College Libraries are Changing Alongside Their Students

By Mattison Hansen 

When visiting Flagler College campus as a student, one of the most memorable locations to stop at is the Proctor Library. Walking through the front doors, the first thing one notices is the grand décor of the building; the dark wooden entrance, marble flooring and columns, as well as the golden staircase leading to its collection of 100,000 books.  

Despite being a small library, in comparison to larger schools like the University of Florida which has different departments dedicated to each genre of academic publications, the Proctor Library has spent the past 25 years dedicated to being the place where students can get assistance for all their academic needs.  

“The primary goal [of the Proctor Library] is that the patron walks in, or emails us, and we give them the correct answer in a reasonable amount of time so they can complete their task or assignment.” Brian Nesselrode, the director of Library Services said.  

Nesselrode began his librarian career in 1991 at Ohio University as a student. When he graduated, he went to work full-time at a public library from 1994 until he came to Flagler College’s library in 1998. When asked why he chose to work in the literary setting, he talked about how much he enjoyed the interaction between students, faculty, and staff members.  

“It’s ever changing. New experiences and new ways of looking at things. It allows you to develop right along with them,” Nesselrode said.  

One of those changes the Proctor Library has undergone, like other college and university libraries across the world, is the usage of e-books and other technology that makes student lives easier in the academic field.  

“We’ve in different ways jumped headfirst into e-books. As long as they’ve been available, we’ve been providing them. And since then, we’ve seen a lot of improvement,” Nesselrode said. “I like the fact that we can order a book, if there’s a faculty or student who needs a book, and it’ll be about a 24-to-2-hour window to receive it. I also like how two people can look at the same book at the same time.” 

According to Nesselrode, and other members of the Proctor Library staff, even though technological items like laptops and graphic calculators are the most checked out items, the number of physical books used by students and faculty has been steady. However, this isn’t the case for most school libraries. 

According to a circulation assessment by the University of Virginia in 2018, there has been a 61% decrease of physical books checked out by graduate students and a 46% by faculty. Meanwhile, in 2019 at Yale University, there was about a 64% decrease in books checked out by undergraduate students. In these two years other higher education schools have also noticed a major decrease in the circulation of academic books being used by students and faculty.

In 2020, there was a 40% increase in the usage of e-books, audiobooks, and streaming videos at libraries. This shift can be a result of COVID restrictions, but at libraries like Flagler’s, it can also be due to accessibility and if the library has anywhere to put new physical books.    

“I think libraries are going to continue to adapt and change to what their users need,” Caitlin Trachim, the access services librarian at Flagler, said.

Another change that developed at Flagler’s library is how students use the building. Not only can students check out books and seek guidance from library staff, but the Proctor Library also has various spaces for students to hang out with each other and get their work done outside of their rooms, and is the home to offices like the Disability Resource Center, Institutional Technology (I.T.) Support, and the Center of Advising and Core Experience (CACE).  

“It’s not a place where people go to do one thing anymore,” Trachim said. “It’s become the place where students can get WIFI, hang out with friends, use the computer, and check out books sometimes. This is a place to be your home away from home.”   

Trachim has worked at the Proctor Library since 2011, and before that she worked as an intern at the University of North Florida’s library for two years as a post-graduate. In her time of being at Flagler, there was a significant decrease in student life at the library beginning in March 2019, due to COVID. However, this academic year, it’s returned to a similar number of attendees as before, maybe even more. 

Also seeing a difference in how the Proctor Library has been used throughout the years is Jack Daniels, who has been a Flagler College professor since 1998 and has maintained his role as a teaching and learning librarian since 2000.

“The library is a space for folks to come together and to work together and socialize,” Daniels said. “For this campus, because of the size and location, the buildings are spread out. This tends to be a focal center for everything.”  

Many individuals agree with this observation on the different uses the Proctor Library provides. One of those students includes Zoe Sheffield, a senior at Flagler who has worked at the college’s library since September 2020. She is currently the lead student worker, in which her role consists of making sure the library is running correctly, patrons are helped efficiently, and that the other student workers know what they’re doing.    

“As a student in general, the library is such a comfortable environment. I know that if I need any help, everyone there will be more than willing to help me,” Sheffield said. 

Along with the change in technology, college and university libraries had to adapt to new trends to assist their students with their academic success. Some of these focuses include working to educate each other and empower marginalized voices that are usually muffled by diversifying academic library collections, opening access to all students, and changing the style of education to digital sources.  

“Listening is key and will remain key,” Nesslerode said. “I always took a keen interest in how the two people who preceded me took student feedback, and I try to lead by that example.”

According to Nesslerode, certain aspects of the library, such as the quiet rooms, were the result of a student survey conducted in the past.  

“The actual real adults who work there have a genuine care for that library,” Sheffield said. “They want to see it improve as much as possible and want it to be the best place that it can be and I really admire that.” 

A lot can happen in two years, and while the pandemic has caused a major shift in the lives of students and faculty, one thing that will remain the same is the goal to give them access to resources to help them progress in their classes and prepare for what they want to do after graduation.  

“Students are always welcome to come in physically or to reach out to us. We want to help, and we’re here to help.” Nesselrode said. 

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