Between the Lines

From the University Librarian FY 2020

What a year it has been!

And yet, Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries have not only risen to the occasion, but actually made great progress during the pandemic. It may sound counterintuitive, but we have seen a significant increase in library use—and an outpouring of appreciation from our community. Students who might once have haphazardly checked out a book or relied on a single journal article for a paper, now chat in record numbers with their subject librarians online. We have won over a whole generation of students who are grateful to learn more about how to use the online catalog effectively and amazed to discover scores of discipline-oriented databases. Similarly, faculty have gained fresh respect for what librarians can do for them, realizing that there are new resources and research techniques that were not available in their student days. In short, closer relationships have developed between librarians and their users and these relationships and modes of communication will continue to bear fruit long after the pandemic.

Also in 2020, we completed a major external review of the Heard Libraries. The resulting report recognizes the incredible progress we’ve made over the past five years, and it offers incisive and innovative recommendations for further progress. The libraries were found to have “made significant improvements since the 2015 Report of the Future of the Libraries Committee” and were seen as “well-regarded by faculty and students.” The review also notes the “great successes in deep engagement and collaboration with faculty,” and a campus-wide survey finds high levels of satisfaction with library services. Because our users’ needs are constantly evolving, the libraries are committed to continuous improvement to meet those needs.

The report called for an expanded role and mindset for the libraries in the context of the university and its strategic goals. Particular areas identified by the provost for focus and progress in the coming year include the development of a digital strategy that streamlines, scales and sustains digital services and infrastructure. In addition, we have been asked to embed impact evaluation and assessment more fully into our work. This is a welcome task as we continue to develop tools for analyzing and communicating the impact—and the true value of library resources and services to the educational mission of the university.

That value has never been more apparent or appreciated than during this extraordinary period in our history. Heard Libraries are central to Vanderbilt University’s teaching and research mission, and we look forward to continuing in that role in the post-COVID-19 “next normal.” Know that our library staff and services will be here for you, as always, as we respond to rapidly changing research and teaching environments.