Libraries provide a poignant example of institutions adapting to the student as cyborg, half person and half technology. Of course, I don’t mean literally a cyborg, but instead I refer to the product of humans interacting with technology. A student with a smartphone has different capabilities, goals, and intentions, than a student without.
Libraries walk the line between providing the physical space for students to conduct research, and a resource to access information, which is beginning a digital transition.
The library is a physical entity located centrally at the core of Symons campus; it is also a virtual entity providing academic resources to students, faculty, and alumni; it is an archive for regional documents; and lastly, it is a composite of librarians who impart skills and knowledge upon those who ask for it.
This article explores how Bata Library negotiates its identity as a physical space for students and a virtual resource for information.
A Space for Students
“The Library is considered to be the central building of the campus, the one building used by all members of the University. It has therefore been placed at the confluence of all pedestrian traffic, making it the proper hub of the University,” writes Ron Thom, the Master Architect for Trent University, in the Master Plan (1964).
The library as a building was designed to be much more than a repository for books. It was designed to be the hub of university life and a forum for the Trent community to connect. Today, it is one of the primary spaces used by students meeting to work on assignments and sometimes to socialize.
Architecturally, Bata Library was designed to jut out over the river and provide a beautiful complement to the Otonabee River for outside observers; as well, it was designed to offer a beautiful view for the building’s occupants over the natural landscape. Thom’s vision for the university united all facets of the built environment with the natural landscape.
As per Ron Thom’s style, the building forces the pedestrian to walk through closed, tunnel-like passages into an open and light-filled atrium at the centre of the building. The atrium was designed to provide a “vital visual connection joining various parts of the library (Ron Thom 1967).”
For the individual, the library provides categorical spaces for different learners. These are divided into different coloured zones for different work environments.
The second floor is a Green Zone that permits socializing and group meetings. The third floor is a Red Zone that provides and demands silence from occupants. The fourth floor is a Yellow Zone that is somewhere in between.
As Ellen Olsen-Lynch, a learning and liaison librarian, puts it, “we introduced those spaces so that people could go to a space where they knew what to expect.”
The library certainly provides excellent spaces for the individual student to hole up using the carrels provided, reading rooms, or group study spaces, if they are available.
Recent debates over the Trent Central Student Association’s (TCSA) plans for a student centre have cited a lack of student meeting spaces on campus due to overcrowding at the library. It may have transpired that the library is too popular a hub for students and it does not adequately meet the demand for group study spaces.
‘Traditional’ forms of libraries have also emphasized the storage and accessibility of resources, namely: books.
Trent University’s Instructions to the Master Planner specified that, “[the student] should be aware of books from the moment he enters the library and should learn to move among them with ease, familiarity, and understanding.”
With the transition away from physical books toward digital media and e-books, the role of books in this environment is being negotiated.
Resources for the Community
“The library of the future serves people and is not just a repository, but a place for knowledge acquisition,” said Loretta Durst, Manager of Communication and Administration at Bata Library.
While much of academic information moves online, libraries are forced to reassess their techniques for facilitating learning. The priorities of libraries are shifting from physical resources to include access to online resources. This happens through the acquisition of digital media, digitization, and teaching programs for research skills.
Durst describes one of the most important roles that Bata Libraries fulfills is material acquisition.
Historically, acquisition has referred to physical monographs (books), maps, photographs and periodicals. Today, acquisitions include access to an array of electronic media. Bata Library pays for the university’s access to online databases like JSTOR and EBSCO, which each open a vast repository for digital periodicals.
Furthermore, Bata pays for subscriptions to ebook hosts like Oxford University.
The move into digital resources allows members of the Trent community to access information wherever they are. Research is no longer limited to the physical library building; it can take place at home, in restaurants, and around the world.
Bata provides access to all of their resources to students on and off campus using proxy servers that give researchers’ computers the necessary IP address for websites to recognize that the request is coming from Trent.
Proxy servers also allow the library to collect data on how frequently databases are being used, which helps determine funding allocation later on.
The ability to search the Internet for research vastly changes the geography of research. Search engines open the door for researchers to discover and access obscure sources that they may not have discovered with physical indices.
Part of the issue, however, is that non-scholarly search engines, like Google, can deliver questionable sources.
Bata Library mitigates this issue by providing students and researchers with the skills to critically examine the suitability of sources depending on their needs.
Librarian Ellen Olsen-Lynch said, “We want to make sure students leave here with the skills not only for university but also lifelong skills such as learning how to weed through information and evaluate a source.”
Librarians can offer skill development as well as immediate assistance in finding appropriate resources for specific research.
The library also offers services that fill the gaps of the collection. RACER and inter-library loan programs offer researchers and students the opportunity to request materials from other Ontario university libraries.
The ability to search the Internet for resources opens the realm of possibilities and expectations for students. Through programs like this, Bata is able to account for materials that exist but are not on hand.
Unique to Bata is the endowment of a regional archive of historically significant documents, photos, illustrations and maps. “It’s an important asset for researchers as well as in its role as a repository for regional assets,” said Durst.
Bata also accepts donations of personal collections and can set up designated reading rooms that display these collections. My personal favourite study spot is the Indigenous Studies Reading area that secludes a silent study area with the donated collection of Mary Hanbridge.
The Library of the Future
In September of this year, Bata Library released a draft of its newly minted Strategic Plan 2014-2017.
In this document, the university lays out its plan for this exact issue of balancing the physical space and the virtual resource. “[The library’s] major challenge is continuing to offer important traditional services and collections while at the same time offering relevant technologically-enabled services. We still need library buildings, but library collections and services are increasingly available online, accessible throughout the campus, at home, or in the community; in fact, almost anywhere that there is an Internet connection.”
Key to the library’s strategy for the upcoming years is flexibility. Bata Library hopes to remain flexible and attuned to the changes in library uses for the purpose of best serving the needs of the Trent community. The librarians and administrative staff welcome student and researcher input in the planning and implementation of these plans.
The Library Advisory Committee provides the catalyst between library administration, faculty, and students through representatives. Further than this, librarians are accessible for conversation and assistance.