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Library 2.0: It's All Happening at the Gottesman

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Library 2.0

New services are just one part of how the library has changed since Trustee Ruth Gottesman wrote the check that began its renovation.

From book talks to collaborative project management to software development, it's all happening at TC's Gottesman Libraries
 
By Jonathan Sapers
 
Last spring, Teachers College's academic programs related to health worked together to formulate a -"health conceptual framework"--a document linking the programs' collective missions. Their first step was to convene a meeting of key faculty to develop a brief, coherent statement about the mission of health education at TC.

Five years ago, the school might have turned to an outside consultant. Instead, the job of organizing the meeting and doing the followup research went to EdLab, a team of graduate students from the College's various academic programs--whiz kids and other pleasantly geeky types who inhabit an open space on the fifth floor of the renovated Gottesman Libraries. EdLab staffers function as designers, online publishers, packagers and consultants, as well as software designers and supporters of all kinds of creative activity: a cadre of mad scientists experimenting with the possibilities of academic libraries and, at times, of education itself.

Donning their consultant hats, EdLabbers interviewed faculty and doctoral students, scouted health programs at other universities, and consulted literature produced by the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health. Their work culminated in a 10-page Health Conceptual Framework.
"The services that the library offers to the College are tremendous," says Interim Associate Dean Katie Embree. "We really relied on EdLab to run this project, and they did a wonderful job."

CABLE-READY, WIFI-ENABLED

New services are just one part of how the library has changed since Trustee Ruth Gottesman (see inside back cover) wrote the check that began its renovation. There's a look and feel about the five floors of Russell Hall that say, very clearly, that this isn't just a facility for storing books, but instead, a place where people engage and things happen. The first floor entryway is brightly lit with a swath of computer screens to the left and hightech screens overhead showing digitized art and advertisements for upcoming library events. Beyond the computer screens are a range of special meeting rooms that can be (and almost always are) booked by students for study groups and other collaborative projects. On the third floor is a grand reading room featuring selected faculty publications, as well as an art gallery and a series of classrooms. The entire library is cable-ready and WiFi-enabled.

The fourth and fifth floors are not yet renovated--TC is still seeking additional funding--but they have a functional chic all their own. The fourth floor is home to the Office of Teacher Education, which ensures that TC students receive certification in their fields, gathers accreditation data for the College and also oversees TC's Professional Development Schools Partnership and the TC Peace Corps Fellows. On the fifth floor, which used to hold the library's collection of children's curriculum materials, EdLabbers sit at desks on wheels, which are designed to be moved around the space at the user's whim. A sign on a wall warns against "shushing." Although outside groups are invited to hold meetings in a cordoned-off area and regularly do so, they're forewarned that EdLab is a working lab, and talking happens regularly. All of which is fully in keeping with what libraries were originally intended to be.

"In Alexandria, libraries served as schools," says Professor Craig Richards of the Organization and Leadership Program, who directs TC's Summer Principals Academy--a recent beneficiary of EdLab's strategic planning, and logo and poster design services. "People back then argued about what was in library manuscripts. They talked about the secrets of astronomy, governance, politics, militaries and spiritual things. Scholars went to libraries not just to read, but to have conversations about how to use knowledge. Somewhere along the way, libraries became scholastic and couldn't breathe. So rule-bound, nobody wanted to be in them. Now, our library is a living, breathing space for knowledge production."

OFF THE SHELVES, NOT OFF-THE-SHELF

From the start, the renovation's main challenge was to bring the people back--particularly with libraries facing new competition from computer-equipped dorm rooms, dens and coffee houses.

At the time of the decision to renovate, TC's library had become more book-friendly than patron-friendly, essentially adding bookcases each year while removing seating.

So the contest was joined. "There was a period of time during which, when you walked into the library, you walked into a more limited knowledge environment than the wider world," says Gary Natriello, an intense, soft-spoken man who serves as Director of the Gottesman Libraries, as well as Professor of Sociology and Education and Executive Editor of the Teachers College Record. "There was much better knowledge access outside the building than there was inside the building--particularly back when we didn't have technology and when we had restrictions on what could be brought in and what you could do with it and how you could interact with it. As a result, people were staying away."

Thus when renovations to the first three floors were completed in fall 2004, some of the most fundamental changes were about differences in tone. For example, in the old days, visitors were required to swipe their identification cards in order to get in. "It seems like a little thing, but it made people uncomfortable," Natriello says.

And another: "There used to be no drinks or food in the library, and so, of course, working in your den seemed even more appealing than going to the library, particularly if you had been working in the schools all day," Natriello says. "So we decided, -'Let's get rid of that prohibition, and let's put a caf in the library so that you can have coffee and snacks. And we'll sell--and sometimes give-- them to you.' That really changed the tone and made people feel welcome and not less important than the books." There is also a distinctly literary ambiance to the Everett Caf, which sits just outside the library's entrance. Every morning, its walls display the front pages of 10 newspapers from around the world, and in the evenings it frequently hosts receptions following lectures, book talks, musical performances and other events. Throughout the day, students decamp to its tables with laptops and stacks of books in tow.

Other changes were more substantive--and controversial. All of the library's most valuable historical materials were moved to its underground levels, accessible through an online request system. Every book published before 1950 and every curriculum material created before 1990 is now stored in the library's lower levels. There was also some fairly significant culling in cases where there were multiple copies of books: a "two or three copies" rule was observed in most cases. Natriello acknowledges that the culling process was painful for people who had copies of their books removed (his own titles were not spared), but says it is a necessary process for all libraries.

The large collection of journals that the library had been amassing in physical form for years was also almost entirely removed and replaced by a much larger online collection to which the library now offers access. In the old days, the library subscribed to and kept back copies of 2,200 journals; it now offers online access to some 16,000, including the Teachers College Record, which is now published online as well as in hard copy form. And it is also home to a digital archive of the largest single collection of documents from the recently concluded lawsuit that will bring New York City's public schools billions of additional dollars. Natriello lent his personal expertise to the plaintiffs in the case in costing out rescources.

THE CREATIVITY DOCTORS ARE IN

It's EdLab, however, that may best reflect the library's most farreaching ambitions. "Whatever is not picked up by courses, whatever's not picked up by a department, we aim to do that," says Anthony Cocciolo, head of technology for the library and head of EdLab's Technology Solutions and Innovations Group. "We can provide tools, we can provide educational events. No one knows what the academic library's going to end up looking like in the next few years, so there's a great opportunity to just kind of try out doing wacky things. If one thing doesn't work out, we can try something else."

Functioning like a cross between a publishing house, an ad agency and a Kinko's, EdLab's Design Center has made the library the place to turn for students and faculty seeking everything from a Tshirt to a Web site to an advertisement or even a brand. "The cost and difficulty of being a production house has really fallen in the last few years," says Brian Hughes, head of the Design Center and an associate director of the Library. "So now we're saying it's really a part of the production of knowledge to create a package for it."

Hughes' group has intermittently stepped into the role of independent filmmakers, researching and filming both a tribute to Professor Emeritus Edmund Gordon for the dedication of TC's Harlem Campus and to former President Arthur Levine for his departure ceremony last spring. But the Design Center also acts as a facilitator for a growing list of do-it-yourself clients, running what is essentially a full-time creativity workshop. In November, the group hosted Edit Jam, a multimedia event attended by graphic designers, video artists and a class of ninth and tenth graders from a high school in Brooklyn--but that was only a flashier form of what it does every day.

"We usually spend a lot of time every month doing walk-in consultations," Hughes says. "People come in and say, -'I have this Web site but it's not doing what I need.' And we say, -'Have you tried this? Have you tried that? Have you heard about this new software?' And then as that conversation deepens, sometimes the person says something like, -'All I wanted to know is what's the best blogging software' or -'I really want to redo this Web site and get a small grant to do it.' And then we say, -'Great, come back up and work alongside the tech guys who can help you implement some of those ideas.'"

EdLab also created TC's new online archive, PocketKnowledge, a digital repository for materials the TC community deems important. Among the recent additions: every TC dissertation between 1936 and 1996, some 10,500 book-length papers, each running as long as 300 pages. The entire collection takes up less than five percent of the system's vast hard disk space.

The library also offers "pockets" to faculty, staff and students to post their current work and even their vacation pictures. Alumni, too, are welcome to set up pockets.

"Institutions are spending quite a lot of money putting systems like this together," says Cocciolo. "And too often faculty or students don't end up putting their materials in there. Our challenge was to create something fun that people aren't going to be scared of. We're not going to say, -'Oh no, you only have so much space.' Just give us everything. Because when a system starts to mirror the multiple spheres of someone's life, then it becomes more acceptable and engaging for them."

Although the system has only been operational since September, faculty and students are already finding a wide range of uses for it. For example, Professor Gita Steiner- Khamsi posted a selection of interviews she conducted with important people in her field of international and comparative education, in order to make them available to students at TC and to colleagues overseas. Recently, according to Hui Soo Chae, an associate director of the library and head of EdLab's Knowledge Center, Professor Emeritus Frank Smith, who was getting a tour of the new system, saw one of the interviews and asked to watch it. The subject, R. Freeman Butts--who oversaw TC's Afghanistan Project from 1955 to 1975--was a former colleague.

John Black, Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Telecommunications and Education, uses PocketKnowledge to browse through works posted by current faculty that have been accepted for publication but--because of the glacial speed of academic publishing--might not appear in print for years. Black also recommends checking out the historical collections, where he recently came across a pocket dedicated to Lawrence Cremin, President of TC from 1974 to 1984, and read Cremin's account of life at TC during the early part of the 20th century. "Right now we think that the College is bursting at the seams in terms of enrollment with 5,000 students," Black says. "Well, I found out in 1927-1928, there were 7,000 students. How did they do that?"

The system also serves as a virtual workplace that allows a wide range of groups to collaborate. TC's Peace Corps Fellows, for example, have been using the space to post comments on their classroom experiences. And faculty members in the College's Social Studies Education Program have been using PocketKnowledge to develop a special high school curriculum that--funded by the Rockefeller Foundation--is being distributed in conjunction with the new Spike Lee documentary about New Orleans, When the Levees Broke.

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

Even if you never avail yourself of its core services, it's pretty hard to miss the fact that something different is going on at the library--from Socratic Conversations and Book Talks to the occasional karaoke party for language learners. And this past November, during Homecoming, the sounds of a Latin jazz band spilled out into the Zankel Building lobby.

"The whole complexion, the whole nature of the library has changed," said Jennifer Govan, the library's Assistant Director and head of Research and Information Services. "It's not just a place for research and information. It's a social space. We have a coffee shop; we have all these events going on; we have rooms being booked by many different people for many different kinds of activities. And it's a place for everyone to find something of interest."

Govan, who has been working at the library for 20 years, admits to a nostalgia for the old days. "I miss the quiet," she says. "It's a noisier place now. I sit in a public area, because I'm right behind the desk. And I have to say that when I started library school, I had a totally different concept of what it would be like."

But she says she's very much enjoying the library's new incarnation. "I love my job here," she says. "When I was a reference librarian, I was always on my toes, because I never knew what people would ask. Now I'm always on my toes because I still don't know what people are going to ask, or in what area it's going to be--collections, research, archives, concerts or whatever. So, the story continues."

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