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MSU Library looks to new services, technology, despite problems

March 29, 2014

The MSU Main Library is fighting to be more than just a place for books. 

Newer services, resources and collections have allowed the library to serve a wider variety of student needs, but a lack of more usable space and specialized staff might be barring the library from reaching its full potential, Director of Libraries Cliff Haka said .

Haka added he believes MSU libraries have been “massively under-invested in” throughout the years.

Keeping up online

Last year, MSU libraries taught 436 integrated information literacy sessions, which attempted to teach students how to navigate sources on the Internet and distinguish between reputable from non-reputable. As the Internet has become the go-to for papers and research, the library has focused its efforts accordingly by spending 75 percent of its annual budget on electronic resources.

Many books, textbooks and course packs are available online for student use and purchase, including digitized copies of older books.

This semester was the first time MSU was able to offer an e-coursepack pilot program, Assistant Director for Text Management and Interlibrary Services Colleen Hyslop said.

Hyslop said the main goal of the project was to keep costs low for students and to secure copyright clearance for course pack materials to protect the university from lawsuits. Although the project is in a pilot stage now, Hyslop said she hoped the program would catch on with students.

Staff and space struggles

During a presentation Haka gave to the University Council at the March 25 meeting, he noted that MSU library staff is many times smaller than that of peer institutions, like University of Michigan. Haka also said the Main Library has about 1,000 fewer seats than it did in the ‘80s.

On top of that, the Main Library has no choice but to house its most rare and valuable collections in the basement, where they risk flooding or other climate-related damage.

While the Main Library has a number of extensive collections, the most notable is the turfgrass information file, which Haka mentioned was one of the most extensive and best in the world.

Assistant Director for Collections Steven Sowards said he sometimes worries about floods and the specific needs of expensive special materials in high-security, climate-controlled environments. In addition, collections that the library wants students to see and use are tucked away.

In an ideal world, the library executive council would like to procure funding for a new addition to the first floor of the library, that would showcase special collections in a more safe environment.

“Most of us believe it’s our special collections that will distinguish us going forward as opposed to the general vanilla stuff, which is important,” Assistant Director for Digital Information and Systems Shawn Nicholson said.

Additional library staff is also needed to assist students and faculty — Haka has a plan to add 20 new librarians over the next five years that can help students with big data and data visualization.

Haka found that the average number of librarians between the U-M and University of Wisconsin is 225. MSU has 83 librarians.

“I seriously believe that people either not understanding what librarians can bring to the table and getting their assistance, or by us not having enough people to get out there and kind of push ourselves in your face and say ‘here’s some help we can offer you,’ which happens at these other places, I think we put ourselves at an extreme disadvantage,” Haka said.


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