Bethel Magazine

Behind the Books

What’s ahead for Bethel’s libraries

Spring 2010 | By Heather Johnson

Behind the Books

For libraries, gone are the days of private study carrels and wooden card catalogs filled with dog-eared paper indexes. Now—thanks to technology—a large number of library-goers never even walk through the library doors for the resources or help they need. And if they do, it’s often to meet up with fellow classmates to work on group projects or presentations, not to study alone in peace and quiet. Libraries, and their patrons, have changed drastically over the past 25 years, and Bethel’s own are no different. When Bethel’s main library opened in 1972, seven staff members served some 1,300 students. Now—although their space has not expanded—17 staff members serve nearly 5,000 students. Last year alone, more than 1 million people passed through the University Library’s doors. Find out how all of Bethel’s libraries are coming together, accommodating new technology and checking out books—or not—to today’s students.

Come Together

Longtime Bethel librarian Bob Suderman saw the card catalog move from paper to microfiche to online. “Our technology was constantly shuffling,” explains Suderman. “When things slowed, inevitably something would pop up and keep me going.” The constant change kept him busy for 33 years until his retirement in 2009, but he didn’t leave before better coordinating all of Bethel’s libraries (the College of Arts & Sciences, Bethel Seminary St. Paul, and Bethel Seminary San Diego). Under President Emeritus George Brushaber, Suderman led the effort to incorporate them all into the automated CLICnet system back in the 1980s, which allows individuals to look up books and request transfers in other CLICnet member libraries—found at other private colleges and universities. Some 20 years later, the implementation of Blink, Bethel’s online portal, forced all of Bethel’s libraries to put their electronic databases and links to journals in the same place.

Now, Suderman’s successor David Stewart will continue this synergy by overseeing all of Bethel’s libraries, a new responsibility of Bethel’s library director position. Stewart joined the university in January 2010, having previously held positions at Luther Seminary in St. Paul and Princeton Seminary in New Jersey.

“Integration of our library systems is a big change,” he says. “But it’s a good challenge to have. Across the university, we need to move toward integration and less duplication.” Sandra Oslund, Bethel Seminary St. Paul’s library director, is looking forward to the change in organizational structure, even though it’s uncharted territory.

“By working closely together, I think we can provide more unified resources and services for Bethel students. We will gain by cooperation with the university library, and the university can gain by the uniqueness of the seminary library collections.”

Each of Bethel’s libraries has distinctions, but finding elements of continuity is crucial. And so is marketing. “Libraries used to be seen as sacred places that could take care of themselves. They were valuable to people without any effort from a library staff,” says Suderman. “But that has changed drastically. It’s a whole different world. Bethel’s library will have to help people discover what it is and what it offers. Simply building the space does not mean students will come.”

What Bethel’s library offers are answers, and they may not be found in books, believes Erica Myers ’11, who has worked at the library for three years as both a reference and technology assistant. “I have learned that there is always a solution or answer,” says Myers. “When students have research questions, there are always different places to look, whether it’s on the bookshelves, other databases, or alternate libraries.” With her psychology major and Spanish minor, she hopes to go on to graduate school for library and information science to become a reference librarian.

Wait Up, Technology!

Books are no longer the only deciding factor in a library’s success. “You really have to be more imaginative in how to provide service,” explains Stewart. “If a library’s services are set up on the assumption that you’re going to deal face-to-face with all your customers, you’d be missing a lot of opportunities in an environment like Bethel.”

To continue offering the best in services, Bethel constantly anticipates and adapts. “Electronic revolution is probably the best way to describe it,” says Carole Cragg, associate director of libraries, who’s served at Bethel for 25 years. “And it’s happened a couple times over.”

This revolution means not only that learners can access the library’s card catalog online, but also that they can access and print e-books and journal articles, and narrow their search through sophisticated online databases such as EBSCO.

Following the most recent revolution, Bethel hired Kent Gerber in August 2009 as the library’s first-ever digital library manager. Gerber helps make internal resources more searchable and reusable. One of his current projects is digitizing Bethel’s entire collection of the Clarion, the student newspaper, so people can look up past articles online from their computers rather than having to sift through fragile hard copies in the library. Future projects of his—all of which will increase Bethel’s reach and influence—include digitizing Bethel’s art collections and graduate learners’ capstones and dissertations.

Reference librarians have also changed in recent years. In the past, they provided help via phone or in person. Now it’s phone, email, chat, or text. “A reference librarian could, hypothetically, be helping five people at one time,” explains Stewart. “You might have someone at the desk, one person on chat, one on email,  another texting, and then the phone rings.”

Senior Taylor Ferda praises Bethel’s reference help. “Within five minutes of asking Bethel’s reference librarians about something, chances are they’ll be more interested in your subject than you will be,” jokes Ferda. A history major, Ferda will return in the fall to complete his student teaching and then graduate in December with a B.A. in Social Studies Education (5-12). “Bethel’s skilled librarians always do an excellent job helping me obtain the more difficult sources that I have trouble tracking down,” he says.

The library has also carved out more space for group study rooms, a need that has grown both in the College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Adult & Professional Studies and Graduate School. Additionally, the library reduced its printed reference collection to make room for more computers. “People thought that everyone would have their own laptop, and they might, but they’re still showing up in our labs,” explains Cragg. “We have the biggest lab on campus.”

And they also have a hefty collection of multimedia equipment, including DVD players, CD players, Kindles®, digital cameras, specific cords, and more—all of which students, faculty, and staff alike can check out.

The Library’s Friends

“If there’s one thing we’re about, it’s lifelong learning.” says Cragg. Supporting this learning is the Friends of the Bethel University Library. Started in 1997, this group of nearly 60 people has a mission to enhance the quality of the library’s collections, facilities, and services by encouraging gifts and estate planning and awareness of library resources.

The Friends cosponsor the library’s Primetime Series events, which afford faculty and students time to present their research and celebrate recent publications of dissertations or articles in their respective fields. These events used to be held 10 times a semester, drawing between five and 10 people. Now they occur 20 times a semester, with some 25 to 40 attendees.

Ferda recently received the first-ever Friends of the Bethel University Library’s $250 research prize awarded to a student for his or her significant use of library resources. He presented his research on Alcuin of York’s theology of election, chastisement, and exaltation at a recent Primetime Series event. Friends also hosts forums and other events open to the public.

These opportunities to congregate and learn from each other’s ideas as well as build relationships is exactly what all of Bethel’s libraries are striving to provide. They also support Bethel’s mission to equip adventurous Christ-followers. “I see my job as a ministry,” says Oslund. “The library plays an important role in the lives of women and men as they prepare for the work God has called them to do.”

Get more information on Friends of Bethel University Library and listen to past Primetime Series events.