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What We Learned From The Chronicle of Higher Education's "In Defense of Libraries" Webinar

3/21/23 -

Occuspace partnered with The Chronicle for "In Defense of Libraries” webinar on March 21 to discuss the ways libraries are advocating for their importance as central hubs for community, learning, and connection on campus. These are our key takeaways from the event.

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Hosted by Scott Carlson, Senior Writer at The Chronicle, with panelists:

  • Gale Etschmaier, Dean of University Libraries, Florida State University
  • Niraj Chaudhary, Dean of William Knox Holt Memorial Library and Learning Center, University of the Pacific
  • Todd Carpenter, Executive Director, National Information Standards Organization (NISO)


Key Highlights

  • The role of the library is a center for independent learning, scholarship, and community.
  • Establishing relationships with faculty is key to maintaining the relevance of libraries for multiple reasons.
  • Libraries are by no means “dusty” or “dimly lit,” in fact, they have evolved to vibrant and vital hubs for student and faculty resources and study.
  • While the digital generation of students is used to technology, faculty incorrectly assume students will find the materials they need. That's when librarians are essential.
  • Digital resources and AI technologies like ChatGPT should not be viewed as a threat. Instead, they present an opportunity to position library professionals as sources of truth backed by resources and research.

The Evolution of Libraries - Don't Call Us "Dusty"

Overall, participants feel libraries have been nimble and responsive to the changing needs of students, faculty, and staff. They have retained their place as a central hub for connection, community, digital resources, and scholarship.

Gale Estchmaier, dean of libraries at Florida State University (FSU), commented that libraries help facilitate independent learning that no other campus space or digital medium can support, leading to a more skilled workforce.

The consensus from panelists and participants is that the depiction of the library as a “dusty, dimly lit” appendage to a college campus is no more. Campus stakeholders need to understand how libraries support the mission of the institution in an integral way.

Niraj Chaudhary, dean of William Knox Holt Memorial Library and Learning Center at University of the Pacific, commented that to remain relevant and thrive, libraries must "align with the institution's goals specifically when it comes to student success and retention."

In fact, during the pandemic, the FSU libraries were the last places to close and the first to open on campus. As the pandemic eased and students returned to campus, there was fear about whether students would return but, according to Estchmaier, they have returned in force.

"One of the key strengths of the library and library community is in discernment. As more and more content is digitally available and open-accessed, finding the information you need can take time and resources, and information professionals can provide that support to the community."- Todd Carpenter, Executive Director of the National Information Standards Organization (NISO)


Prioritizing Faculty Relationships & Student Success

When it comes to advocating for the relevance of academic libraries, the panelists agreed that the library's involvement with faculty is critical. Their guidance includes finding ways to understand faculty needs for both instruction and research, hearing their pain points, and partnering with them in the role of resource data management.

"We've taken the approach of co-teaching with faculty, going to department meetings, presenting data on the student perspective and what students are coming to librarians with. It has to be a broad approach and having as many conversations as you can," said Estchmaier.

Meanwhile, improving student experiences in library spaces to connect them to the library, staff, and resources has been pivotal for University of the Pacific. For example, they put the library at the center of admissions tours, require information literacy in general education courses, offer resources for seniors to work on their capstone presentations, and even laser tag events that are popular on campus.

"We have purposefully integrated ourselves [the library] in the student journey every place we can find in trying to make ourselves more visible and relevant to students."- Niraj Chaudhary, dean of William Knox Holt Memorial Library and Learning Center at University of the Pacific


Digital's Role in the Defense of Libraries

Data is at the heart of our panelists' strategies to support library structure and outcomes. In fact, Estchmaier mentioned the library created a "primitive form of occupancy monitoring" years ago to help determine if they should be open on specific days and hours. They compared the traffic data to the operational costs of keeping the spaces open and determined they could reduce open hours. She referenced that while the data wasn't as granular as, for example, Occuspace's, the combined empirical data with anecdotal feedback is the mix needed to support library needs.

When it comes to defending libraries, "the storytelling that goes beyond just straight data can be the most compelling evidence you have," said Estchmaier.

Then there are AI tools like ChatGPT that panelists agreed need to be embraced and leveraged by library teams, but not relied on for accuracy outright.

Carpenter cautioned that trusting what AI tools present can be misleading, "Are you presuming that what is written for you is correct? It's an information literacy and sourcing problem. The proof is lacking. These are the skills that librarians and faculty can help students with by incorporating technology into their skill set."

Finally, when it comes to advocating for physical library spaces to meet stakeholder needs, new technology like occupancy sensors are increasingly important. The Chronicle polled the nearly 1,000 webinar participants to learn if funding at their institution had increased, decreased, or stayed the same. A majority of respondents (48%) said funding had decreased. Nic Halverson, CEO of Occuspace, commented during the webinar that by analyzing foot traffic data, libraries can tell a story about actual library use to support future budget and funding requests - or help administrators know where to position the current budget toward.


If you'd like to watch the full webinar, here is the link to the recorded session.

Contact us to learn more about how Occuspace is helping university leaders optimize their physical spaces to better serve student and administrator needs.