Reference Point

Deerfield Magazine Spring 2014

By Anna Newman

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Here’s your assignment: Research and write a 5000-word paper, prepare an oral presentation, and design and complete a creative advocacy or service project to
share your work with the community.

Now here’s your topic: Everything. 

It’s pretty broad, to say the least, but in the second year of the interdisciplinary Global H2O capstone course, students can pick any topic that interests them for their yearlong capstone project, because it isn’t so much what their focus is as how they go about exploring it. Their skills in research, presentation, and critical analysis are all on the line. It’s a daunting task, one that students can’t tackle by themselves. They’ll need support from their teachers, they’ll need access to in-depth, reliable information resources, and, most importantly, they’ll need the Boyden Library.

For thousands of years, libraries have served as curators of knowledge—collecting, preserving, and organizing resources, traditionally books. And in the digital age, says Charlotte Patriquin, director of the Boyden Library, “I could argue that the role of libraries has only expanded and the strategies we use to connect users to the information they need have multiplied.”

As the amount of information available and the number of ways it’s accessed are constantly increasing, libraries are being called upon more than ever before to guide their patrons through the overwhelming information landscape that they themselves have journeyed for years.

Defining the Question

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Overseeing this expansion in the 

Boyden Library’s role is the newly formed Library Research Committee. Co-chaired by Patriquin and Academic Dean Peter Warsaw, with representatives from academic departments, ITS, academic support, and the library staff, the committee is engaging in a reflective, iterative process to determine how the Boyden Library can best respond to the challenges of teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Over the past year, committee members have visited a number of recommended college and independent school libraries, and they are weighing these models against feedback from Deerfield faculty and students about current and desired library usage. “We wanted to establish what a 21st century library in the world could be before we tried to answer the big question: What should a 21st century library at Deerfield be?” says Warsaw. 

What emerged from the process is an understanding that the Boyden Library of the future must be closely connected to the Deerfield classroom of the future. “Ideally, the vision of the library should be driven by our curriculum,” says English department chair and committee member Mark Ott. “As we think about what is a 21st century curriculum, we would want it to match a 21st century library.” 

Primary Sources

A critical piece of Deerfield’s 21st century curriculum may be more capstone courses, such as Global H2O, and the library will take an active role in responding to the demands of these new courses —supporting curricular development, providing space for discussion and study, and ultimately, instilling in students the skill set they need to succeed.

“Ideally, the library is a partner with faculty in helping students understand the research process and use information appropriately,” says Patriquin. “What works best is course-integrated research instruction at a point of need. When students need to start working on a research project, that’s the point when librarians will partner with faculty to tailor some instruction on doing research in that particular field.”

In addition to teaching classes and offering one-on-one reference help, librarians meet students where they already spend much of their time—online—with an array of online research guides, or “LibGuides,” that help students follow the research process to identify good sources for their topics. The research guides curate the large amount of resources to which the library has access, pointing students toward the reference sources and databases that will be the most pertinent to their research topics, and explaining how to conduct good searches for books, articles, and other materials, and then how to organize and cite their sources.

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“Instead of a Google search, the library guides connect students to the best resources and help them to be better researchers,” says Tricia Kelly, associate director of the Boyden Library. “We want them to be critical consumers of information.”

“The success of the LibGuides comes from a team effort between the librarians, the faculty, and even the students,” explains Janet Eckert, reference and instruction librarian. Librarians work closely with faculty to develop research guides to support specific courses and assignments, and faculty are able to provide feedback—and in some cases make edits themselves. Students, by responding to the information presented and asking questions, help to improve the resources.

Deerfield’s research guides are paired with NoodleTools, an online research support tool that allows students to use electronic notecards to organize the information they’ve gathered and share their work with their teachers. On the surface, NoodleTools helps students create an outline and a bibliography, but in the process, the students are learning how to analyze their research, make connections, and use information appropriately.

This gets at the heart of Deerfield’s library instruction—it’s less about the product and more about the process. When students follow the research process over and over again, they develop learning strategies that enable them to become self-reliant researchers, scholars, and thinkers.

“Research is not a straight line,” adds Kelly. “We want students to know that it’s okay if they run into stumbling blocks. This can make them think in a different way. It makes the students more resilient.”

The journey of intellectual discovery that unfolds over the process of doing research cannot be replicated in an app or Google search. It requires a deeper dive into a well of information, where students have to rely on skills that are becoming increasingly important in the 21st century—information literacy, organization, and critical thinking. These are lifelong skills, says Patriquin, “skills that they will use in college, skills that they will use throughout their lives.”

This focus on lifelong skills is key in determining the future direction of the Boyden Library. “Even though the library serves the students, it also has to lead the students,” says Ott. “We can’t just shape our library to what the students need now. We need to lead the students to what we think they’ll need in the future.”

Search Results

With that goal in mind, the Boyden Library is reevaluating the layout and priorities of its spaces, becoming less a “building for books” than an interdisciplinary, innovative space for learning.

Screen Shot 2014-07-07 at 2.19.32 PMThe number of classes and students using the library has increased in recent years, observes Patriquin, and more demands are being placed on library spaces, which are already in need of renovation. “We are seeing the need for presentation practice spaces, ideation spaces, all of which require different layouts, different kinds of equipment, and even more space. We’re seeing a steady increase in the number of group study rooms needed. We’re also seeing the need for more individual, quiet workspaces for students. We need to make sure that we have library spaces that work for an evolving set of curricular expectations.”

Already the library is experimenting with new layouts and policies to address these needs, informing the work of the Library Research Committee. Reorganizing book ranges in the reference section has opened up space and light on the first floor, and further reorganization planned for the basement level this summer will optimize popular study areas near the windows and create more quiet work spaces. And by keeping the tunnel open between the Koch Center and the library, opening the Louis Café after hours, and removing restrictions on food and drink, the library is drawing students back in the evenings for hours-long study sessions.

Synthesis

These may seem like small changes, but they go a long way towards integrating the library into campus life. “Our number one mission is to try to envision a space that will draw people to it,”  explains Warsaw. “I think we have the vision that the Boyden Library could be an academic hub for us, especially as we try to become more interdisciplinary. What building on campus would be better for housing interdisciplinary study?” And could the library encourage more faculty professional development? “Where might a teacher go to review a film of a lesson that he or she taught,” asks Warsaw, “when they want to sit down with a few colleagues to critique the choices that were made? The library might be the space to get into that kind of faculty professional development, especially if there’s going to be interdisciplinary work.” The library—more than any other space on campus—offers opportunities to encourage connections across disciplines and stimulate learning of all kinds.

The vision that is emerging of the Boyden Library of the future is in many ways a reflection of what it has always been: a space that supports curricular needs while stimulating creativity and learning. Today the library is embracing new technologies and ideas, but even that is in support of its original mission: To prepare students to be lifelong scholars and leaders . . . except now, it’s a vision for the 21st century. ••