Chicago, IL,
12:55 PM

Library Lovers


Since February is Library Lovers month we're paying hommage to the GSU library by taking a look at its social and educational evolution.

The first libraries were established in antiquity, their records and tomes etched into clay. Papyrus followed. In China, bamboo was similarly pressed to make a paper-like material around 1500 BCE, and a millennium later, parchment became all the rage. For the first time ever, scribes were able to write on two sides of one document.

Sometime around 105 CE, a Chinese eunuch named Cai Lun presented the first acknowledged piece of paper at the Imperial court of the Han dynasty, and 1,000 years after that, it arrived in Europe. Printing presses and leather binding would follow, and along the way on the written word’s vast route from Mesopotamia to the ubiquity of the World Wide Web, an unknowable number of libraries have been established and collected.

While their basic function has remained the same—collecting and preserving written records—the library’s social and educational roles have shifted, particularly in these first decades of the 21st century.

“I think it’s a whole new environment. I think in the old days it was a place people went for quiet, to be alone. Today it’s much more than that. It’s still a place to find some solitude, but it’s also a place that people are using to collaborate, to meet,” said Lydia Morrow Ruetten, dean of the library at Governors State University.

GSU’s library is equipped with multiple meeting areas including two reserve-only smart rooms equipped with overhead projection systems and laptop sharing that allows students to plug in and access one another’s screens. Those rooms are available exclusively to students. Ruetten said they’re ideal spaces for group project work and Skype conferences.

And the place is vast. GSU’s library spans over 43,000 square feet. The public side of the library is multi-regional. There are book nooks and cozy corners, partitioned individual study desks, and computer terminals with ergonomic seats that work your abs. An open-air balcony area outfitted with tables lets students relax together and talk in a less hushed atmosphere, and the Skylight Gallery in the Library features rotating art exhibits each semester.

Behind the scenes, a maze of offices and departments allow the library’s 20+ workers keep the outside running smoothly for students and faculty. Of the eight other certified librarians and fifteen support staff members, Ruetten said, “We’re a team no matter what our title, no matter what our role.”

The library physically houses not only books but magazines, journals, reels of microfilm, cabinets filled with microfiche, anatomy models – the university library is far more than a place for novels and textbooks – and the hard-copy collection is fractional compared with the volume of electronic resources it has available.

A fairly recent addition to GSU’s library is the Open Portal for University Scholarship (OPUS), an electronic repository for capstone theses and dissertations authored by GSU faculty and students. The open-access platform makes 5,284 papers available worldwide. Since its inception nearly two years ago, OPUS has seen 44,000 downloads. Ruetten can monitor the site in real time from her desktop. Just a few seconds of watching reveals users in New York, California, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand accessing GSU scholarship on topics ranging from text messaging to Beowulf.

Regional history and documentation of building renovations are stored, too, in OPUS, and it is also home to the university archives.

“We really believe that we are the historians for the university,” Ruetten said. “We use OPUS for collecting presidential memories and photographs, preserving institutional memory. With our current president, we are collecting her speeches and media appearances. The archives document the impact that each of our presidents has had on us.”

“We want to provide access to information in most expedient and efficient ways in the most variety of ways,” Sarkisian said, “and being able to access the information for the students is a big undertaking. Our librarians are able to sort through all of this information. They are fabulous search engines. Since we live in the Information Age, it’s really important to think about being information professionals. That’s really what we do, we’re information specialists. When you think about all that information that’s out there – who sorts through it? I think that ‘information professional’ is absolutely a phrase that applies to (GSU’s librarians).”

“Our mission is to teach people how to be lifelong learners. We want to be their partners, be approachable,” Ruetten said. “We love to share, and we love to help.”