Medical Center leadership envisions the technology, the space and the resources to maintain a great library in the digital age
By Michael Wentzel
For decades, the Edward G. Miner Library has been where nursing and medical students can be found when they’re not in classes. They forage in the stacks. They search for pertinent journals and reports. They study. Miner has always been a quiet place, conducive to academic pursuits.
Between 1925 – the year the School of Nursing was founded – and the late ’80s, Miner Library saw little change. Archival photographs of the library illustrate the solitude of study and research. The 1987 renovation that transformed the original lobby of Strong Memorial Hospital into Miner’s handsome reading room did not alter the library’s concentrated quiet environment.
“Think of what the world was like in 1987,” said Julia Sollenberger, associate vice president and director of Medical Center libraries and technologies. “There were no electronic journals. There was no easy Internet access. There were no laptops using wireless signals. There was no collaborative learning. There was no food or drink in our library.”
Today, students, researchers, nurses and physicians get online access through Miner Library to journals, databases and up-to-date diagnostic information from anywhere in the Medical Center or from their homes, offices or a patient’s hospital room. Laptop computers have replaced stacks of books on library tables and desks.
Miner has changed with the revolution in technology and curriculum and faces more changes to meet the needs of the diverse population it serves.
“We have become, and will remain, both a virtual and a physical library. We won’t be barring our doors anytime soon,” Sollenberger said. “We think of ourselves as the heart of the Medical Center, and that’s the way our customers think of us as well. We are located in the middle of the Medical Center. We’ve been here since 1925. We are intellectually the heart of the Medical Center, and we strive to continue to be that. As the world changes and social networks and cafés are the places people want to gather, we want to be that place for collaboration and research and intellectual networking.
“We’re not about just resources. We’re also about education, teaching our students, faculty and staff how to stay up to date in their field and find evidence for patient care and research,” she said. “And we see ourselves continuing to expand, obviously beyond printed books and journals, but even beyond book and journal resources to other technologies that are necessary for academic pursuits, education and patient care in the Medical Center.”
Beyond the reference desk
Today’s nursing students boast diverse backgrounds and personal experiences. But they often share similarly unconventional schedules. Whether they are students in the School of Nursing’s rigorous accelerated programs, master’s students who are balancing work life with studies, or doctoral candidates, what they all need when it comes to academic resources is accessibility.
“The needs of nurses and nursing students aren’t that different from those of our other customers,” said Sollenberger. “They do tend to be onsite less often, and, therefore they rely heavily on electronic resources. But they need the print resources, too, and they definitely need librarians!”
Miner librarians attend meetings to learn about customers’ needs for information resources. Miner’s online learning support group works with faculty to develop courses on Blackboard, the online learning system used more and more in nursing and medical schools and in continuing education in the Medical Center. Miner librarians also serve as liaisons to the nursing and medical schools, departments and clinical areas.
“Awareness is key. We always offer orientation for incoming students. We want to make sure that they all know what Miner has to offer,” said Mary Beth Klofas, nursing and patient outreach coordinator, who serves as liaison to the School of Nursing.Miner staff members regularly teach classes on a variety of subjects, including using the PubMed interface, finding evidence-based answers to clinical questions, conducting better Google searches, getting the most out of Blackboard, organizing references and bibliographies, and developing information literacy skills.
A quarter of a million people walk through Miner’s doors each year. The switch to digital has not affected that number significantly over the past decade. But thousands more utilize the library’s virtual doors, many of those nursing students. One set of numbers clearly illustrates a singular change for Miner. In fiscal year 1990, the library subscribed to 3,120 print journals. By January 2010, Miner’s print journal collection will consist of 150 core journals, while the library subscribes to almost 2,900 electronic journals.
Statistics show that Miner’s resources are used heavily. In a one-year period ending June 30, 2009, electronic books were accessed through Miner more than 71,000 times. In the same period, there were more than 1.5 million articles downloaded from Miner’s electronic journals and more than two million uses of databases.
Budget cuts recently have required that Miner cut some subscriptions, but the library still spends almost $2 million annually on books, journals and databases.
“Faculty, staff and students in the Medical Center would not have the resources they need if the institution did not pay for them,” Sollenberger said. “If you are on the Medical Center campus, you can get on the Web and get the publication you want, if we have a subscription. If you are off-campus, you have to go through our interface because that’s how we authenticate users. People think the access must be free because they get to a journal so easily. Except for the new open-access journals, it is not free. Without the library making decisions, with faculty input, about what we should be getting, and building the interface and authentication system and bringing all the resources together so they are easy to find, people could not access these resources.”
Even with the ability to access library materials offsite, Miner Library remains a popular and important place for students. But to better meet the needs of a 21st Century medical library, Miner’s leadership has proposed a renovation that would expand the library from about 38,000 square feet to about 44,000.
Miner’s growth is of particular importance as the School of Nursing continues to evolve with the addition of programs such as the doctor of nursing practice degree and increased enrollment with the accelerated programs. “As the school grows and changes, what students and faculty need from the library will change. We want to be prepared to handle that growth,” Klofas said.
The proposal calls for the conversion of the main reading room into a “collaborative space,” where people could meet and converse and students could study 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “We believe this area with 24-hour access would be a wonderful benefit for nursing students who may be finishing a shift and beginning their studies late at night or early in the morning,” Sollenberger said.
The plan also calls for recreating a “grand entrance” from the Crittenden Boulevard street level to recall when the room was Strong Memorial’s lobby and the entryway “helped define the strength and spirit of a thriving institution.” This is a change that will further invite nursing students into Miner as soon as they cross the street from Helen Wood Hall.
A renovated Miner would include at least 10 group study rooms for interactive learning and a technology upgrade, including abundant electrical outlets for laptops and other devices and enhanced wireless access. The proposal also recommends the creation of a new entrance to the library from the Medical Center’s South Corridor and a History of Health Sciences Suite that would better preserve, display and make available Miner’s extensive collection of rare and historic books and manuscripts. A café would also be introduced.
“Miner offers meeting places now, but our customers tell us they need something more, something different,” Sollenberger said. “To support collaborative learning, we need sufficient group study areas. We want Miner to be an open and inviting place where people can come together to work and to think and to envisage the future. Those who know us and have used our services think we are pretty great. We want—we need—to keep being great. A great academic medical center needs a great library.”
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