Can you imagine religion without churches? Medicine without hospitals? Sports without playing fields? Neither can I. Nor, using that same line of thinking, can I imagine the world of academia without libraries. Yet that is exactly the direction in which some schools are headed. For those in that camp, the thinking goes, “the library lives in a student’s laptop. Why support a physical library when a virtual library exists?” Fortunately, Notre Dame is not one of those schools. Which is not to say NDP is not progressive, cutting edge, or technologically savvy. There are no Luddites on this campus. On the contrary, NDP has embraced digital technology and run with it. They even understand that which used to be an oxymoron – the bookless library – might one day become a reality. And while there are those who lament the exclusivity of that concept (Bluenote is one of them), still they are not delusional about the pervasive role technology will play in the future. But what makes the faculty and staff at NDP so great is their understanding that these concepts are not mutually exclusive, nor do they have to be at odds with one another. What NDP does believe in is giving each student every opportunity to learn and in preparing her for the world of college and beyond. At NDP, therefore, they understand and promote the concepts of excellence and expertise. What good is having something at your fingertips if you don’t know how to use or interpret it? Or, to paraphrase a poster hanging in the NDP library, “just because you have Web MD doesn’t mean you don’t need a doctor, and just because you have Google, doesn’t mean you don’t need a librarian.” A 14-year-old is not yet an expert, whereas a staff member with an advanced degree and many years professional experience…is. No matter what Yelp suggests to the contrary.
I’m reminded of all this because it is National Library Week and NDP is celebrating it in style.
“It all started with Ellen Cullen, NDP’s former librarian,” Anne Wisniewski, NDP’s current senior librarian explained. “Ellen understood that just as the chapel is the spiritual center of NDP, so the library is the academic center of the school.” Those kind of physical touchstones are greatly important. There needs to be a ‘there’ there. Under Ellen’s administration, the library expanded its staff and physical space, as well as its stacks and operating systems. “Ellen reminded everyone that the library should be embraced and celebrated for its importance,” Anne went on to explain. ” She really established strong relationships with the rest of the faculty. As a result, we are in constant consultation with each other. What we do here supports what goes on in the classroom and vice versa.” To that end, the leadership of NDP fully sustains and promotes the central role the library and its staff plays at NDP. And contrary to other schools in the area and around the country – both public and private – NDP does so both philosophically and financially. And it’s not about what a library looks like today or will look like tomorrow. In the NDP library, you’re as likely to see a student bent over her laptop as a book.
“It’s about information literacy,” explained Anne. “We teach these girls how to research. What sources to trust, how to cite sources, how to pick topics to write a paper on, what to do if you can’t find information on that topic, how to write a thesis, how to evaluate information. Our electronic databases and reference books are all state of the art and first class. But that work, that training, is best done face to face. That’s why the concept of ‘library as place’ and the ‘staff as teachers’ is so important. And because of all that, our girls are 10 steps ahead of their classmates when they get to college. They know how to do what other college freshman haven’t a clue about because they weren’t taught or didn’t have the resources.”
At NDP, the library is not a deadly place full of dusty stacks. Indeed, it is a vibrant, living hub, organic and central to the rest of the school. It is run by an efficient and expert staff with Anne at the helm. Anne has her masters in school library media and is a media specialist. She is supported by 4 others including another fully credentialed librarian.
During National Library Week, Anne and her staff have lots of fun things planned including guest authors, dramatic enactments, and reading contests. After all, there is one other responsibility Anne takes quite seriously. And that is her responsibility to encourage and promote reading. Whether it’s curling up in a corner with a good book or an E-reader. The joy the written word brings can be the same. Thanks to Anne and her staff for an outstanding job. And Happy National Library Week.