Library as Heart of Institution not "Vanity Projects"

In an Instagram video, former Fox News host Greta Van Susteren proclaimed that she is “scandalized” by the cost of education and how college students are saddled with “gigantic student loans.” Law schools are certainly at the forefront of this criticism as nearly 85% of law students graduate with over $100,000 in student debt.

Van Susteren went on to post similar comments on Twitter, exclaiming, “Colleges should stop building vanity projects like huge libraries and billing students -- full libraries are on our smartphones!”

As noted on InsideHigherEd, those comments ... are destructively misleading to the general public as well as higher education administrators and legislative decision makers about the significant contributions academic libraries make to teaching and learning.

Academic librarians play a vital part in the education ecosystem, putting information into context for students by distinguishing information from knowledge and offering direct assistance to constituents in a personal way that cannot be replicated by an electronic device. In addition, students who receive information-literacy instruction as part of their courses achieve higher grades and demonstrate increased research fluency than students who do not receive such instruction. Further, a library’s research and study areas offer a destination for those who can’t afford quiet space as well as fostering social and academic community among students. 

Far from being tangential to the learning process on our college campuses, libraries -- the physical buildings themselves -- are as essential to the classroom as an artery is to the heart. Or as I have previously posted, maybe it's the other way around with the classroom being an artery to the heart of the institution, i.e, the library.

Academic libraries provide, in part:

  • (for the haves and the have-nots) spaces or commons -- primarily “high-tech ready” in nature -- that offer general and subject-specific equipment, software and web-delivered content for individual access and study. They also offer collaborative spaces for students to work together with each other in small groups and with classroom faculty to study and create content.
  • spaces for STEM and STEAM discovery or maker space environments for students anywhere in the program or the curriculum -- especially those who don’t have access to departmental labs, where spaces are often reserved for students majoring in those specific areas.
  • open labs and flexible, individual computer spaces with equipment and software unique to special research or subject area populations, such as geographic information systems or statistical software packages to process data used in the study of social and natural sciences. They also serve special needs students, faculty members and staff.

Academic libraries provide not only access to content within their buildings but also equipment and technology that students can check out and use in their educational pursuits. (This takes space for not only storage but also delivery of resources.)

Additionally, academic library professionals, often faculty members themselves, are experts in areas of research, and they work in partnership with classroom instructors in the design and delivery of curricula. They also:
  • partner with classroom faculty members in the design and delivery of courses requiring critical thinking and information literacy as well as subject-targeted assignments;
  • are champions for and leaders in open educational resources that provide vetted, free content for students who can’t afford textbooks, a large part of the price tag of college;
  • build digital as well as print collections to reflect classroom faculty research, recommended research by other experts and subject content required by external regional and national accreditation bodies -- such as digital and print content for the health sciences and business-management curricula; and,
  • acquire, curate, design and deliver online content and competency lessons (online tutorials, streamed office hours with library experts) for students to access on their smartphones.
While facilities are a huge issue for keeping costs under control, it is shortsighted to take aim at the library. 

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