Westvik, Tale. ”Hva skal vi med biblioteket?” Universitetsavisa, 2008-01-08 translated from Norwegian by Brinxmat.
Visitor numbers are falling at the same time as millions of books being removed from circulation at foreign universities, but NTNU Library, Norway, is going against the flow.
Statistics from a new study produced by The Society of College, National and University Libraries (Sconul) show that the number of visitors to British university libraries has fallen by more than 20% in the last ten years. Millions of volumes are being removed from the shelves leaving gaping holes in the collections. Is the same trend seen at NTNU? We went to the university library at Dragvoll to find out.
The changing role of the library
Libraries have been forced to undergo drastic changes during the last few years. While the traditional library was mainly a space for physical books and journals, the library of today has developed into a “world library” with access to enormous numbers of information sources. The ability to find, evaluate and use information is a skill that is rapidly becoming more important in the digital age. A student or researcher that has these skills gets significantly more value from their study and research.
If users manage the traditional tasks of ordering books and finding information on the Net in the form of electronic resources, the library faces new challenges. Librarians have an important role as problem solvers and supervisors in the hunt for quality information.
‘We are convinced that we have to constantly adapt. Previously, the physical resources were our sole item, knowledge transfer was almost non-existent. Today, we see a completely different trend and users have different needs now’ says Dragvoll Head of Section, Harald Bøhn.
Helping people to help themselves
Which problems can the library help solve?
Bøhn thinks that the library is becoming an important arena for learning about learning. The modern educational society is deluged with volumes of information and working with this means sorting and selecting information.
‘It is more important than ever before that students learn how to find literature and quality sources and what constitutes these. We have to help the students to become information literate.’
The library director at NTNU Library, Ingar Lomheim agrees: ‘Particularly as a consequence of the recent moves towards project-based learning, much group-based activity is required. In addition, students have to a greater extent to find information independently. It is here that the role of the library is very important and this is something that the students have understood.’
Bøhn points out that a key factor in the library’s contribution is the creation of an environment that stimulates and paves the way for learning:
‘Before, our spaces were almost completely occupied by bookshelves, with very few workspaces. Around four years ago, we decided that we would put the majority of our older books in closed stacks and rather use the space for quality and varied workspaces. Group rooms, sofa areas and not least workspaces with computers make it possible for students to use the library in new ways.’
Bøhn proudly shows the statistics for visitor numbers at Dragvoll, which has seen numbers rise by almost 100,000 in the last three years, an increase of around 40%.
‘We have made a conscious choice to integrate access to different kinds of information, and the high numbers of visitors shows that this policy is well received, particularly in regard to the great increase in numbers of workspaces at Dragvoll.’
This increase in number of visitors can be seen across the board at the majority branch libraries of NTNU Library; the total number of visitors at NTNU Library has increased from 642,065 to 790,427 between 2003 and 2007.
Only a weak downturn in these figures was observed in 2006; Ingar Lomheim explains ‘2006 was characterized by a lot of building and interior design work, which probably explains why there were fewer visitors.’
The only library that hasn’t had an increase in its number of visitors was Gunnerus library, how can this be explained?
‘Gunnerus library is probably the library that is most behind the times when it comes to modern, contemporary design and they also had staffing problems last year, something that contributed to their not being able to maintain the opening hours that they wanted’ replies Lomheim.
Dragvoll library has made books available on the internet to a lesser extent than other libraries, and maintains a solid focus on printed books.
Why don’t you concentrate more on eBooks?
‘Dragvoll library is a special case because the digital revolution hasn’t made its mark here to the same extent as at other libraries’ explains Harald Bøhn ‘The printed book is still the favoured medium for the academic communities we serve. This can be seen in connection with the fact that old knowledge is more important for this type of academic community [arts, humanities and social sciences] than for many technology related subjects or medicine, where focus is placed on the newest research. Books are both used and requested to a great extent at Dragvoll and it is important to remember that old knowledge is also useful knowledge.’
‘Research from many technological subjects is published electronically to a greater extent; it is important to disseminate the newest results quickly, and publishing in printed books just takes too much time. When the book finally arrives at the library, it is in many cases already too late.’
Harald Bøhn also points out that literature is used in different ways by the different academic communities, ‘students and researchers at Dragvoll like to read and leaf through books. For some people, this might seem a bit old fashioned, and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have an eye on digital resources; their number is increasing steadily, but in some areas their functionality just isn’t good enough yet.’
The library in the future
Harald Bøhn is eager to point out that academic profile and quality are important parameters in regard to attracting researchers and students. In this matter, NTNU’s knowledge repository is an important strategic tool.
‘Our ambition is to create an open library and our task is to support learning, observe how learning takes place and pave the way for both staff and students in their search for information. Our contribution to the university is precisely to make research possible and have resources and skills available.’
As a final comment, Harald offers a challenge: ‘The library is not an isolated department, we’re part of NTNU. I feel that there is too little consciousness about this fact, and I miss engagement on the part of the university regarding what the role of the library should have in connection with learning — how our offering can strengthen NTNU as a university that attracts students and researchers. We would like a greater level of dialogue about the direction that it is desirable for us to go in, and that it becomes possible for the library to have a key role at the university. We have many ideas ourselves, but a better dialogue is always welcome’.
[Thanks to Universitetsavisa for their permission to reproduce this article]
Tags: library of the future