Message from Tom Wall, University Librarian
It’s hard to believe it, but March 1st marks my three-year anniversary at Boston College. I’m not so naïve as to think it’s been all roses, although through the combined efforts of our staff, the support from the University Administration and a collaborative and entrepreneurial approach it’s safe to say we’ve accomplished a lot in a relatively short period. I’d like to highlight a few items, and then provide a glimpse going forward.
When I arrived many folks were expecting immediate changes to our operations. Instead, we took a more strategic view, and I asked our staff to help establish a culture that valued collaboration and innovation, had a reasonable tolerance for risk and focused on our library users. I did not want people to think I had all the answers or that all the fine work before I entered the picture was devalued. So we adopted the “good to great” mantra and began to work in a learning environment that was both vertically and horizontally integrated, as well as reaching out to faculty and students with open interest and with the knowledge that we do indeed value and respond to their input.
During my first summer, based on faculty input we allocated 150K of funds to address holes in the monographs collections. Virtually every faculty request was met. In subsequent years we have purchased many digital journal back files and other one-time cost databases. Our collections budget has grown significantly, and we strive to meet all faculty requests. Though maintaining a robust collections budget that mirrors journal inflation continues to be a challenge, we are working closely with the Provost to ensure that we maintain access to all materials needed by everyone in our community.
Our physical spaces have been in need of refurbishment for a long time. To that end we have taken a measured longer-term view of space utilization. We began with a renovated Educational Resource Center in 2009. Around the same time the Group Study Rooms on O’Neill Level Five were equipped with new furniture and technology conducive for project-based collaborative learning. We also opened up the O’Neill Library Level One entrance by the Maloney Building and installed printing, look-up technology, new seating, a popular reading collection, a student art gallery and a few vending machines for student convenience, as well as a service point. Moreover, we have updated our microfilm area and are currently exploring the latest technologies to make use of microforms easier and more efficient. We are currently planning a summer project that will further transform the Level One spaces by adding more user seating, maximizing natural light and creating collaborative opportunities for our students.
O’Neill Level Three, the main floor, has also undergone a transformation. The former Reserves Room has been expanded and made into a reading area with a mixed landscape of furniture. The O’Neill Reading Room has become an important destination for students for quiet study as well as small group meetings.
A new business service center concept was introduced this past fall on Level Three in what was formerly known as the Current Periodicals area. This space had been occupied with unbound periodicals and a few printers. However, we realized that not only was the area not particularly inviting, we were missing opportunities to provide enhanced business-like services to users. Renovated with a service desk and equipment the new business center provides assistance for printing, basic technology, copying, scanning and reformatting materials. To get the additional space, we removed print journals that were available in digital format. The result was the addition of about 50 new student seats and a sustainable business center that is very effective at serving user needs.
We have also installed some new monitors in the lobby and created a more user-friendly New Books area. The monitor as you enter the O’Neill Library conveys library information. The vertical monitor in the Lobby focuses on community information, such as BC-sanctioned events and student interest materials. The monitor near the New Book shelves highlights our digital collections, both in Burns and BC’s other libraries. Because an important part of our overall plan calls for greater appreciation and use of our world-class special collections, we have recently installed two elegant display cases in the O’Neill Reading Room that highlight our Burns materials and collections. Three new display cases are being installed in the O’Neill Lobby later this spring that will emphasize our vast collections and resources and serve as opportunities for commemorating Boston College’s Sesquicentennial. The Library will be a key contributor to this yearlong celebration by, among other programs, highlighting our many treasures in the Burns Library through a robust digitalization program as well as this new and expanded approach to exhibits.
Special collections represent the truly unique materials in an increasingly interconnected and digital world. These special materials are invariably print based and form a critical link to our past and a reminder of our intellectual heritage. We now take a much more utilitarian view of special collections; an approach that I think Ignatius of Loyola would welcome. We want and encourage all members of our community to come in and discover our collections, to be awed by their splendor, and above all to use them. We will continue our commitment to collecting materials, but are redoubling our efforts in making these materials discoverable, usable and accessible to faculty, researchers and students.
We are in the process of reviewing our overall service program. We are going to put resources into enhancing the first year experience. We will also integrate all collection and public services librarians into our instruction program across departments and schools. Moreover, we have been using technology to reach out to library users with mobile apps for smart phones, text messaging, e-mail and Facebook. We are also implementing e-book services that can be used with most devices (Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc.) In addition, we will be examining the changing purpose of the traditional reference desk and exploring scenarios that better enhance the user experience for our services, collections and spaces. We will continue to look into what “open access” means for Boston College and further develop our institutional repository. Finally, e-science initiatives are being explored and again, we will be seeing what works best for Boston College.
Future projects and directions will continue with the “good to great” theme, but with an emphasis on resource allocation and content integration. Ultimately this process will guide us in making choices that: 1) determine where we will commit to distinction; 2) identify areas for growth, opportunity and innovation, with calculated risk; and 3) ensure we completely support all those operations without which the former two areas cannot be sustained.
In closing I want to extend heartfelt appreciation to all of you that have made these past three years productive and gratifying. I am proud to be part of a great University. Input from thoughtful faculty and students have been drivers in most of the above initiatives, and the staff in the libraries has shown great resolve in making these things not only possible, but also real. Finally, special thanks to the Senior Administration of Boston College for their ongoing support.
As always, feel free to contact me with concerns, suggestions and ideas.