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A Sense of Belonging, Safety, Support

I believe deeply in print, and as a library we believe deeply in print. I hope we are still able to provide both print and online resources to meet the needs of students in this ever-changing world.

Alexandra Patterson

Alexandra Patterson views Lenfest Hall and the library housed there as a campus hub for both academic and social life.

“When students are interacting with the library, I hope they feel a sense of belonging and safety and support,” says Patterson, Mercersburg's director of library services. “I hope they are able to get their research needs met and get books that they would like to read.”

Patterson's hope is that as students learn, they will grow. In light of that, she quotes astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson: “For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday and, along the way, lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.”

While libraries used to measure success by how many students came in or how many books were checked out, today that measurement looks quite different, says Patterson, who manages a five-person staff.

An information literacy program, previously run by former research librarian Suzanne Taylor, is embedded in the 9th-grade curriculum, with sessions offered for 10th, 11th, and 12th grades as well.

“The problem used to be, how do I find the information? How do I access it? Where do I get it? Now it's about, I have all this information. How do I know whether it's good information? How do I filter that information for my specific information need right now? How do I know if the person has the credentials to be writing on this subject? How do I know if it's true or if maybe someone just made it up? And how do I know that I have enough sources to be able to support my claims? We think really broadly about that.”

To meet the needs of all students, the library offers three kinds of working spaces. Those working on group projects use classroom space. The main floor is open for studying and quiet conversation. A silent reading room provides an option for students who want a completely quiet area to work.

“We really are trying to get kids to think about community, and so, what does the community need? The community needs for everyone to be able to get their work done, which means a little push and pull, right? You may not be able to be as loud as you would like to be.” During the day, students have history classes in the library. In the evenings, students come to the library to study and work on homework.

“The way we have done research has changed completely, even since I was an undergrad, which was not all that long ago,” Patterson says. “As the nature of information is changing, and there's so many things available online, I think the measure of success has changed. We've looked at our metrics for how often resources are used. How many database searches are run? How often are we in classrooms helping out with instruction?”

A new virtual reality (VR) lab will offer students and teachers options for learning that weren't available previously. Nicole Brown, the library's tech integration specialist, is overseeing the initiative.

Looking ahead, Patterson wants to continue offering traditional and online resources. “I hope that we're still doing many of the things that we're doing now,” Patterson says. “There's a push in academic libraries, particularly at the collegiate level, to remove a lot of the books from the collection. I believe deeply in print, and as a library we believe deeply in print. I hope we are still able to provide both print and online resources to meet the needs of students in this ever-changing world.”

“I hope we continue to be on the cutting edge of what research looks like, and what libraries can look like, while still maintaining all of the beautiful, wonderful things about libraries, the space, the belonging, the books themselves.”

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