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Technology Changes Library Operations

With rapidly changing technological advancement, library operations have moved from the big card catalogs to detailed, digital library databases. These institutions have shifted from collecting physical materials to having subscriptions to offering e-materials. No matter the change, New Jersey’s Virtual Academic Library Environment (VALE) has helped libraries in New Jersey’s colleges and universities stay up-to-date with these changing dynamics. However, even with all of the technological advancements, libraries throughout the state haven’t changed their core mission.

“Ideally and fundamentally, our students’ success through improved information access is what we’re all about,” explained Kurt Wagner, VALE Chair and University Librarian at Monmouth University. “Technology has offered a constantly evolving way to achieve the need of ever-expanding access to information.”

For instance, Wagner said he uses Tattle-Tape to make sure books don’t slip out of Monmouth University’s library without first being checked out. If a book goes by the gate and is inappropriately removed, an alarm is sent. He also uses Machine-Readable records for books, as well as a centralized international library database. There are online catalogues and bibliographic data allowing library staff to discover where books are being held throughout the world.

“With all of our databases coming from different vendors, we even have a record for a journal article that might appear in an indexing and abstracting database. The code within the citation can actually be linked to another one of our databases,” he said.

Whether the resource is databases, eBooks, streaming media or podcasts, the technology has the ability to be linked together through open URL, which makes information increasingly more discoverable through different technologies.

“Despite the ease of information access facilitated by new technology, the importance of libraries as centers for learning research skills and increasingly sophisticated information-seeking behavior has risen dramatically,” Wagner said.

VALE has responded to these changes by providing numerous technology innovations and tools.

“We may be a little behind the curve with the adoption of new technology because we are very careful about implementing a new technology correctly,” he added. “The need to fully understand the technology pre-implementation is why we want to make sure our membership and VALE administration is open to change and able to respond to the needs of our end users, while being able to incorporate technological change into our future planning.”

Libraries have also provided technological innovations for the research community, especially in regards to the large-scale big data and analytics-driven initiatives taking place on an ongoing basis. Library science is able to collect and manage these data resources as well as provide the technologies to ensure distribution and management can happen appropriately within the collaborative research community.

Another important role for VALE and libraries is establishing Open Education Resources (OER) for its users. VALE offers several training courses for librarians to attend so they can learn how to promote OER on their individual campuses.

“For successful implementation, the library and the faculty have to collaborate. You’re not going to be able to promote OER as an option for one campus constituency alone,” explained Melissa Lena, VALE Program Manager. “The need for the library, academic faculty, and designers to all come together to promote OER is of utmost importance.”

Members of VALE, such as Passaic County Community College, were early adopters of OER initiatives and have been able to share experiences and insight with the rest of their colleagues.

“The really great thing about the VALE community from a professional development and collaboration point of view is that we draw upon the experiences of each other, such as OER initiatives,” noted Dr. Edward Chapel, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Edge, and Ex Officio, VALE. “For instance, Greg Fallon of Passaic County Community College indicated that with OER they’re saving their students in the neighborhood of a million dollars in textbook purchasing costs in an academic year.”

The financial benefits of making education affordable for students is one reason why VALE is supportive of OER and why the group is ahead of the curve in incorporating the OER initiative into the consortium.  VALE is also facilitating accelerated opportunities for members to understand and use the program. At the same time, incorporating the OER initiative sooner rather than later is important because of how instructional design and academic technology communities are developing OER tools, methodologies, and techniques.

“There is very good momentum at this point and enterprise-wide interest,” Chapel said. “The icing on the cake was in May, the State of New Jersey legislated that every institution of higher learning needs to have an OER plan and strategy in place within the next year. VALE is helping higher education with this need.”

Educational Library Innovations in the Age of Digital Transformation

One area in the educational library world where innovation has occurred is incorporating a maker space. These spaces often include a 3-D printer and many times are located within the academic library. Including these tools only expands what a student or faculty members thinks of the overall perception of a traditional library.

“There is a common misconception that the library is just a room full of books, but the library is also a place where people can gather, research, and use tools such as 3-D printers. Having a maker space expands the definition of what a library is,” Lena said.

Another important, innovative tool being incorporated into the library scene is the concept of digital literacy and helping someone understand truth from fiction. There’s a movement afoot within the library science community to leverage artificial intelligence tools to advance the digital literacy capabilities of everybody in the higher education community and beyond.

“In the past, librarians and others would help someone validate research, but the bar has been raised tremendously by all of the information flowing from social media, the Internet, and search engines,” Chapel said.

As an academic librarian, Wagner has also become passionate about information literacy and library education. He believes librarians, as educators, need to focus and give much attention towards students becoming adept and skilled at knowing where information is coming from and understand the existence of bias.

“Literacy education underscores the importance of a student being able to not only use our databases effectively and efficiently but also not just rely on Google, or other search engines, as their primary source of information,” Wagner explained.

How this takes place has changed drastically in the library environment, as libraries move past the “own it concept” to the “subscribe to it concept.”

Nowadays, libraries receive an increasing number of their reference materials, journals, and serials electronically. There are online e-book collections, which libraries are subscribing to with increasing regularity.

“I know most users don’t read entire books on an e-book platform but to have the ability to look up information 24-7 has its advantages, especially when there are multiple modes of acquisition available,” Wagner said. “We need to find the right way of implementing evidence-based acquisition rather than acquiring items on a ‘just in case’ manner, especially as budgets are limited.”

Maintaining Needs of the VALE Membership

New Jersey college and university libraries rely greatly on VALE’s consortium purchasing of subscription databases and other resources. During the 2019-2020 school year, VALE began to offer streaming media including subscriptions to Academic Video Online, Films On Demand, and SAGE Video.

“The consortium continues to thrive and one of the opportunities we had was to broaden the spectrum of products and services,” noted Dr. Chapel. “Libraries make investments in all sorts of software applications and tools, so a part of Edge’s strategic plan is to increase our portfolio of offerings for them.”

The VALE Purchasing and Licensing Committee makes the decisions on what to purchase so resources stay current for members.

“The individuals on the Purchasing and Licensing Committee also handle the purchasing and licensing responsibilities at their own universities, making them ideal for their positions,” Wagner said.

Core to the committee is Judy Cohn, who serves as the Director of the Rutgers Health Science Libraries and is a member of VALE’s Executive Committee. Cohn has been with VALE since its inception and has a strong understanding of how VALE works and the way VALE handles purchasing and licensing.

Richard Kearney is also a key resource, as he is the electronic resources librarian at William Paterson University.

“Both of these individuals are keys to the committee’s success. Judy is a senior member of VALE and a trove of memory about institutional needs,” Wagner said. “Also, I don’t know if there’s anyone better suited to a role of handling, purchasing, and licensing than Richard. He’s about as well-informed in terms of being able to negotiate with vendors and is very detail-oriented. Richard is always striving to find the best deal for libraries; his own institution, and for VALE.”

The committee understands industry developments both in terms of purchasing, licensing, vendor relationships, and the larger issue of scholarly publishing trends going on with vendors, database providers, and other products for academic libraries.

In her role as VALE Program Manager, Lena provides a strong understanding of global awareness movements and stays current with membership needs, enabling the committee to look for specific tools or subscribe to desired resources or databases. Surveys or strategic planning exercises are also offered to the membership, which provides a wealth of valuable material.

This information is brought to committee meetings and the members’ council meeting, which is held three times a year. Library leaders from every VALE member institution come together to discuss issues and needs. This discussion is continued throughout the year in an online conversation through EdgeXchange—a new online community created by Edge. EdgeXchange enables everyone to stay informed and has an avenue for communication and dialogue.

“We’re almost always talking about what we can do with databases and what resources our members want and need,” Wagner said. “We are asking how we can get the best terms for fulfilling their needs.”

Because of VALE’s relationship with Edge, the organization has been able to add more library-related tools.

One of these resources is the Springshare LibApps suite, which includes LibGuides. Some libraries use LibGuides as their primary website, which is a content management system. The program allows for easy construction of web-based materials and research guide preparation. Springshare offers a suite of handy applications and tools librarians use to make running a library easier.

“We have already begun negotiations with Springshare to make their suite of library applications available to libraries, which is something Melissa took leadership over,” Wagner said.

Edge and VALE Collaborate for Annual Conference

One of VALE’s premier activities for the consortium’s members is the Annual Academic Library Conference, which is entering the event’s 21st year. The day is dedicated to the academic library sector and free to attendees from VALE member institutions.

“The conference has gained a lot of popularity amongst New Jersey academic librarians, and during membership surveys; this conference is invariably one of the highest rated activities VALE offers,” Wagner said.

Every year, over 300 academic librarians have the opportunity to hear a keynote speaker, attend plenary sessions, lightning talks, and poster sessions. In 2020, the conference will be slightly different as the event is being incorporated into EdgeCon 2020—Edge’s annual conference held January 8-10 at Ocean Place Resort and Spa in Long Branch, New Jersey.

“The VALE conference is created by academic librarians for academic library professionals and the session proposals are selected through a double blind peer review by the conference committee,” explained Lena.

The goal throughout the conference’s existence is to make sure the event provides attendance appeal for all sectors within the academic library community.

“This gathering has been an invaluable, longstanding resource for the library community across the New Jersey Academic Libraries,” explained Chapel. “While there are national-level gatherings, these events can be expensive and sending the entire staff to one of these events is not always feasible. The VALE conference provides a professional development opportunity through Edge’s consortium model, creating networking and learning for everyone.”

The VALE staff realizes not everyone is comfortable presenting but still wants to encourage them to share their knowledge, whether via a panel or through a team presentation. The goal is to impart the accomplishment or project with the rest of the New Jersey Academic Library community and make sure the appropriate person receives recognition for their respective success.

“The time spent together at the Annual Conference becomes so valuable because you can sit together and talk shop, commiserate, and help each other find a solution,” Wagner added.

With Edge and VALE Conferences combining in 2020, the groups are cross-pollinating academic librarians, library stakeholders, educational technologists, and academic professionals.

One reason for the change is how the OER movement continues to grow and impact all facets of higher education.

“We needed librarians to step out of the library and start communicating with other groups on campus,” Lena said. “We’re excited to have everybody under one roof, and the common themes between these different populations will be able to bring them together to collaborate for a common purpose.”

The joint conference is also reaching out to industry partners such as publishers, equipment designers, and software application groups to attract sponsorships and generate networking. With the combination of platforms between all of the entities, the goal is to develop new and lasting initiatives and relationships.

“We are encouraging the cross-fertilization of participation and hoping the keynote resonates across both EdgeCon and VALE communities,” Chapel said. “Besides the OER topic, there is also additional library-centric content lined up inside of EdgeCon 2020. Likewise, we are also encouraging attendees to EdgeCon to actually come to the VALE event and learn more about the current and future-state of libraries.”

As technology becomes more important and is increasingly incorporated into library operations, the relationship between VALE and Edge becomes more valuable. The collaboration and networking between parties benefits everyone and will be an important aspect of EdgeCon 2020.

For more information on VALE, visit