Archiving the past, anticipating the future
Heard Libraries embrace challenges of the digital world
The tradition of collecting and storing written knowledge can be traced back more than 5,000 years, long before Aristotle taught the kings in Egypt how to arrange a library. From the Greek academy to the Age of Enlightenment, the academic library has served as the literal and academic center of the evolving modern university.
But the center is shifting. Libraries have had to change more in the last 20 years than they did in the 200 years prior. To include the expanding universe of digital resources while maintaining and updating physical resources, libraries must rethink how they will continue to be the heartbeat of modern universities.
“Today’s libraries have to focus on not losing anything and acquiring a whole set of other things.”
This challenge was the focus of a recent panel discussion for members of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust’s academic programs and student affairs committees. Board of Trust member Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., MD’70, opened the meeting, titled Research Libraries in the Age of Google. “Libraries today are an archive of academic richness, a center for research and a community hub for the university. Today’s libraries have to focus on not losing anything and acquiring a whole set of other things,” he said. “Vanderbilt’s libraries have done a good job adjusting to the electronic revolution, and the board is happy with the present and future of the library.”
Dean of Libraries Connie Vinita Dowell then began the discussion of where the library fits into the community in an age of rapidly increasing technology.
“Our collections—online, print and other formats—are still at the core of what we do,” she said. “Teaching our students the skills to be efficient and sophisticated information users in this complex research environment is key to their success at Vanderbilt and beyond. As librarians and scholars, we must be sure our students become intelligent information consumers.”
The panel consisted of Board of Trust member John R. Ingram, MBA’86; Associate Professor Vanessa B. Beasley, BA’88; Professor Marshall C. Eakin; and seniors Zye Hooks and Emily Cook.
“We have a forward-thinking dean, so we are building in the expectation of experimentation.”
—John R. Ingram
John R. Ingram:
chairman of Ingram Industries Inc. and Ingram Content Group, serving booksellers, librarians, educators and specialty retailers
“We have to determine what is the smartest way of using both old and new. We’re in a state of continuous transition, and I don’t expect that to stop anytime soon,” Ingram said. “Academic libraries will need to follow the business model of ‘failing quickly,’ … experimenting, fully expecting some of these experiments to fail. We have a forward-thinking dean, so we are building in the expectation of experimentation.
“To stay relevant, you have to anticipate needs before they emerge. In a university setting, it’s the same thing—meeting today’s needs while preparing for tomorrow’s.”
“The most important thing we can teach our students is the skill of discovering—the ability to know where to look for information and how to make consequential determinations to separate good information from less good information, and even the bad.”
Vanessa B. Beasley:
Associate Professor of Communication Studies, focusing on presidential rhetoric, U.S. political communication, and rhetorical criticism and theory
“There’s really only one place, one part of campus, whose only function is to facilitate discovery, and that is the library system. We can’t build new ways of thinking if we don’t understand the old ones,” she said.
“The library is a place and not a place at the same time—where students can go to search and talk to information experts, but also a system for bringing resources to them so they can make new discoveries on their own. The most important thing we can teach our students is the skill of discovering—the ability to know where to look for information and how to make consequential determinations to separate good information from less good information, and even the bad.”
Professor of History, specializing in the history of Latin America and Brazil; faculty director, Ingram Scholarship Program
“I always depend on the incredible expertise of the librarians called subject specialists.”
“As much as technology places the world at my fingertips, and those of my students, the key today is how to navigate this world, how to ask the right questions, to be efficient and effective in searching, to know where and how to look for information, in short—to learn how to learn.”
“I always depend on the incredible expertise of the librarians called subject specialists. They are the ones who have really had to retool, evolve and keep up with the astonishingly rapid technological transformations that have completely changed the nature of research libraries and their facilities. These subject specialist librarians at Vanderbilt have and will continue to guide us and teach us to teach our students how to do our research effectively and efficiently, with physical or digital resources.”
senior in Latin American studies and history, speaker of Vanderbilt Student Government
“During the interview process for an internship at Google, I was asked to name the one accomplishment that I was the most proud of. That was easy—my term paper for history 200w. The topic? The reaction of the conservative Chilean press to the events of the 1968 Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia. Many library staff members came to my aid as I spent countless hours reviewing 30-year-old microfilm, perusing 19th century Portuguese travel logs, and reading works regarding Latin American-U.S. relations. My marathon research sessions led me to the paper that I had previously thought impossible, which earned me an A-plus and opened the door to my future—I have a job offer from Google.”