When I interviewed at my university the host/chair of the search committee asked me if there was anything I particularly wanted to see when I was visiting, and I told him "actually, I would like to see the library." It surprised him, but he obliged me, walking me through a building newly doubled in size, with lots of natural light and just enough comforable chairs and nooks to make it welcoming. It was too new to have that marvelous dusty smell that old books and old libraries have, but it was promising.
Since I came here, almost 22 years ago, I have appreciated the library and, more specifically, the librarians more and more by the year. The library and its staff have provided academic and professional development to my students in a wide variety of ways. And they have helped me with my own research in invaluable ways as well.
The university at which I did my graduate degrees had two major library buildings (one for undergrads that connected to a science library, and one a graduate research one that was built in two interconnecting towers). In addition, many departments and the museum at which I did most of my work all had their own smaller specialized libraries. It was in the days before online offsite access to the library catalog, so you would often walk across campus to get books and then realize you needed to go back to the other library. It was frustrating, but guaranteed you would get your exercise! It the book you needed was at one of the suburban campuses, you could request it through interlibrary loan and it would be delivered. Of course if the book was listed as being in the library but you couldn't find it because it was misshelved, you were pretty much out of luck. They would not request the book interlibrary (ILL) loan because they had it on the shelf, but you couldn't find it because it was not where it was supposed to be. And if you wanted to request an ILL book it took more than a semester to get. So the only time you ILLd a book it would be for dissertation research.
Here we are a much smaller university (only 12 percent of the enrollment of my grad university), and all on one campus. All the books are in one library, and it is much smaller. Now with the internet and such databases of articles such as EBSCO-Host and JSTOR I have access to much much more than is being held by the books and journals on the shelves of the library. But I still need hard-copy books. I can check out books at universities across the state or I can ask for them to be sent to the library and check them out in town. And interlibrary loan books come in a week or two. I can do research. But my students can do it too. I ask them to do research in books as well as articles they can find online, and often that means looking at books that are not in the library in town.
These kinds of assignments benefit greatly from interactions between me and the students and the library, which means the librarians. They can provide workshops specific to class assignments, and they are able to provide websites that support the assignments as well. Individuals will work one-on-one with the students when they need more focused help. Sadly, a lot of my students will not take advantage of the help that is offered; some don't even show up to the class session that was scheduled in the library classroom. But those who do learn both knowledge and the skills that help achieve that knowledge, skills that can be applied to multiple future assignments (and even post-academic careers). I use the library assignments to teach students how to evaluate an author's argument, starting from the qualifications of the author, and continuing to book reviews, subsequent articles about the same subject (examining citations, for example), and structure of the argument itself. Students have to use the library, and the librarians will make it easier for the students to do the assignment quickly and easily.
Librarians have saved me from problems more than a couple of times. They have set up reserve readings with frighteningly-short lead times, and emailed me scanned sections of books when I have been out of town and was unprepared. I have even once asked the circulation librarian to allow me to check out a book without a library card and she very nicely let me do so. I sent them chocolates from London a few years ago. I brought flowers once for a particularly complicated interlibrary loan request they worked out for me. I have written thank you notes. It is a very small reflection of the way they have made my life as a teacher much easier. I think the librarians are great.
They will order books and movies with very short notice (when I figure out I want to use one with short notice they will usually get them for me with better grace than I deserve). Their priority is to make the teaching easier and the experience for the students more involving and more enjoyable.
The atmosphere and identity of a business is set from the top. When I first started here, in the midst of an economic downturn, we were told to write a justification for any purchase that would cost more than $100. It was not clear to me whether it was a requirement from the library director or my then-dean, who needed to sign off on any purchase request, and was concerned with looking less than frugal. I was also told not to order anything that was not in English, because we were an undergraduate university and we couldn't expect our students to use any other language unless that was their major. Again, I don't remember whose idea that was. After both individuals left, I decided to go ahead and ask for a publication that I had been very frustrated to not have on campus. It was an expensive and useful 8 volume specialized encyclopedia published in Germany and in German, English, French, and a few other languages (not all translations of the same articles, but each article produced in the language of the original author). When I ran into the new director on the sidewalk a couple of months later and thanked him for ordering it, he said "It is the kind of thing we should have." It marked a significant development in my understanding of what I could ask for from the library. It didn't hurt to ask and the attitude of the library was that making things better for me and my students was their chief concern.
Sometime (probably this coming fall) I will write about the museum experiences I have provided my students through the university library's special collections department. We don't have a dedicated museum with permanent installations, and that lack has actually made it possible to involve students more deeply in exhibit planning and design at all stages of the process. That would not be possible without the generosity and openness of the library in undergraduate research. Our special collections librarian is on the university's student research committee, and she works with students in a wide variety of classes and research projects. And I have worked with her and her predecessor in three different courses, some of them in repeated semesters.
Our library is an academic division of the university. They teach some classes, and teach for classes. Their importance to the student experience is difficult to underestimate. Of course some students almost never go to the library in the course of their time here. Those who do, though, will probably partake of the online library resources. How much have you done with the library at your school or university? Do you know the names of the librarians? Do you use online resources exclusively or do you walk across campus to pull interesting books off the shelves? Do you buy something from Amazon or borrow it from the library? Do you provide your own research collection or do you get horrified at the cost of books and decide to rely on interlibrary loans?
What do your students do? Do you encourage them to go in person, or are there other ways you have them do their research? Have they set foot in the library by the time they graduate? Have you?