Making connections, according to the first sentence of
University Librarian Judy Noyes' 1995-96 annual report, has been this year's
emphasis for Colgate Libraries.|
These connections go well beyond plugging in a wired campus, all the way back to the fundamentals of the university -- the relationship between teacher and student.
College libraries are high-tech wonders today, with rows of computers right alongside stacks of books. Students can renew books from their own dorm room computers. They can even search the reserve list and access sources instantly. Even materials outside the library's collection are available electronically. Despite all the advances (or because of them), students have more questions than ever and rely on the printed page.
Even the shortest excursion on the information superhighway underscores the importance of education. Now, more than ever, you can't get there from here without guidance. The business of the libraries' reference desks is ample proof.
"We really do try to do everything we can, and instruction is high on my agenda," says Noyes. Today's students have access -- in Case Library, Cooley Science Library and from any networked computer on campus -- to endless information that can be retrieved in ways that have only been possible in the last decade. There are dozens of commercial databases, search engines and menus, a vast array of electronic resources. You don't have to be over 30 to be staggered by the information age.
The library staff helps students -- and faculty -- navigate these ever-more complex systems. "Our librarians are friendly, extremely helpful and very knowledgeable," says Noyes. The staff can supply simple facts or tackle complex research questions at the reference desk. Librarians also offer workshops on library resources and manage to stay abreast of an information environment that is constantly changing.
"Information technology is evolving at such a rate it takes a cadre of librarians who are paying attention to help any academic," says Noyes. "The role of a library has always been to supply information. Now that role is greatly expanded. It's a place where librarians guide and teach students how to access information."
Noyes says making sure Colgate students have the confidence to handle information systems that will continue to change is part of her mission. "I will feel we have succeeded if students aren't afraid of new, unfolding technology."
Finding information is one skill. Dealing with it requires more traditional techniques. Thinking, discerning, making judgements.
"There is a lot of teaching at the reference desk so that students can learn how to use information," says Noyes. "Information literacy involves critical thinking. Knowing how to evaluate information is another tool Colgate students need to have in their arsenal," says Noyes.
Just as students are turning to the reference desk in record numbers, they are also using the libraries' collections more than ever. Networked electronic resources, the Internet and World Wide Web have only increased the demand for traditional library materials. Words on paper are still easier to read than the flickering images on a computer screen. Writes Noyes in the annual report, "Predictions of a paperless society are proving false here at Colgate, as elsewhere."
Feeling Colgate Libraries have responded well to the present and grown considerably, Noyes nonetheless recognizes the ever-shifting environment. "One week you're ahead, the next you're not. So much is happening so quickly. There are marvelous opportunities but none of them are free."
Finances and fast-moving changes require the libraries' staff to think carefully, weighing the needs of current curricula with what the next generations of students will find useful. "We have to make judgements and intelligent decisions on how we spend money. What we do now is a legacy."
The challenge is to provide a lasting gift for the students of future generations as well as to build a collection that is helpful for today's students. It requires time and thought.
The annual report concludes with the acknowledgement that the libraries' personnel must "redouble our instruction efforts.
"If we don't educate students carefully we leave ourselves vulnerable. It is the potential hazard of having so much information," says Judy Noyes.