Unifying the libraries


Rebecca Flieder

The lower lobby of Willey Library stands empty during the COVID pandemic.

The Vermont State Colleges System is considering unifying the Northern Vermont University, Castleton and Hartness libraries under one system-wide structure.
The VSCS has convened a task force to investigate moving to a system-wide library. Lisa Kent, a librarian at NVU-Johnson, is NVU’s representative to the discussions. Kent said that the task force will submit proposals for the new configuration to the college presidents on or by Nov. 15.
The exact nature of the proposed future library is unclear. Kent declined to give specifics, as the discussion is ongoing. “All of the models we are considering revolve around consolidation to save costs and increase services and resources,” Kent said.
NVU President Elaine Collins noted that whatever recommendations did come out of the task force would likely be general.
Collins said that the idea to combine library services came out of a report from an outside consultant that the VSCS hired last spring at the behest of the Legislature. The report, Collins said, emphasized looking for efficiencies that the system could gain by working as a whole, and that each institution would be stronger if all the colleges in the VSCS worked together.
“We are trying to stop duplication of costs, thereby reducing our budget bottom lines,” Kent said in a recent email interview. “We are also exploring ways that we can join forces to further expand services to students and faculty, despite budget limitations.”
Kent said that the uncertainty caused by moving to a new structure, on top of the election and COVID-19, would be a drawback to the unification plan. But, she said, “at the same time, consolidation in the way we are imagining it will bring many benefits to the entire VSC community.”
According to Kent, the consolidation will benefit NVU specifically. “I think VSC Libraries will be able to offer to our campus much more in the way of services and materials,” Kent said.
The NVU library system was already in flux after the resignations of Technical Services Librarian Raymond Brior and Library Director Sam Boss earlier this fall. Kent said that Boss’s last day on the job was Oct. 23. His departure, according to Kent, has left the NVU libraries without direct oversight, though Kent at the Willey Library and Monique Prive at the Lyndon campus are filling in for the time being.
Kent said that her vision for the Willey Library’s future is that it adopts “a commons learning model, a one-stop-shop for students’ academic needs.” This, she said, “will require clever and creative use of our time and money.”
Kent’s vision of the Willey library seems to fit with the vision of the library President Collins articulated in an interview on Oct. 19.
Collins said that she would like to see the creation of a learning commons as well. “In my mind, a library space – or whatever we want to call it – is kind of the heart of the library,” Collins said.
She said that libraries have evolved from the ultra-quiet whisper-even-to-the-librarian kind of institutions to now where some libraries are more of a “center for learning for students.” A learning commons, a co-working space, “it depends on how we conceptualize it in the end,” Collins said.
“Something that draws students and makes something alive. That’s what I would like to see. I would like to see them congregate in the library. I would like to see them create assignments and seek it as a place where they can talk to their peers and really collaborate on projects and initiatives and ventures.”
Collins also noted that the previous university she worked at consisted of multiple campuses and 25,000 students under one umbrella. “It worked really well,” Collins said. “So, there are ways to do this.”