Libraries Transform(ing)

Celebrating National Library Week at the University of Minnesota

Wendy LougeeLast week we celebrated National Library Week (April 10-16), an annual recognition of our nation’s libraries sponsored by the American Library Association. This year’s theme, “Libraries Transform,” was an enthusiastic nod to the transformation taking place within libraries, as well as to the library’s transformative role. 

Here at the University of Minnesota Libraries, the classic roles of libraries are still recognizable, yet we’re continuously transforming in order to support new ways of researching and learning. 

Yes, we continue to provide extensive collections and services to help individuals find and use the information they need. But much has changed in this “Amaz-oogle” era in which information is both abundant and overwhelming.

Our services extend far beyond the walls and bookshelves of our 12 libraries. For example: 

  • We help researchers manage and share their research data and publications in our digital repositories.
  • We work with faculty to create experiential learning opportunities within the classroom or online.
  • We develop technologies to customize and manage access to the over-abundance of resources held in our collections or on the Internet.
  • We support medical students and residents in learning evidence-based techniques in clinical practice. 

Shining a light on hidden collections

While in the past visiting researchers, students, and the general public had to travel to campus to explore our unique archives and rare collections, the power of digitization has placed these distinctive collections at the fingertips of all users.

For example, one of our recent projects is bringing to light hidden collections related to African American history. Umbra: Search African American History is an online search tool that connects to a treasure-trove of photographs, documents, and media that can ignite the imaginations and interests of school children, teachers, and researchers. Umbra now brings together more than 400,000 documents and has over 500 partner institutions across the United States, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and Penumbra Theatre Company. 

Making a difference for students

This year, the U of M Libraries leveraged its resources and expertise to help reduce the cost of coursework materials for our students. The average undergraduate spends about $1,200 a year on assigned course materials. Through a partnership with the University Bookstore, we identified e-books that can be licensed by the Libraries and used by students at no cost. We’re partnering with individual faculty members to identify or create new high-quality, openly available free content. This year, that work has resulted in potential student savings of $1.3 million on required content for their courses. 

Equally as important to saving students money is making a difference in their education. The majority of faculty responding to a recent national survey reported that their students’ research skills were poor. These skills, such as the ability to locate and evaluate information, are essential to student success in college and for lifelong learning. At the University of Minnesota, our librarians collaborate with faculty to integrate these skills into the curriculum and offer an array of workshops and online tutorials (accessible to anyone) to help students learn to be effective researchers and consumers of information.

These efforts are having an impact. We recently looked at the relationship between the success of our undergraduate students and their use of library resources and services. The results were compelling: students who participated in our educational programs were more likely to become library users. And library users consistently had a significantly higher Grade Point Average than non-users and were more likely to stay in school and graduate. 

These are but a few examples: enabling productive information discovery, managing and sharing the information assets of the campus, leveraging our collections to tackle affordability of education, and contributing to student success. Libraries make a difference. Libraries Transform.

—Wendy Pradt Lougee
University Librarian
McKnight Presidential Professor
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

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