely started the fire. It is not clear, at this time, how much financial support the Institute will receive from Russian President Vladimir Putin to rebuild parts of the library and repair or replace the damaged materials. (additional photos, and also a video, of the blaze and efforts to put it out)