The library is often referred to as “the heart of the university.” Our very own Nicholson Library is a staple of academic and campus life at AU. It serves as a quiet place to study, a convenient meeting location for group projects and houses a wealth of resources and information free for student use.
Dr. Janet Brewer, director of Nicholson Library, received her undergraduate degree at AU in music education. She studied the same subject for her master’s degree and taught music for the first part of her career. She then decided to change directions and received her PhD in educational policy studies and evaluation emphasis in higher education.
She wanted to learn “where the library is situated in the broader higher education system,” and has spent the rest of her career in this environment.
Hundreds of students each day utilize the library for countless purposes. However, most students do not realize the full extent of our library’s capabilities or what it takes to keep everything running smoothly.
“There always needs to be someone dealing with past, present and future information,” explains Brewer. “That’s what we do. That’s called a library.”
Most people can list the basic functions of a library: store books and loan them out, and, now with advanced technology, provide these same resources online.
Brewer details some of the lesser known functions of Nicholson Library—behind-the-scenes work that provides students and faculty with a constantly updated wealth of information.
To start, there are cassette tapes and floppy disks housing valuable information that is technologically out-of-date. The library is tasked with making this information current and accessible.
The library also handles copyright issues, because every piece of information has an owner.
“When we receive something, we have to ask, ‘who says you can have this?’” explains Brewer.
Additionally, with the rapid advancement in technology comes an increased demand for resources available online. Students want to access books and articles from their dorm room or the coffee shop, and the library provides this to them free of cost.
“Some people think everything on the internet is free,” says Brewer. “More things are available than ever before, but it’s not free.” She explains how the library purchases these resources and makes them available to students. “The people behind the scenes have to build the website, they have to put links in and they have to authenticate you as an Anderson student.”
The library staff sorts out licensing agreements with companies who own the information students need, and they make the information available to students and faculty in a seamless fashion.
Students can be sure the information they access from Nicholson Library is reliable and of the highest quality. Brewer says, “When you Google something, you get ten thousand results and you have to ask yourself, ‘what do I pick?’”
When a student comes to the library looking for information, it has already been sorted through and only the best options are presented to them.
The archives are an “arm of the library” that most know nothing about. An archive serves a similar purpose but is unique in itself. The AU archives are a collection of “special materials” that are often one-of-a-kind artifacts. Our archives house letters, books, videos and architectural drawings, among thousands of other things. The focus of the AU archives are Anderson University’s past, present and future as well as the Church of God.
An archivist and several student volunteers work to make the treasures stored in the archives “discoverable,” as Brewer puts it. Additionally, preservation is of the utmost importance in the archives, because each item is unique and cannot be replaced.
Even if a student has never checked out a book from the library, it is likely that they have done their homework or met to finish a group project in one of the library’s many study areas.
“There is lots of discussion around the library as a place,” says Dr. Brewer. “Most think the library is a storehouse, where we keep things, and the internet kind of blew this out of the water. People started arguing that physical buildings aren’t needed anymore because everything is online.”
However, Brewer believes the library as a physical place is necessary and important, especially in the context of a university. She describes the library as “an intellectual gathering place,” and cites community and scholars as two important aspects of this.
“You need to have around you everything you need to be successful,” says Brewer. “We provide everything from internet connection and places to charge your computer to comfortable chairs and cups of coffee.”
“People used to say the more books you had, the better your library is,” explains Brewer, “but what really makes a good library is service.”
She cites her staff as the most unique aspect of Nicholson Library.
“They take special interest in every single person who walks in the door,” she said.
The library staff strives to create a welcoming space in which students can succeed. Furthermore, they will demonstrate hospitality and respect to all students and faculty seeking information or simply a place to sit and study at the library.
Brewer and the rest of the library staff welcome suggestions from students and faculty on how the library could advance and improve. They firmly believe the quality of a library is not based in how many volumes it houses but how well it is able to serve everyone who walks in its doors.