1/10/20 D-VELoP Lab

The Data Visualization Experience Lab of Purdue on the third floor of the Wilmeth Active Learning Center is an example of how Purdue Libraries is utilizing its space differently in a digital age.

As the semester begins, students may find themselves in a seemingly outdated space: the library.

But Purdue Libraries has adapted to the digital age by embracing new forms of media, supporting research and reimagining its space.

Technology has only helped to facilitate the library’s role of connecting people to information, said Beth McNeil, dean of the Libraries and School of Information Studies.

Electronic article views grew from 4.9 to 5.1 million in fiscal year 2017-18, aided by online journal and database subscriptions, according to McNeil.

The libraries play an integral role in providing information to researchers. They act as consultants to researchers on a range of topics from data management to information science. Later this semester, the Libraries plan to launch a data consulting service in Wilmeth Active Learning Center.

“That’ll be an opportunity for students to come together and work together on projects of a digital nature,” McNeil said.

Purdue has also followed a trend of consolidating its libraries to provide more study and learning spaces. The Library of Engineering and Science in WALC houses material from six former libraries.

McNeil said even in a digital world, a library’s physical space is still important as a space to facilitate connections to information. It may just look different.

“I still very much consider the Wilmeth Active Learning Center a library,” McNeil said. “It’s just a 21st-century library where as much focus is on interactions and linking content to people’s information needs as it is what you may consider a traditional library space.”

Some unique spaces in WALC include the Data Visualization Experience Lab of Purdue, which offers visualization technology, 3D printing and geospatial research services.

In December 2018, Libraries changed its name to Libraries and School of Information Studies to reflect the teaching and research duties of library faculty. Since then, librarians have taught full-length, credit-bearing classes such as data science and systematic review.

“Purdue is one of the first libraries really doing this,” said Judy Nixon, a professor of libraries with 35 years of experience. “If we have faculty status, then we need to be teaching.”

Despite digitization, Nixon said this does not make print obsolete.

“If (people) really want to sit down and read that book cover to cover or read large portions of a book, sometimes they prefer that in print format,” Nixon said.

In order to meet that need, the library must judge people’s preferences when deciding whether to buy digital or print versions. Digital copies are not necessarily easy on checkbooks, McNeil said.

“The electronic books we license for the library ... aren’t free, so university resources go into purchasing or licensing them and library resources go into making them accessible through the network,” McNeil said. “That’s an important piece for us, to really make sure we are transparent about that. It’s not free resources or free labor to make it accessible for our community.”

As the Libraries and School of Information Studies evolves, it will strive to maintain its mission of curating and championing accessible, quality information.

“There used to be this phrase — kind of the librarian’s mantra: the right book, to the right person, at the right time,” Nixon said, “and if you take the word book in its broadest sense — meaning any printed material, published material or available data — then that is what a research library is going to be doing.”

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