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Notes from Elliott Shore’s Listening Tour: Brown, Dartmouth, UMass, UConn, Yale

Brown University, Robinson HallBrown University, Robinson Hall (Old Library)

ARL executive director Elliott Shore has embarked on a “listening tour” of ARL member libraries. This is the ninth in a series of informal reports from his visits.

The week before Thanksgiving in the US, I had the pleasure of touring New England as their crisp fall was beginning to turn into winter. I visited five ARL libraries in five days, reprising in a slightly larger territory my first visit to Boston’s five ARL libraries. The concentration of fine institutions of higher education located within an easy drive of Boston is quite stunning—10 ARL libraries and many of the country’s finest liberal arts colleges populate this cradle of US American higher education. I started in Providence, Rhode Island, at Brown University, made my way north and west to Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, then south to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, farther south to the University of Connecticut, in Storrs, and ended my trip at Yale University in New Haven. This trip was characterized by gorgeous campuses, finely and faithfully restored and expanded libraries, deep engagement with the intellectual life of venerable institutions, and the exuberance of the land-grant flagships of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Coming at a time when we are deeply engaged in the strategic thinking and design process, each of these libraries demonstrated ways forward in consonance with what we are finding throughout the community of ARL.

Teaching and learning was my first stop at Brown—the library’s partnership with the university’s Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning demonstrates the power of re-engaging the library with the central mission of the institution. Judy Ruttenberg of the ARL staff joined me on this visit. On Brown’s compact and historic campus, nestled in the center of the city, the proud history of librarianship is visible as older libraries are repurposed alongside newer buildings: the first Brown University Library building, Robinson Hall, was dedicated in 1878 and currently houses the Economics Department; the John Hay Library, the university’s early-20th-century main library, is being renovated and is scheduled to open next year as a renewed anchor for the campus; the modern Rockefeller Library, with its stunning visualization lab, is the primary teaching and research library for the humanities, social sciences, and fine arts; and the Sciences Library is a tall, slim, modern structure that the students take over as theirs at different times of the day and at varying points of the semester. In addition to touring the campus and spending the day with university librarian Harriette Hemmasi, we had a fruitful conversation with Brown’s provost, Mark S. Schlissel—about SHARE and other combined efforts on the part of ARL and AAU around scholarly publishing. I also had a wide-ranging conversation on the role of librarians in the educational mission—on teaching and inserting oneself in the curriculum—at a meeting with a number of the Brown library staff. The director of the John Carter Brown Library, Neil Safier, joined us at this staff meeting and shared some good thoughts on ARL’s strategic thinking and design process and on the legacy of libraries.

I visited Dartmouth on a picture-perfect day in the north country and toured a gorgeously and lovingly updated Baker-Berry Library with an addition by Venturi, Scott Brown, and Associates, enjoying marvelous spaces, elegantly sized to the community. This is a library deeply involved in the intellectual life of the college—partnering with the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL) and maintaining its own Education and Outreach Center, as well as hosting the office of the dean of the college and the advisors. Dean of libraries Jeffrey Horrell has a fabulous partnership with the CIO, and the library occupies the central spot on campus and plays a central role in the life of the college. The library has developed a stunning book arts program and recently formed a partnership with BioOne on Elementa, an open access journal that publishes original research on the interactions between human and natural systems and behaviors. We also had a terrific conversation with Dartmouth’s interim provost and VP for research, Martin Wybourne, who is deeply engaged in the idea of SHARE, and the CIO, Ellen Waite-Franzen.

The Learning Commons in the Du Bois Library at UMass Amherst hums with student activity and interaction with librarians. There are new spaces carved out of the tall, iconic building on campus for the Writing Center, Career Services, and a Teaching Commons for faculty. The libraries utilize statistics in thoughtful and energetic ways in order to make sense of library use—in the broadest sense—in the 21st century. Engaging, thoughtful questions about SHARE arose at an all-staff meeting. I enjoyed a deep conversation with the management group, including director of libraries Jay Schafer, on the nature of effective collaboration and edge cases that exemplify the library of the future, especially the collaboration among the Five Colleges and the development of software. Subsequently we met with the leaders of the Five Colleges libraries to continue this conversation. The Open Education Initiative, a collaboration between the UMass Amherst Libraries and the provost, has led to a marvelous intervention in the cost structure of texts for the students, saving them over $700,000.

On the beautifully groomed campus of UConn, there was much enthusiasm for a wonderful new beginning with Martha Bedard as vice provost for libraries, as well as for the role of the library in undergraduate education, in connecting with the new CIO around research issues, and in working with the provost’s office on innovation in collaborative educational initiatives. A superb special collections library is set just off from the main library, where I sensed quite a bit of energy and good will, with many possibilities for renovation and rethinking of the library’s spaces. A deep and thoroughgoing conversation with the staff reprised a number of the issues that I have heard throughout my listening tour—the possibilities of collecting and using different statistics, the roles ARL could play in engaging with all levels of staff in research libraries, questions about SHARE and public policy issues, hoping for more and more collaboration initiatives.

At Yale, where I was hosted by university librarian Susan Gibbons, I was struck by the abundance of riches and treasures being rethought, restored, reinvigorated. The grand building of Sterling Memorial Library is undergoing a thorough renovation in the main entrance—burnishing an amazing 1920s Gothic revival structure. The campus also boasts a glorious library in the Art and Architecture building, a fascinating joint science–social science library, and a stunning combination of contemporary and historical medical library along with the Cushing Center, a museum, archive, and seminar space that houses an enthralling collection of specimens. The engagement of the library staff was evident throughout my visits to the libraries and in two group discussions, where they shared some marvelous thoughts on the ARL strategic thinking and design process—a fitting end to a glorious week.

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