The Library as a hub: Connecting people and ideas

With the autumn quarter of my first year at the University well underway, I have developed an understanding of the enduring relevance of the University of Chicago Library’s mission.

We begin with the University’s motto — Crescat scientia; vita excolatur — and embody it by providing comprehensive resources and services to support the research, teaching, and learning needs of the University community. Put another way: we serve as a hub that connects people and ideas.

Brenda L. Johnson, Library Director and University Librarian. (Photo by John Zich)

Brenda L. Johnson, Library Director and University Librarian. (Photo by John Zich)

Over the years, we have developed six primary approaches to providing these comprehensive resources and services to the University that remain relevant today. We work to understand our users; build collections and tools; promote access and discovery; ensure preservation; collaborate with faculty, students, and University staff, as well as librarians and technologists from around the world; and develop expertise and an innovative spirit in our Library staff.

Building collections remains a vital, ongoing part of our mission, and our special collections offer faculty and students opportunities to do original research and learn from rare and unique primary sources. As we celebrate the 125th anniversary of the University of Chicago this year, new materials have been donated to the University Archives, and many have visited to explore our shared history. In addition, recently received volumes from the Nineteenth-Century English Poetry Collection of Dr. Gerald N. Wachs, generously donated by Deborah Wachs Barnes, Sharon Wachs Hirsch, Judith Pieprz, and Joel Wachs, AB’92, together with funding for a special exhibition, an accompanying catalogue, and additional essential Library support, comprise a campaign leadership gift that expands our distinctive collections and promotes their discovery.

We also process our collections so that they can be easily discovered and accessed. We are grateful to Bob and Carolyn Nelson for their support for the processing of the Saul Bellow Papers, which began this summer and will facilitate research into the life and works of this Nobel Prize-winning author.

Even as these critical Library activities continue, new ones are being undertaken. Faculty and students in every field are taking advantage of technological advancements to pursue new lines of inquiry using new tools and techniques. Interdisciplinary work is more important than ever. The output of research and scholarship looks different today than it did in the past. Creativity, collaborative learning, and hands-on learning are increasingly prized by students and faculty alike.

How can the Library build better bridges between its resources and the University community? How can we promote and ease the transition to new ways of learning? How can the Library become a partner in the research process in the future?

Our fall issue of Libra and the Library News site share a few of the steps we are taking in moving toward this future. I am particularly pleased to announce the launch of the Library’s new residency program, which is designed to bring some of the brightest new graduates of today’s library and information schools and other graduate programs to Chicago to help us launch or expand new programs. Our first new resident, Kaitlin Springmier, the Resident Librarian for Online Learning, is supported by generous gifts from Preston Torbert and Diana Hunt King.

The Library is supporting graduate students’ education and professional development in additional ways. This summer, we offered four unique internships that provided hands-on experience and mentors for PhD students interested in developing new perspectives on scholarship.

The renovation of Regenstein’s A Level will soon create a new environment that encourages interdisciplinary scholarly collaboration through the provision of resources, technology, and spaces. The first phase of the renovation is underway this fall. Additional enhancements are being planned for a later time when funding becomes available.

And the launch of a new multi-institutional Chicago Collections portal will help scholars, students, and members of the public to more easily research the history of Chicago in increasingly interconnected virtual spaces.

By engaging in both traditional and new activities that connect researchers and students with ideas, the Library continuously renews its commitment to supporting the research, teaching, and learning needs of the University of Chicago in a rapidly changing scholarly environment.

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