McFarlin Library reaches new heights in the TU community - The University of Tulsa
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McFarlin Library reaches new heights in the TU community

The Satin Room at McFarlin LibraryMcFarlin Library is home to a beautiful collection of books, a priceless Special Collections department and a staff who care deeply for TU and its students. As the world around us has developed and evolved in recent years, so too have the facets of McFarlin, turning toward a new age of academia. Bob Pickering, interim dean of McFarlin, is eager to share his thoughts about the changes and outlook of growth blossoming within the walls of TU’s beloved study castle.

What is a library, and how is the idea of a library evolving in this constantly progressing world? These were just two of the questions Pickering addressed from his sunny corner office. We began with the premise that libraries are revered places of knowledge. The library holds books, guards delicate and valuable pieces of our history and serves as a meeting place for any and all who desire to learn. These characteristics continue to be true, but how does the rise of a digital age change even those core features? To Pickering, this potential is awe-inspiring and exciting. There used to be questions about how to allocate money for purchasing physical books and resources and how to store these materials. Now, with essentially every journal and publication online, the more pressing question is how best to access the right resources efficiently.

Here begins the fun. With a transition from the ownership of materials to maximum access of resources, the library is empowered to better work with individual departments, faculty and students to answer the questions, “What’s going to help, and how can we open that door for you?” This shift changes the library from being inward focused to being outward focused, evolving the standard in Pickering’s words, “not away from the books, but toward service.”

Dr. Bob Pickering examines 200 year old mexican pottery sculptures

Pickering shared a special hope for first-year students who are healing from two years of turmoil in their high school experience and for how encouraging this new focus can be for those who may have felt isolated by academics in recent years. He has seen this evolution start with the intentionality of his staff, such as Student Success Librarian Lisa Grimes, who visits courses such as First Year Experience and ENGL1033 to teach integral research skills that will serve undergraduates throughout their collegiate careers. One database that Grimes has introduced is called Scopus, for which she dedicated time to complete a six-week certification training in order to help students use it more effectively. With 548 databases accessible through McFarlin, she starts a student where they are comfortable, and then begins introducing new programs and methods to open doors that they may not have realized were available. “If a student comes in for a one-on-one, I don’t mind not knowing the topic, because if I struggle with research in front of them, I feel like that validates the fact that they’re struggling and it’s OK,” she shared. With a focus on information literacy and accessibility, Grimes and her fellow librarians are working to help students find success in all their research endeavors.

Another central consideration is the decision regarding daily hours. While digital access can be 24/7 with computers, and information can be obtained even from the comfort of a dorm room, the library itself still draws students seeking study space, books, coffee and community. Pickering shared a fascinating new system that tracks how many people are in the building at any given time. Without having to register physical appearance, gender or any other visible characteristic, this electronic system provides a heat-map by hour and day when people are in the building. Data like this is important for staffing. If students are working within the library, Pickering feels it’s reasonable that they also have access to coffee or snacks, and this data makes those resources available in a cost-effective manner. Such information also helps identify what information and materials are used regularly and what may be collecting dust in the corner.

For Pickering, these initiatives make work at McFarlin exciting, to be present at a time when all aspects of academia are coming together: the goals of the university, the interest and training of staff, the new stretches of technology — all collaborating to make a strong, supportive institution that benefits the rest of the university.