August 23rd, 2022
By Karen Diaz, Dean of WVU Libraries
To celebrate the new academic year, I’d like to share comments I made at our recent celebration of the 40th (actually 42nd) anniversary of the Evansdale Library. This is a good reminder of how libraries continue to evolve to meet the needs of campus.
In 1978, while I was still in high school, WVU broke ground for the Evansdale Library. By November 1980, when I was taking a year off from my own college experience, the doors opened to students.
It was acknowledged that the growing campus needed an expanded library system that could serve students who now did business on three different campuses within Morgantown. We see from the newspaper accounts that one of the exciting features of this new library was going to be a large microfilm room and an AV lab! Exciting stuff! Having been a college student myself at this time I can imagine the AV space had turntables, cassette players, big heavy headphones, and maybe even a state-of-the-art VHS player. Also present would have been the card catalog. Ah yes, it was the environment of my own learning and experience.
But just as daily life has changed since 1980, so have libraries. In 1980, one had to be present in the library to use it. Quiet spaces were prized. Study was solitary.
We know life is not like that now. Now, you do not even have to come into the library to use it. Or, you might come to the library not to check out a book, but instead to “borrow” a group study room to complete a group project.
When I think of what a library does, I tend to divide us into three buckets. We are collections – or content, we are spaces, and we are expert services. These three buckets were true in 1980 and remain true today. What has changed is how we manage each of those buckets.
First of all, the content is now largely digital. You can use the library from your home or dorm. When you walk in our spaces you do not see 90% of the new content we provide for this campus. It is freeing that this material can be used from anywhere and at any time. And while people have a notion that everything is online and thus libraries are irrelevant, miss the fact that most scholarship – while online – is actually not accessible without subscription which libraries pay to make it available to the community.
But this cloud-based content has not made our space irrelevant. We remain a space where people can come to focus on their academic work. It might mean studying; it might mean borrowing a laptop. It might even mean finding a quiet place to meditate and prepare for the rest of the day’s rigors. Libraries remain a place for the mind to focus – or wander – or rest as it needs to do. This library has also become a space for sharing learning. We host exhibits of art and musical performances by students in the College of Creative Arts, fashion designs created by students in Davis College. We remain a crossroads for the disciplines to bump into each other.
But libraries are also places to find experts. Perhaps now our staff are not spending their time helping you thread a microfilm reel or learn how to use a print index. But they can help you get to a place online where Google will never take you. They can help you use software to manage citations, give tips on storing all your research files so you can find them again, or navigate submission of your electronic thesis or dissertation. Our experts – our staff and librarians – provide so many services that are hard to catalog, seemingly invisible because they are so personalized and tailored to individual need and purpose.
It was important that our state and campus leaders in the 1970’s had the insight to understand the essential underpinnings that a library provides a campus. And that first meant a building. But then that building had to be staffed and then filled with content. Libraries are physical spaces, yes. This building still serves students and faculty, just as it did 40 years ago. But this building still serves students and faculty not at all like it did 40 years ago. Evansdale Library, like all libraries, is timeless and traditional and a place for the life of the mind and spirit. But it is simultaneously adaptable and changeable and ever modern. Taking the opportunity to reflect back on our beginnings we are able to see how far we have come, and to know we will continue to evolve.
Thank you all for celebrating with us today. Come back and enjoy this space every day. And know that when you are in this place, it is here because of leaders who made it so. And it remains here because of people who tend to it daily in so many ways.