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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

A big kudos for University Libraries

April 20, 2009

Students with a computer.

Smart Learning Commons, located in University Libraries, offers professional and peer-assisted learning in a variety of topics.
Photo: Patrick O'Leary

Getting 'in the flow of the user' brings national award

By Deane Morrison

It used to be that people went to the library to get books. Now, they go to get books, learn how to use multimedia, attend tutoring sessions in writing or other subjects, learn how to organize paper and virtual materials—just about anything one ever needs to know about information.

At least, they do at the University of Minnesota Libraries.

In the last several years, University Libraries have become a center for intellectual activity that helps users deal with information in virtually every way imaginable. They have been, as communications director Marlo Welshons puts it, "at the forefront of getting libraries in the flow of the user."

The transformation has not gone unnoticed. University Libraries receives the national Excellence in Academic Libraries award at a 3 p.m. ceremony Wednesday, April 22, in Walter Library, 117 Pleasant St. S., Minneapolis.

Given by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL, a division of the American Library Association) and Blackwell's Book Services, the $3,000 award and a plaque will be presented by ACRL President Erika Linke to Provost Tom Sullivan and University Librarian Wendy Pradt Lougee.

"To have our staff's innovative work recognized by the ACRL community is quite simply wonderful," says Lougee of the honor.

Library users like Juliette Cherbuliez, an associate professor of French, have recognized the transformation, too.

"When I came to the University in 1999, I was surprised that the libraries didn't feel like a hub or center," says Cherbuliez. "For me, they're a hub for research.

"[But] over the past three or four years in particular, with the new initiatives, I've noted my undergraduates using library resources more frequently and with greater expertise. I've noticed more people in libraries They've become a center for education in ways they never were before."

Students can drop in on a SMART Learning Commons, a one-stop study/research/learning spot offering help in finding material, honing writing skills, learning to edit video, getting help with math, or whatever they need. Located in University Libraries, SMART is part of the Office of the Vice-provost for Academic Affairs and Dean of Undergraduate Education.

Students can also defeat the term paper writer's bugboo—procrastination—with a popular online feature called the Assignment Calculator. It helps students structure their research projects and sends "friendly e-mail reminders" of deadlines. Now adopted by more than a dozen universities, the Calculator has been modified for junior high and high school use across the state.

Librarians have also been sharing their expertise with medical residents. Through the Morning Report program, librarians listen to case studies along with the residents and help them find answers to their questions in the medical literature.

Every department has a "library liaison" to help with information navigation, and Cherbuliez says hers has, for example, shown her an online tool that allows her to organize papers and virtual references.

"My desk is a lot cleaner now," she observes.

As director of graduate studies in the Department of French and Italian, Cherbuliez appreciates her liaison's work in orienting graduate students in the department and helping them "make the big leap from undergraduates to graduate students."

Faculty have a special interest in copyright issues, and Cherbuliez praises University Libraries' sessions on the subject. They included information not only on avoiding coyright infringement when using materials in class, but what faculty should think about and negotiate for when publishing their own work.

And, as befits its role in fostering the free exchange of ideas, University Libraries also sponsor UThink, one of the largest institutional blog services in the country. It is open to any faculty, staff member, or student.