The Miami Report

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A conversation with Dean Judith Sessions

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of interviews with Miami’s deans designed to acquaint the university community with events in the schools and college. Today’s interview features Judith Sessions, dean of the Miami University Libraries.

What are some of the significant issues affecting the libraries?

An interesting issue concerns the changing student patterns of library use. When many of us are going to bed, today’s students want library services. We’re open until 2 a.m. from midterms until the end of finals and students are here. There’s pressure to do that 24 hours a day.

We’re trying to undo the limits of time and space for library use by designing online services that will respond to these changing patterns — rendering us more or less "virtually" open 24 hours a day.

Of course, once you place lots of resources online, you must be sure that students know how to use them. Libraries must lead in educating students on how to use information resources on the Internet and elsewhere. We held 18 credit classes last semester, plus numerous class-related sessions. If students are not taught how to evaluate the large amount of information on the Internet, they don’t know if they’re using a reputable source or not.

We’re looking at creating one-hour e-information add-ons to regular courses. Our librarians also need to get out into classrooms and faculty offices, taking their role as educators right alongside the faculty.

Another issue is the rising cost of books and periodicals. Book prices are again up 10 percent with periodicals up 12 percent. (The budget for library materials is up 4 percent). We’re obtaining more full-text periodicals online, taking advantage of special consortia pricing agreements, but prices for these materials are still rising more quickly than the general rate of inflation.

What new initiatives are under way at the libraries?

By next year, social science and geographical information systems researchers will be able to retrieve and manipulate large sets of demographic or statistical data, using the Electronic Data Center (EDC) being developed in the libraries. The EDC will allow users to locate, access and use data through a Web site that will reproduce the full functionality of a statistical package without requiring them to master sophisticated programming skills.

We also hope later this year to begin offering My Library — a program in which librarians create and maintain interactive, database-driven Web pages where users can create customized reports. Users will be able, for example, to search through online journals weekly, monthly or whenever, bringing the information to their desktops.

Available now is an electronic New Books list that allows users to search by subject or alphabetical listing. In addition, we’re cataloging some of the better Web sites on certain topics so they appear with other information in library searches.

We’re continuing our partnership with OhioLINK (a consortium of public and private universities, colleges, and the State Library of Ohio). We’ve added new electronic databases, as well as doubled the online holdings of the Electronic Journal Center (EJC) by adding periodicals published by Kluwer, Wiley and the American Physical Society.

We’re beginning to make images available through OhioLINK’s digital media center; 3,500 images of online art and architecture slides, medical slides, and part of the Associated Press photo file will be available through MiamiLINK.

In another venture, Miami and OSU will purchase digital copies of books, mostly from university publishers. We’ll test this product to see if it benefits the publishers, university libraries and potential users.

Finally, we are in the process of completing a renovation of the Havighurst Special Collections Library using funds from a generous donor. We hope to carry out a major renovation of the Brill Science Library, complete the second module of the Southwest Ohio Regional Depository begun in July and plan for the renovation of the second floor of King Library to begin next summer.

What are some successes for the libraries?

We’ve moved rapidly to take advantage of new technology, yet we’re still providing traditional library services, making sure that the technology we introduce adds real value.

Online reserves has been a real success for us, as well as for faculty and students. Use has increased by 400-500 percent; students love to have their reserve materials available 24 hours a day.

Most of our initiatives have been successes because of our philosophy—don’t let things fail; work on them until they succeed.

What are the libraries doing to enhance diversity?

A major goal for the past year was to hire a multicultural librarian to assist students, faculty and library staff in addressing a range of diversity issues, particularly as they relate to collections and instruction. In October, Pat Bullock, a former resident librarian, returned as our first multicultural librarian and has been working on campus and in Greater Cincinnati to raise awareness in this important area.

The libraries’ active diversity committee sponsors the African-American Read-In Chain every February. Last year over 1,000 people in Oxford participated in the Read-In, attending programs in one of several locations, including King Library, each of the Talawanda schools and Lane Public Library.

We have created displays in the various libraries with topics including Judaism, the Holocaust, the Gay and Lesbian task force and focuses on different countries. We also make that space available for organizations that wish to create displays.

How do the libraries connect to the broader community?

We tend to loan more materials than we borrow through OhioLINK and OCLC, a national and international interlibrary lending consortium. We belong to the Greater Cincinnati Library Consortium, through which we lend materials to schools and public libraries. Through the OhioView consortium we share geographic materials and satellite maps of Ohio with the entire state. Library faculty and staff present papers at conferences and workshops on topics in which we’re leaders, both within the state and nation.

Use of MiamiLINK, our online information network, has increased from almost 420,000 uses/month in September 1997 to more than one million uses/month in September 1998. People at other universities, commercial sites and even international users (3 percent) are using MiamiLINK.

Also available via MiamiLINK is a digitized version of Walter Havighurst’s book, The Miami Years, as well as an online children’s book database. Librarians and faculty collaborated to create an ERIC database tutorial that is online.

Finally, we’ll be digitizing the Synder photo collection of Oxford and Miami scenes, and making it available via the Web.

Date Published: 10/06/1999
Volume: 19   Number: 11

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