Barry McNamara  |   Published September 04, 2019

Student-Focused Library

Hewes Library staff keeps its focus on students’ needs by ‘taking a lot of ideas out for a test drive.’
  • Hewes Library Director Sarah Henderson helps a student with a class assignment. “For a private liberal arts school our size, we have tremendous resources, and we have such strong support from the administration,” she says.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – A “library on wheels” is literally a bookmobile, but for Sarah Henderson, that phrase is a metaphor for the many changes occurring in Monmouth College’s Hewes Library.

“We’re taking a lot of ideas out for a test drive,” said Henderson, who took over as director of the library last year.

Some of those ideas have coincided with a reshuffling of College offices, which led to the creation of Academic and Career Excellence on the southeast corner of the library’s first floor. Known as ACE, the new space brings together: the Office of Student Success & Accessibility Services (formerly the Teaching and Learning Center); the Office of the Registrar; the Wackerle Center for Career, Leadership & Fellowships; and the Office of Global Engagement.

Henderson is quick to point out that the library staff had been working toward other changes “for a number of years,” even before she joined the staff. An example: the long process of weeding out hard copies of periodicals and journals for which the College now has digital access. That freed up plenty of extra room.

“In the feedback we’ve received from students, they really like the open floor plan,” said Henderson. “There are more open spaces now where students can gather in small groups, and there are more cozy places, too.”

Focus on students

Before those and other changes are made, Henderson said one simple question is asked: Will it benefit the students?

“We recognize the needs of the students and that the way they study has changed,” said Henderson.

Many recent changes have come at very little financial cost.

“So far, the changes we’ve made have been at no cost to the students, except for a small piece of carpet where the reference desk was,” said Henderson. “I want to invest in things I know the students definitely want and need instead of buying something just for the sake of it being shiny and new.”

She said that desk change is an example of getting caught up to the way students study in 2019.

“That’s one of the things we’re test-driving, so we can engage more with the students,” she said. “We now call it the ‘research desk,’ not the reference desk, and we moved it from the front of the library out into where the students are. The days of a student walking up the reference desk are gone. It’s up to us to go out to the students and to help them out if we see they’re having trouble. Moving the research desk out also puts us right by the printer, so we can be right there if students need help with that.”

By keeping a keen eye out for students, Hewes Library staff had 1,155 reference interactions during the past academic year, a figure Henderson hopes will grow even higher with the new desk location. The various changes could also help the library build upon last year’s impressive gate count of nearly 111,000 visitors.

Through various communication channels, Henderson and her staff constantly seek student input. She hopes the ever-changing library remains “a comfortable environment to study in and relax in, but that it also remains a top-notch facility in terms of tools for research.”

“For a private liberal arts school our size, we have tremendous resources, and we have such strong support from the administration,” she said. “This is just the beginning for us. We want to continue shaping and crafting the library around the students’ needs. We want to be the destination for the students and reach as many of them as possible.”

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