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Vision for the Future: A Student Interview with Geneva Henry

Geneva Henry & Ronella RosenbergFor many years the GW Libraries has selected a current GW student to serve as our Student Liaison, connecting the student body with library administration and providing a necessary student voice in library planning and decision-making. Ronella Rosenburg, our 2014-2015 Student Liaison is a Senior majoring in Speech and Hearing Science.  Now in her 4th year as a library student staff member, she enthusiastically embraced her new responsibilities, communicating to students and advocating for their needs.   

Ronella sat down with Geneva Henry, Vice Provost for Libraries, to discuss the Libraries’ new vision and strategic plan, launched in January, from a student perspective.

Ronella: How are we improving the library for GW students?

Geneva: The libraries are constantly improving in both large and small ways. The strategic plan is a large way, as it provides a roadmap for our future priorities. However, every day, we learn more about the needs of our faculty and students, and continually strive to meet their expectations, through our services, resources, tools, and spaces. For instance, the past system of making an appointment with a research librarian involved emailing back and forth to find a mutually convenient time. This was an unnecessary hassle for the time-crunched student. We recently implemented a research appointment calendaring system, similar to the one used for the Writing Center, to provide immediate scheduling of appointments. This process makes it easy for students to meet with our research experts in the library and obtain their helpful assistance.
Many of our most valued improvements have come directly from student input, including our Graduate Student Study Room on the 5th floor and the selection of new furniture on the entrance and 3rd floors. Additionally, we have a User Experience Group that is conducting focus groups and taking a deep look at the various experiences that our patrons have. It really is about being responsive to what the students want and need.  We continue to welcome student thoughts regarding ways we can improve their experience in the library.     
Ronella: Study space is a major concern I hear from GW students.  What plans are in place to create more study spaces in the library?
Geneva: The need for study space is one of the things I hear not only from students, but also from their parents. Student space is certainly a problem on the Foggy Bottom campus and we see more than 15,000 students come through our doors each week at Gelman Library. Improving and providing new student spaces is a high priority for us, but that requires a significant investment.  The university isn't in a position to make that investment right now, so we are very reliant on donors to help us provide more and improved study spaces.  

The Libraries are pursuing a flexible and responsive approach to library spaces and plan to undertake a comprehensive space study as a starting point.  We are thinking strategically about improving the facilities and want to make sure that as money becomes available it isn't used in an arbitrary manner and that we can truly create spaces that meet student needs. Student feedback played a crucial role in the renovation of the entrance floor and will continue to be a high priority for future renovations.

Ronella: Will Gelman ever become all electronic (no books)?
Geneva: I love that question and I get it a lot!  While some undergraduate libraries are experimenting with book-free library spaces, we’re not one of them. People often believe that everything is available online or in a digital form, but it just isn't true. The GW Libraries mission is to provide information in whatever form it comes, print, electronic, born digital, special collections, etc.  While it is true that scholars rely less on printed and bound materials than they did maybe 30 years ago, those are still an important resource for scholars and a significant portion of our overall collection. We also hear from students that they want to see physical books in the library.  Even if they are using digital materials, students are comforted by the traditional library atmosphere, which includes stacks of books.  

Ronella: What steps are the libraries taking to offer students strong interdisciplinary research materials, technologies and opportunities?
Geneva: The libraries are evolving into a place for not just disseminating knowledge, but creating it. We want to create a community devoted to academic curiosity, exploration, and innovation.  Our new strategic plan is focused on helping integrate students into the exciting research happening at the university and empowering them to conduct their own analyses. 

The LIbraries are expanding the reach of research instruction, helping students to learn new research tools and methodologies.  We see a strong roll for the library in providing, assisting and encouraging student use of these new tools and techniques, including data analysis, manipulation, and visualization.  We have made a commitment to improving technology for the changing information needs of students, providing access and instruction in communication and technical skills, including multimedia  design, and programming languages.  Gelman Library has already launched a strong Geographic Information Software support initiative and will be rolling out additional programming in these areas.  

GW Libraries will formally introduce the Vision and Strategic Plan to students throughout the Spring semester, which will offer them an opportunity to provide suggestions and feedback on our future goals.

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