On Books and Cyberdoors

January, 2005
Photo by John Hession, Dorchester, N.H.

Photo by John Hession, Dorchester, N.H.

If you walk through the front door of Lamson Library today, you’ll notice that something looks different than it did just a few years ago. It’s not the building itself, but the way patrons are using it that’s changed. And it’s not just here at Plymouth State that this shift is taking place. In these high-tech times, where the Internet has become the information and research tool of choice for so many, library usage and reading habits in general are changing across the nation.

While millions of Americans do plenty of reading on the Internet, most of them aren’t picking up a lot of books these days. A widely publicized report issued last summer by the National Endowment for the Arts reveals fewer than half of adult Americans read for enjoyment. In the literary fiction category, that figure is down more than 14 percent just since 1992, and among young adults 18 to 34 years old, the decline is accelerating faster than any other age group. It is in response to these evolving needs and preferences that Plymouth State is emerging as a national leader with both programs and technologies.

Last summer, the Writing Center services were expanded into the Writing and Reading Center. The Center moved to Lamson Library with the goal of enhancing campus-wide and community literacy, and that includes a special focus on developing lifelong reading habits. Using the University’s very successful Writing Across the Curriculum program as a model, plans are under way to establish a Reading Across the Curriculum program that will be headquartered at the Center. The program has the potential to become a national model for promoting reading among college students, while also engaging local communities in literacy activities.

Books may not be flying off library shelves these days, but Lamson Library is still a bustling center of academic activity. With its new wireless capabilities, patrons no longer need to be tied to a computer terminal. Instead of isolated students working away in cubicles strewn with books, magazines and papers, more and more students can be seen in study groups clicking away on laptop computers. Through integration with PSU’s myPlymouth portal, the access page to all secure online campus services, faculty can customize class reading lists with the WebCT course management system.

Authorized patrons now have 24-hour access to licensed information databases and the full menu of library services. Once signed in to myPlymouth, users have easy access to these services from both on and off campus without having to use any additional passwords. This single user sign-on integrates Lamson’s Innovative Interfaces Library System with SCT Campus Pipeline that runs the myPlymouth portal. Depending on the task, there may be no need to leave home, office or dorm room.

“We refer to our library homepage as our ‘cyberdoor’,” explains Todd Trevorrow, director of the University library. “It’s always open and it’s one of the real miracles of the modern library. From that page, authenticated users have remote access to more than 10,000 searchable periodicals, many with downloadable full text. This access is especially important for many of our off-campus and non-traditional students who have limited time to travel back and forth to campus due to things like jobs and family commitments.” The September 2004 edition of Inn-Touch, the national newsletter of Innovative Interfaces Inc., includes a special feature on Lamson’s streamlined, single sign-on access and model automation system.

PSU Systems Librarian Elaine Allard and Library Systems Liaison Casey Bisson are the driving force behind Lamson’s success with this portal integration. They first presented their work at the 2003 national meeting of Innovative Interfaces, Inc. in California. It generated so much interest, they have been asked to present a number of times since then. Says Trevorrow, “Plymouth State is one of only a handful of institutions in the nation to achieve this level of portal integration. While fewer books are leaving the library because of this expanded accessibility, overall library usage is exploding.”

The libraries at University System of New Hampshire campuses are currently developing a proposal to establish a similar management system for digital collections. With such a system, historically significant collections of manuscripts, films, sheet music, photographs and other objects would be archived and catalogued. Collections too old and fragile to be made physically available for research would be searchable online by signed-in users. If the proposal is approved, digital collections management at Plymouth State University could be a reality in two years.

As technology makes information resources available to more people in faster and more convenient ways all the time, so too will it continue to influence the way students and other patrons use the library. So what about the books?

“The technology is wonderful,” says Trevorrow, “and with it we’re able to serve more people better than ever before. But there’s one thing Lamson’s real front door offers that our cyberdoor doesn’t. When you step through it you’re physically surrounded by centuries of knowledge, and you can hold it in your hands.”

It’s a singular inspiration, and we should all experience it every now and again.-KH

Editor’s note: Sadly, just days after this article was written, Todd Trevorrow died in an automobile accident. He was devoted to his work at Plymouth State University, and was tremendously proud of the accomplishments of the faculty and staff of Lamson Library. He is greatly missed.

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