Learning now open: How TWU’s Norma Marion Alloway Library innovates to meet the needs of current and future students

"It has been exciting to meet with students online in different time zones and at the same time rewarding to witness their progresses despite challenges and hurdles they need to overcome as learners during these unprecedented times."
—Qinqin Zhang, Assistant Librarian for Information Literacy, E-Learning, and E-Resources

There is a sign on the main floor of the Norma Marion Alloway Library at Trinity Western University's Langley, B.C. campus that you won’t find in a traditional library.

The graphic icons convey: Talking and eating are welcome here.

What’s more, when you first enter the library, you won’t see many books. At least not on the main floor.

The recent renovation that has transformed the Alloway Library is a makeover in both look and function. The project began in the summer of 2019 with the goal of building a space to foster learning in community, while providing guidance and access to information, as well as coaching with skills such as writing and research.

Darcy Gullacher, University Librarian, showcased the changes during a recent library tour.
Room for thinking and collaborative work

“This space is meant to be a collaborative working space,” Gullacher explained, standing in the middle of the library’s open area.

The library’s main floor shone with new flooring and lighting. The place was bright and airy. There are coworking hubs separated by brush-glass dividers. Each hub is fitted with a large table and chairs, and all the furniture have wheels to allow for easy movement and reconfiguration.

Outside of the pandemic months, this place was a-buzz with activity.

In addition to various configurations of meeting and coworking areas, the library also features couches, coffee tables, a news and magazine display, and self-serve computers and printers. One wing of the library houses an art gallery showcasing art from TWU School of Arts, Media + Communications students.

See also: Senior students present multi-media art exhibition at the SAMC Gallery in TWU's Norma Marion Alloway Library:
Alloway Library's SAMC Gallery exhibit

The way students learn has changed, Gullacher observed. There is much more emphasis on group projects, collaboration, and working in teams.

The library of the future

To create room for this new open learning area, the library purged a selection of dated hardcopy books, replacing them with revised electronic versions. This switchover is a growing trend among libraries.

“Print reference material is not as heavily used as it used to be. Same with print journal material,” said Gullacher.

The shift from print to digital is close to “almost complete,” he explained. In some disciplines the e-book or e-journal article “reigns supreme,” he noted, naming the natural sciences and social sciences as two examples. The trend towards digital will continue, Gullacher said, and this has changed the library’s purchasing and planning. “We’ve purchased primarily e-books, when we can get it in an e-book format.” Academic journals are primarily purchased electronically as well, he added.
More pixels than pages

Influenced by the trend towards electronic, the composition of TWU’s library materials is changing. It’s no longer mostly print books. In fact, Gullacher estimates that the library’s collection is roughly half print and half electronic, adding, “I think we’ve tipped a little more towards more e-books.”

“Definitely the number of print books we are purchasing is declining every year. And I can’t foresee that changing anytime in the future,” he said.

In addition to purchasing e-books, the TWU library collection is growing in another type of resource: e-book subscription packages. “We haven’t purchased the books,” Gullacher explained the model, “We’ve purchased the right to access the books.” Among the benefits: libraries don’t have to worry about cataloguing, shelving or missing books. The collections automatically grow every year. The downside is that libraries pay in perpetuity, and there's always a danger that certain e-book titles can be removed from the subscription package.

“There are pros and cons to the model,” Gullacher observed.

We wondered, are there similar trends for newspapers and magazines?

Yes, very much so, Gullacher affirmed. “With magazines and journals we have gone exclusively to electronic,” he said. “The only print journals we would get is if they are unavailable in electronic format, or if the format of the journal is better served in print. Particularly for things like fine art journals where you need really high resolution images; they still work better in print than on electronic devices.”

He noted, however, that examples where print is required are few and far between, “There would have to be a very compelling case for me to purchase a print journal.”

“That being said,” he added, “our print collection is still quite heavily used, given the nature of our programs.” Here he referenced subject areas such as humanities and theology.
Help with inquiry and research

Digital trends have changed the librarian’s job as well. “For reference librarians, we’re no longer showing students how to use print works, we’re showing them how to access our electronic works, using our Library OneSearch, or what we call ‘Google for libraries,’” Gullacher explained.

When COVID-19 hit and reference librarians started working from home, they were able to make the shift quite easily.

“They kind of kept doing everything they had already been doing,” said Gullacher, “because so much of what we do now is electronic.”  

Google versus librarian

Perhaps the greatest factor driving change in the field of education is the proliferation of free online information. We asked Gullacher what his thoughts were when it came to relying on Internet search versus getting help from the librarian.

He was confident in his reply. “One of the things that Trinity Western has prided itself on is we have a very strong information literacy program,” he said. In a nutshell, it is teaching students how to find, evaluate and use information.

Information literacy is what Gullacher and his team take pride in. “We teach students the benefits, and often the drawbacks, of using free internet sources versus using library sources, things that we have purchased. (We differentiate) academic, high quality work versus what anyone could publish.”

The information literacy program is embedded within foundational classes at TWU, and librarians work closely with faculty to teach students how to do effective research, from problem statement to evaluation of found resources.

Helping students through the information fog

Bill Badke, Associate Librarian and author of Research Strategies: Finding Your Way Through the Information Fog, says, "Most students struggle with understanding the nature of scholarly information, with formulating research problem statements and with using complex academic databases skilfully. We help students create search language relevant to issues they are addressing, and we connect them with the best resources whenever possible."

Qinqin Zhang, is Assistant Librarian for Information Literacy, E-Learning, and E-Resources. She enjoys helping students on their quest for research and learning.

“Most students would think of research as just about finding and summarizing existing information rather than a quest to solve a problem or answer a question," she says.

"During our interaction with students, we show them the iterative research process, from developing a workable research question, forming search keywords, to conducting searches in databases, and retrieving and analyzing preliminary results, which could go back to inform possible adjustments for search keywords and the research question. These back-and-forths demonstrate a genuine scholarly research process, which gives students directions to overcome researcher's block when they can’t find relevant sources in their initial round of database searching." 

During this past year, Zhang and her colleagues have been teaching synchronous information literacy sessions via Zoom for various programs and classes. "Besides teaching students how to develop their research questions and relevant search keywords, we demonstrate how to conduct searches in specialized academic databases live and answer students’ specific questions online," she said.

"We have also developed video tutorials and pre-recorded lectures covering information literacy skills tailored for specific courses and programs," she added. "We have also been meeting with students via Zoom for one-on-one research consultations." 

"It has been exciting to meet with students online in different time zones and at the same time rewarding to witness their progresses despite challenges and hurdles they need to overcome as learners during these unprecedented times," she said.
The blend of library and I.T.

The Alloway Library moved into its current facility in 1989, and opened officially in January 1990. Previous to this, the library was housed in the Vernon Strombeck Centre, which is now home to the School of Education.

There are some TWU librarians who have been on staff since before 1990, and who have witnessed the iterations within the industry. “Those librarians would’ve been using card catalogue systems, typing up cards by hand, (and) now everything we do is done digitally,” said Gullacher.  

“Our reference librarians don’t point students to print encyclopedias anymore. Everything is electronic.”

This means the emergence of new types of librarians.

“We have a systems librarian, our in-house I.T. person,” said Gullacher. The systems librarian maintains and improves the library’s computer systems to facilitate optimal workflow for its staff and seamless access to information for its community of end users. 

Caroline Ahn, TWU's systems librarian, says, “What I enjoy most about my work is helping people and the intellectual challenge that comes with problem-solving (due to imperfect systems). I see my role as a facilitator and feel a great sense of satisfaction helping people succeed or maintain success in their work or research experience."

"Having the ability to serve our users residing locally, across the country, and (around the) world this past year has been truly rewarding and would not have been possible without the collaborative effort of our I.T., vendors, and entire library staff," said Ahn. "The virtual emphasis of the past year has propelled me to keep identifying ways in which we can improve all aspects of the library to better serve our community."

Integration with TWU Learning Commons

The newly renovated library is also now home to the TWU Learning Commons, a multi-service resource for students.

Gullacher explained that it created “better synergy” to integrate services like the Writing Centre, Research Help Desk and Advising Services within the library. In this way, learners can receive a full range of resources all under one roof.

With COVID-19, the library has remained partially opened, while keeping space usage down. Online requests for books are bagged and ready for pick up at the library’s friendly Borrower Services front desk. 

Innovating to better serve a global community

Shawn Brouwer, the Library's Circulation Supervisor, said, "The pandemic has provided a great opportunity to innovate on the ways Borrower Services provide important resources to our users even when the building was closed. We developed a contactless hold pick up service so that patrons can place requests on books in the catalogue and Borrower Services staff gather them, check them out to the requestor, and have them ready for a quick pick up in the library." 

"We also realized that students and faculty were spread out around the globe, and so we launched a Scan and Deliver service to email copyright-compliant scans of material in our collection," Brouwer cointued. "These services will continue in the post-pandemic era because we recognize they serve our users so well." 

He adds, "We look forward to the day when everyone can access the whole building and browse the collection once again. We are also continuing to innovate our services as we plan to launch a 'fine-free' policy for most borrowed items."

About Trinity Western University

Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is Canada’s premier Christian liberal arts university dedicated to equipping students to establish meaningful connections between career, life, and the needs of the world. It is a fully accredited research institution offering liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. It has five campuses and locations: Langley, Richmond-Lansdowne, Richmond-Minoru, Ottawa, and Bellingham, WA. TWU emphasizes academic excellence, research, and student engagement in a vital faith community committed to forming leaders to have a transformational impact on culture. Learn more at www.twu.ca or follow us on Twitter @TrinityWestern, on Facebook and LinkedIn.

For media inquiries, please contact: media@twu.ca


Congratulations to Dr. Richard Chandra who was recently appointed as Associate Provost of Research at TWU! Dr. Chandra looks forward to raising the research culture at TWU to even greater heights.

Learn more about Dr. Chandra here: https://t.co/iJNavBkOjZ


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