Ask A Librarian

Neal Museum of the Health Sciences dedicated

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
November 3rd, 2022
Ribboncuting for Neal Musuem

Remarks by Dean of Libraries Karen Diaz at the Neal Museum of the Health Sciences dedication on October 28.

President Biden recently issued an Executive Order on Promoting the Arts, the Humanities, and Museum and Library Services. In it he articulates this inspiring statement on these institutions: “The arts, the humanities, and museum and library services are essential to the well-being, health, vitality, and democracy of our Nation. They inspire us; provide livelihoods; sustain, anchor, and bring cohesion within diverse communities across our Nation; stimulate creativity and innovation; help us understand and communicate our values as a people; compel us to wrestle with our history and enable us to imagine our future; invigorate and strengthen our democracy; and point the way toward progress.”

I know that here at WVU, our library archivists are the collectors and stewards of the materials that mark our past. Without these touchstones of reality – of life as it truly was – we forget what was, and in fact are left to invent in our minds what never was. But it is through the interaction with these materials that we learn from and are inspired by them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Evansdale Library celebrates 40th anniversary

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
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.

Read the rest of this entry »

WVU Libraries to mark Women’s History Month

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
March 4th, 2021

The State Journal published this article on March 3.

By Karen Diaz, Dean of WVU Libraries

Women – of all backgrounds – have made important contributions to society. Only recently are we learning more about these individuals and learning to give credit to women where that credit is due. The way we have learned more is through evidence. Often that evidence sits in archives used by historians and others to document how women have shaped society. Due to a long tradition of underrepresenting women and women’s contributions, there are archival silences or gaps in what has been preserved. This undervaluing perhaps also causes those making contributors to undervalue documenting what they have done.

Read the rest of this entry »

Update presented to the Faculty Senate Library Committee

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
October 22nd, 2020

By Karen Diaz, Dean of Libraries

The Libraries closed to the public on March 19 as part of the campus shut down due to COVID-19. It remained shuttered to the public until August 20 when it reopened to the campus community only through swipe access. This was 143 days of being closed.

During the closure most of our staff retreated to working from home as did the rest of campus with a skeleton crew on sight to retrieve and deliver print materials to our faculty, staff and students as needed. During that time, we continued to maintain access to our digital materials and purchase new academic content, completed teaching our already online credit courses, continued to answer reference questions through email, chat and phone. As mentioned, we also scanned articles from print materials as needed to email to our campus community and even mailed print books as needed.  Interlibrary loan continued for everything digital, but stopped for print materials due to so many library buildings being closed. The WVRHC was also closed, but provided reference assistance as possible.

Read the rest of this entry »

Black Lives Matter in Libraries

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
June 15th, 2020

By Karen Diaz, Dean of WVU Libraries

The outrage, anger, and sadness of George Floyd’s murder is palpable in our community, nation and world.  I share those sentiments and like many think “these killings have got to stop”.  We know systemic racism and violence against Black people are not new problems, but we have reached a new crescendo.

I have struggled personally with how to respond from the WVU Libraries. I have been leery of creating yet one more statement in a sea of statements.  It’s too easy to say something – but so hard to create meaningful change. At the same time, I recognize that there is a need to verbalize intention if we want to move our organization in a new direction. I was pleased that our university president has led with such a statement and has challenged me, as a part of the WVU community to act.

Read the rest of this entry »

Libraries adjusting materials spending in response to budget realities

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
December 3rd, 2018

Student using laptop.

By Karen Diaz, Dean of WVU Libraries

For two years now, West Virginia University Libraries has been working toward bringing our materials spending in line with the new budget realities that we have faced since 2016. One of the biggest challenges in our reduction in funds is managing “bundled” journals subscriptions that historically provided us with more journal title subscriptions at less cost. Unfortunately, over time the inflationary costs of these bundle subscriptions have outpaced the size of our budget.

In 2016, when we were first presented with the need to reduce our spending, bundled journal packages accounted for 30 percent of our materials budget but only provided 6.2 percent of our titles. We recognized at the time that we would have to address this significant portion of our budget to achieve the necessary savings. We did so immediately by unbundling our Wiley subscription package which provided us with about $400,000 in savings at that time. Now we are moving to unbundle the remaining packages.

Remedies, Consequences and Negotiations

Our librarians have spent the last year and a half doing a tremendous amount of analysis on our bundled packages. We have looked at where there is title overlap between different packages we purchase. We have purchased a detailed report that helps us understand which journals our campus researchers are downloading from, publishing in, and citing in their published research. Based on that we have been able to rank in importance the journals for our community in a data driven manner. Our internal collections advisory committee has reviewed and adjusted this work based on extra knowledge gleaned from relationships they have developed with colleges across campus.

Read the rest of this entry »

Libraries play pivotal role in our communities

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
August 17th, 2018

The following op-ed appeared in the Charleston Gazette on August 14.

professor and students working in computer lab

By Karen Diaz, Interim Dean of Libraries

Libraries enjoy an interesting relationship with the public and our users. We are trusted, loved, and yet often underestimated. Folks think of libraries as the friendly place to get books. They are indeed that – but so much more. Libraries are neutral in the sense of belonging to the collective, and hosting different points of view. They are political in the sense of dedication to that cause and working against censorship. They are for the common good. They are places and they are virtual. And importantly they are run by professionals who are guides, teachers, partners, community workers and scholars all in one. A public library is a space where the local community can come to grow and to learn about societal as well as personal matters whether that be through books or events. An academic library is a “neutral” space that brings different disciplines together through collections, space and services.

Read the rest of this entry »

Maintaining a strong collection during tough budget times

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
April 26th, 2018

Student with laptop

By Karen Diaz, Interim Dean of Libraries

The state of West Virginia and West Virginia University have had a couple of belt-tightening years. This, of course, has impacted the Libraries budget as well.  After two years of stringent reductions and loss of access to reserve funding, we have had to cut our spending on library materials (collections) from over $9 million in FY 2015 to under $6 million in FY 2018. This is a 39% reduction.

A few things about library collections:

  • About 90% of our materials budget now goes to electronic materials. This includes databases, e-books, and e-journals, and is fairly typical for an academic library.
  • About 88% of our budget is for subscription items. These are items that in most cases require us to maintain the subscription in order to continue to have access to the title at all.  For instance, if we cancel a database, we no longer have access to any information in the database.  We don’t just lose access to the current year moving forward.
  • Some of our “materials” costs actually go to tools to help provide access to our content. For example, we pay an annual fee for our online catalog, in some cases we pay an annual “hosting fee” for digital content, we pay for tools that allow our users to log into proprietary content from off campus, and tools that provide us with data about which materials are being used.
  • Even the content we get for free, such as gift books or important archives and manuscripts, have costs. There are fees for transporting the material, processing it so it is known and findable to researchers, and housing it – sometimes in special acid-free boxes or in particular conditions for longevity. If we want to make that content available online there are digitization costs.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Purpose of a Library

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 14th, 2018

By Karen Diaz, Interim Dean of Libraries

Recently, I attended a leadership training event. The trainer encouraged attendees to think about the difference between our function and our purpose.  To illustrate the issue the trainer showed us a photo similar to those in this news story. Clearly, the function the men in superhero costumes were performing was cleaning windows.  But by dressing in superhero costumes to do this work they fulfilled a larger purpose. They provided a healing environment for children who were suffering from pretty horrible diseases by including a sense of fun and happiness.

Bringing this thinking into a library context, it’s hard to pinpoint the function of a library, much less its purpose.  Some might say that a library’s function is to preserve the cultural record. Others might say it is to promote lifelong learning. Yet others might consider it to be a community center focused on meeting both educational and entertainment needs. Many library vision statements include language like “collect, preserve, and provide access to information.” When you look at staff positions there are all sorts of more traditional functions that are carried out: such as cataloging and archival processing, acquisitions of materials, reference, interlibrary loan, systems and technology support, circulation, instruction, and communication. There are newer functions in some environments such as learning technology, open access publishing, copyright services, and more.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Latest Information Crisis

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
October 4th, 2017

By Karen Diaz, Interim Dean of Libraries

In the 80’s the crisis was access to information; in the 90’s, it was about the digital divide; in the 2000’s, the challenge became information glut; and now in the 2010’s, we are experiencing the latest round of information challenges – rampant disinformation. Assertions of fake news, Russian intervention in our social media streams, and confirmation-biased streams of information all lead to a crisis of belief in information itself.

One institution rarely mentioned in reports and calls for action to managing information crises are libraries. And yet, libraries have a long view of information flow and are in the thick of each challenge that arises. The current challenge is no different, and WVU Libraries is among those answering the call.

WVU Libraries not only supplies proprietary information to the campus, our bedrock curriculum is information literacy, a term difficult to define, but exactly what is needed in times of information crisis. Librarians are here, not only to help students learn how to use the library, but also how to think about their own thinking so that they become more literate information users.

Read the rest of this entry »

What is a 21st century research library?

Posted by Karen Diaz.
August 9th, 2017

A phrase being used with more frequency in higher education is the “21st century research library.” In fact, you often hear library leaders discussing how their goal is to help their organization become one.  What you often don’t get is a definition of what that means exactly. One reason for this is that the definition is still being discovered.  But even though we don’t have a complete definition, we certainly have the clear outlines of one. Here are elements of a 21st century research library that resonate with me:

Focus on the needs of the campus and changes in higher education

In the 20th century there was much effort on modernizing the systems of the library, but much of that work tended to be internally focused.  This work provided good results that are continuing to make access to our resources easier, thus bringing us to the place where we can now begin to look more outside of ourselves. We now need to be looking at what the challenges of our campuses are and leveraging our resources to support those new challenges. At WVU the big challenges set forth by our president include action on Education, Prosperity, and Health. In the libraries we are looking at new and innovative ways we are uniquely poised to support these.

Evolving role of liaisons

Libraries of the 20th century created liaison roles with academic colleges and departments to ensure the library collection reflected the needs of the unit’s research and teaching. With increased access to content outside of the library and the emergence of a digital approach to research and teaching, there are opportunities for new areas of engagement. Libraries have made great strides in evolving in support of teaching through more developed pedagogy around information literacy and are developing new strategies to support the research needs through new collaborations and services for scholarly communication, data management, data visualization, data analysis, copyright, GIS, and attending to the complete research cycle. This is a growth area for WVU Libraries that we are working on.

Increased access

WVU Libraries is in a difficult spot with this right now as our funding streams are tightened. But it also highlights the new reality of libraries that access is not simply about what we own.  It is about what content we can make available to you. This means we are engaged in digitization projects for items that are unique to us; we are promoting and developing new ways to support open access to both research and teaching content; we are continually improving our technology and partnerships with other libraries for more seamless resource sharing.  The most challenging area we face today is moving to more sustainable models for continuing and building our own collections. This is especially true in the sciences where the scholarly communication model has become too expensive and too vast for even the best-resourced library. In fact, what the 21st century research library is evolving into is a “Just in time” model (we provide the information just in time for the researcher) from a “Just in case” (we house as much as we can just in case an item is needed) model of collection development. Libraries are now talking about this in terms of the owned vs the facilitated collection.

New methods of content creation and curation

The challenged reality of sustainable collection development has led libraries to take a more active role in the publishing process itself. Most libraries have an institutional repository (IR) that allows a campus to host items such as student electronic theses and dissertations (ETD’s), faculty manuscripts, and other campus information fit for open sharing. WVU had an IR that we are in the process of replacing. We are also hosting the Digital Publishing Institute directed by English professor Dr. Cheryl Ball that will provide scholarship, teaching, and publishing of scholarly and educational content, especially for items that are multimedia based. Libraries face opportunities around hosting and facilitating more student content, such as student research journals.

Staff development

Because libraries are changing, so are the staffs that keep them running and changing. This means we need to invest in continuing growth of our staff through professional development, training, and engagement with the profession at large. It also means that we need to be attending to the culture within our organization to ensure that it supports the new demands of evolution, collaboration, and an outward campus focus. Our efforts to become a 21st century library are only as good as having the staff that can make it so.


Last, but perhaps most importantly, collaboration is key in the 21st century library.  We need to be doing so in every direction possible.  Internally, as the demands for new and widening expertise within the library increase, we need to learn to work with each other to put our various insights and experiences together for the best outcomes in new situations. We need to be not only a service to the campus, but a partner as well so that we learn where our resources and expertise can aid in solving large campus challenges. And finally we need to be partnering with peer institutions, not only for resource sharing but also for the development of new systems and services that benefit the academy and libraries in general. We can no longer develop and problem solve in our own bubbles.  Our challenges have gotten too complex and our pocketbooks too thin for such an approach.


What am I missing?  Are there other hallmarks of the 21st century research library that you think we need to be attending to, especially at WVU?