A forward-moving, user friendly library a must

Originally published September 3, 2010

“The library is awful” – it’s a complaint heard emanating across campus, in nearly every class, nearly every day of the week.

But what is the library’s actual problem?

Is it the lack of materials? The building itself? What?

It’s a difficult, and legitimate, question.

The university administration this week seemed quick to brush off the latest Princeton Review ranking, which placed the Cullom-Davis Library last among the top universities in the United States.

To be clear, it’s not the worst-ranked in the country.

But that ranking, deserved or not, carries weight with both current and prospective students, and it needs to be addressed.

To its credit, the administration has made some significant strides in the last 12 months. New lights, new furniture, new materials and a new cafe have all been added to the 20-year-old building in an attempt to change student perspective of it.

And to be fair, most of those changes couldn’t have been reflected in this year’s Review ranking.

There’s little question the actual building leaves a lot to be desired. It’s dark, it looks outdated, the temperature is never consistent or comfortable and it’s often crowded.

To us, that means we need a new library.

But looking at the situation realistically, we recognize that just isn’t possible.

That does not mean, however, that there aren’t immediate steps that can be taken to not only improve the library, but to change student perspective.

From where we sit, the first step is the library’s website.

The site is outdated, not unlike the building, and it’s simply not user friendly.

When students are in English 101, most have a one or two day lesson from a librarian on how to use the site for research materials.

But by the time those students leave that one or two day lesson, that information is pretty much gone.

That’s because there are tons of ways to search for material, which is a good thing, but it’s not easy to use. And that makes it frustrating, especially when it’s 2 a.m. and deadlines are looming.

It’s that frustration that carries over into students’ feelings of the library.

And sure, there are librarians who can help. In fact, there are specific librarians for most majors. But not every student knows that, and that’s the problem.

Because so many students do homework and write papers outside of normal business hours, there isn’t exactly a way for them to get the help they need to maneuver the hard-to-use site.

There’s little doubt that cleaning it up and making sure students know how to use it, which may require a sort of freshmen research course.

That’s just one step of many more that need to be taken – the finale of which will be a brand new building, though that’s going to be a few years down the line.

In the meantime, in addition to making sure every student understands all the resources available, the renovations that started last year need to continue.

That means more new furniture, trashing the ugly, old study cubicle and opening space up.

Hopefully, that rather large Band-Aid will not only turn around student perspective, but actually improve the education process.