Randy Roberts smiles when he imagines Odella Nation walking into Axe Library today.
“The technology would just be astounding to her,” Roberts said. “All of those manual processes that she would be familiar with – most of that’s gone.”
Nation, one of the five original members of the Manual Training Normal School in 1903, established the institution’s first library and served as head librarian until 1943. She saw the library grow from a small room at the Central School, space on the second floor of Russ Hall and into its own new building (Porter Hall) in 1926.
Nation might also be stunned to discover patrons sipping coffee and lattes and munching blueberry scones – definite no-no’s in her day.
Roberts was named dean of library services at PSU earlier this year. He came to PSU in 1997 as curator of Special Collections and university archivist. He holds both a B.A. and an M.A. from PSU in history and a master’s degree in library science from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Roberts said it is an exciting time to lead Axe Library.
“There’s not been a time in the history of libraries when you’ve had a greater opportunity to make dramatic changes that affect users,” Roberts said. “Change is happening very rapidly so it is exciting and it is challenging.”
Part of the change Roberts speaks of is driven by technology and the rapid expansion of access to information.
“Libraries for a long time were centralized storehouses of the information that was available,” Roberts said. “It was important for each library to have as complete a collection of books or periodicals or other kinds of materials as they could. Now, with technology, everything is changing. Instead of being a storehouse, we’re an institution that provides access to information, no matter whether we have the physical copy on the shelf or whether we have it as an e-book or an e-journal or a digitized collection here or from anywhere around the world. People want easy access to information anytime of the day or night and from anywhere.”
To help make that possible, the library is in the midst of implementing a new computerized integrated library system. The 18-month project will go live next January and replaces a system that is more than 20 years old. In addition to major changes to the “back end,” the new system will give patrons a much better user interface, Roberts said.
Another part of the change to the library that Roberts talks about is the evolving role the library plays in the life of the campus.
The modern library is much more focused on integrating a variety of services all targeted at helping students succeed. The Writing Center and the Student Success Center have recently opened in an area once devoted to stacks of periodicals and microfilm readers. There’s also a Gorilla Geeks desk where patrons can get help with technology.
Other physical changes include both spaces for quiet individual study and spaces devoted to more lively group collaborative projects.
One of the more noticeable changes in recent years has been the addition of a coffee shop, the Axe Grind, on the first floor of the library. There, patrons can grab a cup of coffee, enjoy a pastry or even lunch.
“We certainly aspire to be a place on campus where everybody wants to be, whether it’s to meet friends and to socialize, to get a coffee and a scone at the coffee shop, to do research for a class or to take advantage of the other services in the building such as the Student Success Center or the Writing Center,” Roberts said.
Roberts said changing technology and the new ways the library serves students are both exciting and challenging. While Odella Nation might find some of these changes a little overwhelming, not everything would seem foreign to her, Roberts said.
“How we go about the day-to-day work is very different,” Roberts said, “but I think she (Nation) would still recognize that same service orientation and that same focus on student success as it was in her time. That dynamic hasn’t changed.”