“What do students do when they’re in the library, how do they use the library, what are their reading habits, I’m not sure about that,” said Kendall Hobbes, the University’s head Reference Librarian. “I see them in here, but I don’t know exactly what they’re doing or why.”
For decades, campus libraries have served an obvious purpose: to provide books to students, particularly for research papers. And while the University’s libraries are well-stocked with books on almost every subject imaginable, the Internet allows easy access to the very same (if not more) information. As a result, many students who regularly do schoolwork at libraries seldom take out books.
“Honestly I just come here at night to use my laptop and get stuff from Weshop,” said one student who preferred to remain anonymous, posted up in a chair overlooking Andrus field with a familiar white paper bag of candy and a silver 13” MacBook. “I feel like a lot of people do that.”
Indeed, wandering the floors of Olin or SciLi late at night, one is apt to notice that laptops seem to outnumber books by a wide margin; the clattering of tiny keyboards is a constant backdrop to work in these spaces, and outlets are in near-constant demand in both.
But looks can be deceiving, and while it appears that many students use the libraries primarily as study spaces, a great deal of students use a greater range of resources that the libraries have to offer. The libraries on campus may not lend out books with the same frequency as they did, say, a decade ago, but they extend beyond the standard purpose of supplying books to students, and have increasingly expanded their roles.
Sam Rispaud ’15, who works regular shifts at the front desk of SciLi, described the demands students make of their library workers on an average day. Rispaud explained that his duties include both guiding people to library resources and helping them with other needs.
“A lot of people have a hard time finding books upstairs,” he said. “After all, Wesleyan doesn’t offer courses on the Dewey Decimal System so this can be pretty daunting for some.”
Demand for library assistance seems to be great enough to merit two people on library staff at any time.
“There are usually two student workers on shift at a time, so if I can’t figure something out it’s great having someone else there to help,” he said. “If both of us are stuck, Linda Hurteau and Melissa Behney are the go-to science librarians that are really knowledgeable and love helping students.”
However, just as common, if not more so, are requests for help with printers, another significant reason for many students to use the libraries on campus.
“Other common questions revolve around using the printers,” Rispaud said. “A ton of people don’t know that you can log onto the ITS website and download an application that lets you print from your laptop.”
However, during particularly busy periods such as during finals periods, it seems that all pretenses of library function are dropped in favor of a shared study space where students can cram until late at night.
“Finals week gets pretty ridiculous because SciLi is open 24 hours,” Rispaud said. “This means that we have to staff student workers at all times. Seniors and juniors are able to pick up some good shifts but a lot of underclassmen get stuck working the graveyard shifts from 2 to 6 a.m. Last year I came in for an 8 a.m. shift during finals week to find one of our workers asleep under the coats in the lost-and-found. We also had someone work a 12 a.m. to 12 p.m. shift. He brought his sleeping bag and camped out in the DVD room.”
But while many students use the library as something more akin to a study space, other students seem to use the full range of what Wesleyan’s libraries have to offer.
Rachel Hirsch ’15, who is currently in the process of writing a senior thesis, spends a great deal of time in Olin for the research process.
“[It’s] hard to go more when you’re already there all the time,” Hirsch joked.
In addition, Hirsch makes extensive use of library resources such as the Inter-Library Loan (ILL) system and the CTW (Connecticut College, Trinity College, and Wesleyan University) consortium catalogue.
“ILL and CWT, WTC? TCW? forever,” Hirsch said with strained enthusiasm.
Even students who don’t have thesis-sized research projects seem to make good use of library resources. Hobbes described the changing ways in which the library meets students’ needs in an era of internet databases and fast research.
“We keep statistics on how many people we meet, and where and how,” Hobbes said. “The reference desk, that’s been a traditional library thing for about as long as there have been libraries. Traffic there has gone down. That’s been the case in academic libraries everywhere for several years, but it’s only been the last few years that our statistics have gone down. That’s probably due to a lot of the questions people used to have can now be answered pretty easily with Wikipedia, things like that.”
However, there are still questions for which students require more hands-on assistance, and the reference desk has continued to assist students with research even as Internet searches have become increasingly ubiquitous.
“A lot of people come in [with] more in-depth things,” Hobbes said.“‘I’ve got to write a paper… and my professor wants to be impressed with a lot of good articles, so how do I find those?’ So that’s how we get used. We do have our personal reserve session service that we offer which is pretty popular. This week particularly I had quite a lot, and all of us have had [a lot]. It’s a popular service among students.”
When approached by students, the librarians are generally happy to assist.
“We like doing it too, because you come up with lots of interesting things to study, and as I like to tell students, we get learn things, too,” Hobbes said. “And we don’t have to write the papers, so it’s the best of both worlds for us.”
However, the libraries resources are not limited to just books, as students make frequent use of resources that cannot be found anywhere else. Even after the Davison Art Library closed last year, formerly housed in a distinctive pink building in the CFA, students have continued to access the art records and manuscripts now housed in the Olin library.
“One of the things we say to other librarians when we see each other is that you come in and you think you’ve got your day planned, then you open up your email and all of the sudden, oh my gosh, all these questions coming at me,” Susanne Javorsky, the university’s art librarian, said, sitting in her office on Olin’s second floor. “That just throws you way off.”
Javorsky said that her move from the old Art Library to Olin has changed the role she plays and the way she interacts with the students, because her office is no longer centrally located. At the Art Library, encounters with students were more serendipitous, whereas now they are more structured.
“If I heard students asking fellow students questions…I could intercept and get the student asking the question on the right track. What’s going to happen here is…people make appointments and we work one-on-one, or professors [send] students to me directly, or professors [ask] me to come to the class and do a presentation,” Javorsky said.
Indeed, the demise of the Art Library has done little to curb the demand for the art collection on campus. Javorsky described how both students and Middletown residents alike make use of the library’s art collections.
“Occasionally there are students who are working on their individual interests, and just need some assistance as to what place is going to bring up stuff faster than their groping around,” she said. “I’ll get questions from people who are not students—people who are Middletown community members, not just Wesleyan. And they’ll usually call or come in, or [I’ll get] quirky email questions too. So it’s kind of a mix.”
However, the loss of the Art Library space has made it more difficult to tell exactly how University resources are being used.
“I could tell in the other library because it was all a nice convenient spot and easy to walk around,” she said. “[Students] would come in, you could see what was left on the tables…and there was a way we could tell which of the current periodicals…were being used. I can’t do that there.”
However, although it takes more effort, Javorsky continues to try and track students’ use of the materials.
“I do see people coming in and looking at stuff, and I’ll do a quick walk through the room next door and see a pile of art books so I know people are using [them]…[and] I do see the return trucks downstairs when I’m walking in or going into the stacks or the return shelves. I can see that stuff’s getting used, which is encouraging.”
Indeed, it seems that while students’ library habits are shifting and at times enigmatic, they at least run the gamut from benign use of a shared study space to in depth engagement with library resources.