Dean's Update: There is No Such Thing as a Small Library

Dean's Update: There is No Such Thing as a Small Library
Jenny James Lee
October 8, 2015

[The Dean's Update is a column introducing each issue of the Libraries' monthly e-newsletter In Circulation.]

At the start of this past month we were all in preparation mode for the new academic year, welcoming new students and faculty and directing them to places of interest. In the Libraries, we were pleased to offer returning students a few more seats in newly renovated spaces and were ready to help faculty identify publications for teaching and plan management of their data for research. In spite of the pride I feel in these successful moves to transform the Drexel’s Libraries into a university research library, I admit that this is the time when my perspective sees our shortcomings. These are demonstrated by students disappointed when they cannot find a place to work in the library or by a new faculty member surprised that we do not acquire materials in foreign languages. However, on the day before the fall quarter began, I was reminded not to think of a library as a half-full or half-empty glass.

While walking past the business building on the Friday of Welcome Week, a distinguished looking man rushed out of it, and soon was walking alongside of me. He asked if there was a library on campus. I do not always remember the people I meet in large group orientations, so I smiled thinking he was teasing the dean of libraries. While approaching the corner of 33rd and Market Streets, I informed him that the library was just across the road. He pointed to the Athletic Center and asked for confirmation, “that one?” I corrected him, that no, the library is across the street from it.

We exchanged identifications and I learned I was speaking with a Los Angeles professor of business who was attending a conference on global economics. For over thirty years, he has been at the University of Southern California, one of Drexel’s aspirational peer institutions. My pride dropped a bit as I realized that he wasn’t kidding, but was likely just accustomed to one of the country’s top research libraries. I asked what he was seeking at the library and he raised a disc and said he needed to print a publication for the conference discussion. As we walked up to the door of the Hagerty Library, feeling the sense of a half-empty glass, I apologetically said, “welcome to our small library.”

This visiting faculty member, from a prominent research university, very seriously replied, “there is no such thing as a small library.”

He made my day. A simple observation that shook my state of mind – his comment reminded me that the essence of a library is not the space it occupies. It is in the information resources that it ensures are available, the human expert guidance it offers, and the environments it shapes. These library investments stimulate creative inquiry, guide critical thinking, and reinforce the active life of the mind.

Engagement with a library means to focus on habits of the intellect, stimulated by nonjudgmental environments for individual reflection and social exchange; to explore boundless ideas, captured in preserved and disseminated communications; to formulate new thoughts, discovered through self-directed research; or to build life-long learning skills, through experiencing investigations of questions, with guidance if needed.

A library that welcomes faculty and students on a reliable schedule, offers access to information resources and expert staff to help find those that matter to the reader – that is what traditionally defines an academic library. One that succeeds in creating a home for the excitement of people learning from the recorded ideas and knowledge of others and to do so alone, with, and among others—that’s a modern library that can’t be measured only by square footage.

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries