Adapting to Today and Tomorrow at Cheng Library! A Message from the Dean of Cheng Library, Dr. Edward Owusu-Ansah

Dean Owusu-Ansah shares his thoughts on challenges and opportunities current and future at Cheng Library.

Dean Edward Owusu-Ansah

Welcome to Spring 2018 and with the New Year, let us articulate some hopes for the rest of the academic year and beyond at Cheng Library. We remain your favorite academic space, with Fall 2017 attendance remaining strong. We are proud of the services and resources we offer, and the targeting of collections to provide the best bang for our bucks even in a challenging information marketplace. But we know, as Danuta A. Nitecki (“Changing the Concept and Measure of Service Quality in Academic Libraries,” 1996) points out, that in light of funding challenges in higher education and the difficulties of creating library collections singularly adequate to support campus teaching and research, “a measure of library quality based solely on collections has become obsolete.”

This compels libraries to pay greater attention to evolving user dynamics and demands, and changes in student and faculty behaviors and expectations.  We continue to do so and to respond accordingly, always seeking the right balance. Our ongoing collection improvements and rightsizing activities represent such an attempt, as we work on providing you with materials that have greater relevancy to your academic and research pursuits, while ensuring the effectiveness of your engagements with the Library and appreciation of the environment within which you operate once you are within our walls. The evidence does indeed support Heather B. Terrell’s (“Reference is Dead, Long Live Reference: Electronic Collections in the Digital Age,” 2015) observation that library use is increasing probably because “users want access to computers, instruction in technology, study spaces, or just a place to be that’s not home, not school, and not work.”

This evolving perception of the contemporary academic library user and the associated demands it places on library operations cannot be overemphasized. As Darlene Weingand (Customer Service Excellence, 1997) puts it, “If a library is going to survive – and thrive – in this new electronic environment, it will have to let the market (its customers) define value.” Our customers communicate regularly their desire to see more current, relevant, and easy to access content. They prioritize comfortable environments and flexible spaces that suit their learning and study styles and preferences, and they want effective and friendly services as well as guidance and support in their research and academic pursuits. So we focus on streamlined collections, adaptable and collaborative spaces, greater participation in instruction and student success activities, and spaces better suited to student learning, research, and socialization. The goal is to position the vital real estate, resources, personnel, and expertise of the library to most effectively support the core academic functions of the University.

To that end, we weeded our reference collection at a diligent pace over the past semesters. We expanded our electronic holdings and converted many print subscriptions and titles to digital. We did so to improve your anywhere and anytime access to these information sources. The growing professional consensus in the field of librarianship recognizes that in a 24/7 web world, our patrons are better served by reference collections that are predominantly electronic and always accessible when needed. We are also weeding the circulating collection to bring our collections in greater alignment with S. R. Ranganathan’s five laws of library science, librarianship’s foundational philosophy: books are for use, every reader their book, every book its reader, save the time of the reader, the library is a growing organism. It is a nod to Donna J. Baumbach and Linda L. Miller (Less is More, 2006), who wrote: “In this age of rapidly changing information, it is imperative that we keep our collections up to date. This means selecting and purchasing new materials and discarding or recycling others. Weeding has many benefits. As you weed, you will get to know your collection better and you will be better able to get the right ‘stuff’ into the right hands at the right time.”

We deselect and refresh to underpin the importance of use to our collection development decisions. We make sure that the materials we collect and retain are in line with user information and knowledge needs, and are processed to guarantee ease of access. We are guided by the realization that carefully selected and maintained collections save users time and reduce the chance for irrelevant retrievals. Our efforts are ultimately in recognition of changing times and evolving user expectations and demands. We also take into consideration the caution Alex D. McAllister and Allan Scherlen (Weeding with Wisdom: Tuning Deselection of Print Monographs in Book Reliant Disciplines,” 2017) ask us to exercise when they note that weeding library collections should always be done with sensitivity to disciplinary differences. We are proceeding carefully and intentionally and regularly seek faculty input.

At the beginning of the Fall 2017 semester, I expressed the hope that we could achieve greater enhancements to your experience in your favorite academic gathering and meeting space, Cheng Library. The University is working on that and will hopefully soon begin carpeting of the library to improve the environment in which you work, learn, and socialize. As resources allow, we will seek transformations that further enhance your experiences in the library, and we will always have at your disposal the unparalleled expertise of our library faculty and staff, who have always demonstrated their commitment to serving and satisfying you, the library patron, in a manner that enriches your experience and helps you succeed at William Paterson University. These colleagues of mine embody a spirit of service that Karl Albrecht (The Only Thing That Matters: Bringing the Power of the Customer into the Center of your Business, 1992) captured as “an attitude, based on certain values and beliefs about people, life, and work, that leads a person to willingly serve others and take pride in his or her work.” They understand that structures and organizations matter, but know that it is the people involved who are most responsible for achieving the results we desire.

In conclusion, it is common knowledge that all libraries operate within the context of the missions and aspirations of their parent institutions. Cheng Library is no different. Our mission remains to contribute to the success of an academic enterprise with ever-changing participants and evolving expectations, and an information landscape under constant transformation. We adapt, adjust, and operate knowing, as Yogi Berra observed, that “the future ain’t what it used to be.” That provides an inspiring challenge.

February 12, 2018