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Dean's Update: Changing Ways to Build Community  

September 25, 2023

The Drexel Libraries continues its mission of building connections among and between both its academic community members and sources of knowledge through traditional activities within library places.

With the start of a new academic year, we again focus our attention on how we strengthen community among people who are coming to us for the first time and others seeking long-held expectations for their library experience. In this Update, I share some insights into how we have evolved DUL programming and destinations and opportunities for improving our environments.

Our signature for over a decade has been to develop and maintain library environments distinct from formal classrooms and labs in cyberspace and in physical spaces. Library use is not required nor judged. We strive to offer sites that are welcoming and inclusive, where diverse students and faculty both can discover sources of information and engage with experts or experience independently ways to develop personal literacy skills to formulate queries and navigate the abundance of available information. Over the years, we have adapted our library destinations—whether websites or built areas designed for learning alone, amidst others, or in groups—to support personal choices to learn.

In this issue of In Circulation, we highlight a few of our academic new year activities. Read about the Libraries’ contributions to our campus Welcome Week. Throughout the week, our staff participated in resource fairs, orientation sessions, and DUL open houses, all with the goal of helping our new Dragons learn about services and resources the Libraries develops to support students (as well as faculty and staff) throughout their careers at Drexel and beyond.

An interview with our Diversity Resident Librarian spotlights the perspective of a new librarian of multiple backgrounds who comes with seasoned experiences as a faculty member. Orienting him this past year to numerous library sites has inspired staff to articulate ways the profession can influence learning in higher education.

Witnessing the shifting behaviors of DUL event attendees, we plan this year to adjust the balance of on-site and online venues for building connections and communities. Librarians will continue the Wednesday@Noon webinars started four years ago—a virtual event series through which we connect insights about information resources and tools available to our faculty, staff, and students. Still to come are several events for Open Access Week, which will explore dissemination of OA publications, among other connections to scholarship.

To meet changing preferences and time demands of people to travel to campus or surf the Internet, we plan to retire our ScholarSip event series as an informal social event to meet colleagues in person and learn about Drexel’s interdisciplinary research. Instead, we will explore expanding the growing interest to engage with individual authors about their work that we observed as a well-received addition to our Celebration of Drexel Authors reception. Stay tuned for announcements of short conversations with our distinguished authors that can be watched whenever convenient through our website.

Amid all our best planning for changes, I am reminded that libraries do not evolve linearly. We seldom—or at least not quickly—drop a service or practice we develop. At times, the results spare our community from dramatic changes, as for example the uninterrupted access to information resources [electronic as well as print] and to expert guidance [through Zoom and web-based tools] that DUL provided through the pivots of closings and conditional openings of physical sites during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, as we also face predictable consequences of changing availability of resources, staffing, and multiple expectations of a library, we are motivated to continue to understand the behaviors of communities and individuals we serve and at the same time to support providing innovative and unique solutions to some of the many challenges higher education institutions face.

Despite fully recognizing the benefits of our investment in expanding the Libraries’ presence in web-accessible sites, I personally am touched by seeing this year’s students and faculty in the Libraries' built space. And not only because their numbers are slowly reaching pre-pandemic levels of attendees, but because of the visible reactions from newcomers and familiar old timers when they are inside the W. W. Hagerty Library.

This year a student who sat alone at a library table outside my office door, just moments after we opened, looked as uncertain about what to do as their predecessors have each year in the past. A reassuring smile and a whispered, “welcome…it gets easier,” brings a returned look of relief and brave opening of their new laptop. Let us not forget, when in the library, we all can build connections through one-on-one small encounters, even before inviting those drawn to our places to enjoy their exploration of knowledge and learning.

Happy Academic New Year!

Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries