Evolution of the Library

Evolution+of+the+Library

Peter Pajor

One of three 3-D printers available for use at Rodgers Library. /CW | Pete Pajor

Samuel Yang

Vincent Scalfani, the Science and Engineering librarian, is used to answering questions. But before his interview, he has one of his own.

“Do you want me to fix your Wi-Fi?”

A few minutes later, he has done exactly that and is ready to talk about what a library is and who librarians are.

“I think we’re more than spaces. Everyone kind of thinks the library is a space to study,” said Scalfani, who was named a 2014 “Mover and Shaker” by the Library Journal. “I guess I kind of view myself as serving the community with anything they need.”

As the librarian at Rodgers Library, which he calls the most open building on campus for public use, Scalfani works with the 3-D printing lab, which recently grew from one printer to three after an increase in student demand. A 3-D scanner, soon to be opened, sits in the corner of his office.

He said students often take the workshop in 3-D printing out of a desire to learn about it, without having any concrete plans or need for its applications.

“I find it really intriguing and interesting that there’s this need to learn about this technology,” he said. “The activity, the interest has been all across campus. I always thought we’d have [just] the mechanical engineering people lining up, but that’s not the case.”

While students from fields as disparate as English and biology have used the lab, many students are still unaware of what the libraries on campus have to offer, Scalfani said.

“I think most students don’t know of most of our services,” he said. “Most students, if we don’t have the book, they’ll just give up. That’s what we don’t want.”

The 50 or so librarians on campus, he said, enjoy sitting down with students to meet their needs, a reflection of a library system that is moving toward engagement and personal attention.

“I didn’t know my librarian or any of the librarians. I didn’t even really seek their help because I didn’t even know they were there, to be honest with you,” Scalfani said. “Librarians are becoming more involved. They were always there to help you, but I do feel like we’re much more closely connected to the curriculum and the different students’ projects than we were maybe 20 years ago.”

It used to be that a library workshop was promoted with a flyer, posted in hopes that people would come.

“But what the focus has really been on has been working one-on-one for faculty and students to design a workshop that’s perfect for their class or perfect for their project so that people come because it’s tailored toward their needs,” he said.

Even the layout of Rodgers, which concentrates print material on the second floor above a computer lab with window-side barstools and soft lounge seating, is driven by the realization that students often use libraries as a place to hangout and relax between classes.

“I think [libraries will] become more engaging, where students are coming to create things and make things,” he said. “Libraries have really started to take more feedback from what students want, not just necessarily what librarians want.”

The quest for more seating, and increasing amounts of online resources, will continue to whittle away at the print materials in Rodgers, and in other parts of the UA Libraries system, print materials are finding new life online.

Emma Annette Wilson, postdoctoral fellow at the Alabama Digital Humanities Center, said the center helps faculty and students integrate digital techniques into research and teaching in a variety of ways.

“[We help generate everything] from building websites about particular fields of study, online archives in specialist fields, digital galleries or exhibits and interactive digital narratives, to creating interactive online simulations of historical or current events for students to participate in as part of their coursework,” Wilson said.

Digital Humanities helps make the research conducted by faculty and students publicly available, welding traditional structures like galleries and exhibits to the Internet.

“We are also working on making classwork more interactive by helping professors and instructors to create online simulations of historical or current events, in which students will need to respond to specific scenarios and actively apply their knowledge of the subject in question in conjunction with critical thinking skills to come up with solutions or approaches,” Wilson said. “In this way, Digital Humanities enables a very different type of pedagogy allowing for many different types of student engagement.”

A recent exhibit, “Scenes from the Lincoln Normal School, 1909-1926,” lets visitors read through a history of a noted African-American educational institution in Marion, Alabama, and see photographs from two albums kept in the A.S. Williams III Americana Collection at the University.

That collection, along with the W.S. Hoole Special Collections, makes up the University Libraries Division of Special Collections. Mary Bess Paluzzi, associate dean of special collections, said the division is the core of library research at the University.

“The most important function of Special Collections is to educate and illuminate the lives of our students. In Special Collections, a student can access the documents from which history books are written,” Pauluzzi said. “Events come alive when a student holds the letter written to his parents by an UA alum following his participation in the Normandy Landing.”

The collections include 20,000 volumes and pamphlets, an assortment of artifacts and newspapers and 12,000 photographs.

“Cultural artifacts, such as letters from U.S. Presidents, allow students and faculty to research specific historical and cultural topics in order to advance the collective understanding of the subjects,” she said.

Working closely with the Alabama Digital Humanities Center is the Sanford Media Center, which Media Services Coordinator Lindley Shedd said provides students with interdisciplinary learning opportunities in a creative, leading-edge environment.

“[Libraries] are about books and so much more,” Shedd said. “The SMC is just one example of how a UA library continues to evolve and offer new services and resources.”

The center offers one-on-one assistance with a variety of assignments, software, and equipment like camcorders and green screens.

“Like other library service points, the SMC meets a need of our students. In that regard, the SMC is no different from 3-D printing services offered in Rodgers Library, or Information Services in Gorgas,” Shedd said. “By having the media center in the library, students from all divisions of campus have access and support for their media production needs.”

As a system, the libraries serve students, faculty, staff and the general public with over 150 academic software packages on 550 computers. Mildred Jackson, associate dean for research and instruction, said print resources continue to be purchased as the library continues to provide access to more than 400 electronic resources and more than a million e-books.

Dean of Libraries Louis A. Pitschmann said increased enrollment is adding to demand for space and services at Gorgas Library, and construction of a new addition has been postponed to 2017.

“Even though we can’t expand space at this time, we continue to look for ways to expand services. At the beginning of fall semester, we offer a Library Fair in Gorgas 205 where faculty and students can learn more about services and resources,” he said. “We also have activities planned for Week of Welcome.”

Also in the system’s newest changes: two renovated rooms at McClure Library, where presentations can be recorded, and more 3-D printing services at Rodgers Library. Scalfani said the kind of resources provided by UA libraries supports research, grants and student programs across campus.

“If somebody gets just what they need from the library, that’s good,” he said. “If they only need to study here, that’s great. We’ve provided the walls and the building to do that.”

But he encourages students to meet personally with a librarian and discuss the needs and skills they’ll need to succeed in college and beyond.