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Dean's Desk:  Welcome to Faculty
by Ralph Alberico

Ralph Alberico, Dean of LibrariesI'd like to use this newsletter forum to extend a welcome to all new and returning faculty. Over 100 new faculty have become a part of the JMU community this year. Through this article, I'd like to inform new faculty and remind the rest of some of our services, and to let you know about the direction we are moving in Libraries and Educational Technologies (L&ET).

Our mission says that "we connect people and ideas." All of us in Libraries and Educational Technologies are partners with you, the faculty, and with students in an enterprise dedicated to learning and the discovery of knowledge. At its core that enterprise is about people and ideas. Within our organization, those people include:

  • The liaison librarian who will be your partner as you interact with an ever more complex information landscape: building collections, consulting on research problems, and working with you and your students to foster information literacy skills.

  • Your colleagues in the Center for Instructional Technology who will help you to take advantage of systems like Blackboard and Centra which enable you and your students to interact with one another in online environments.

  • The people who manage the technology classrooms on our campus to allow you and your students to share and present ideas in ways that were not possible in the days of chalk and blackboards.

I've been thinking about learning communities lately. While we support individual research and study, much of what we do involves groups of people learning from one another – this happens in classes, in the library, within academic programs, in colleges and beyond. All of us together are part of multiple, interacting communities. People learn from one another in many ways: in classrooms, though informal conversations, in work settings, via online interaction, or by reading or writing. Each and every class section has the potential to become a learning community. Within Libraries and Educational Technologies our aim is to support the work of the hundreds of learning communities that exist on the JMU campus.

Lately, we are seeing more learning communities that transcend the boundaries of traditional academic programs. Faculty and students from different departments and colleges at JMU are engaged in academic work together, sometimes crossing institutional boundaries by working with people from other schools and agencies. Faculty and students are also far more likely than in the past to use technology as a means of interacting with one another and with the information resources of the library. There are fewer boundaries separating people from one another and from the world of ideas. This is, I think, a good thing but it does present new challenges for us. We in L&ET need to adapt our own organizational practice to serve the needs of broader communities in addition to the needs of specific departments and academic programs. Our challenge is to preserve the productive working relationships that we have developed with individuals and departments as we explore new ways to serve communities of learners.

Here are some of the ways that L&ET supports learning communities:

  • Instead of subscribing to individual journal titles one at a time, we now license large interdisciplinary online journal collections. This buys us more for our money, covers many more subject areas and makes it much easier for people to get to the information they need.

  • We have earmarked funds to buy books on teaching in disciplines from math to art and charged the liaison librarian who serves the College of Education with developing a pedagogy collection that crosses subject lines.

  • Almost every academic program has an approval plan. Approval plans work by matching profiles of departmental teaching and research interests with descriptions of newly published books. Books that are likely to be of interest arrive automatically and much more quickly than they would if we ordered them one at a time. Lately we have established approval plans that profile the needs of learning communities investigating multidisciplinary topics like women's studies. We will expand our approval plans to pick up books in the areas like biotechnology or environmental studies where disciplines intersect with one another.

  • Our online library catalog LEO, can be customized via the My LEO service to alert members of learning communities via email when items that match personal interests arrive in the library.

  • RefWorks software allows scholars to maintain databases of scholarly references. It can also enables group to manage a shared database of citations (see Jody Fagan's article on Refworks in this issue).

  • In addition to books, journals and databases the library is expanding online image, audio and video collections, and educational software. Those formats support teaching and many lend themselves to shared experiences. Our Media Resources Center is a good starting place from which to explore our software and multimedia collections and services.

  • The Educational Technologies part of L&ET supports online learning environments – by acquiring tools like Centra and Blackboard that enable online communication across spatial and temporal boundaries. And we support classroom environments by equipping physical spaces with technology for presentation and interaction.

  • The new library web site is informed by the way in which communities and individuals interact with the information resources and services of the library rather than by our internal organizational structure.

  • The Center for Instructional Technology brings together groups of faculty to learn about technology, to share their experiences working with technology and to collaborate on new approaches to teaching. I am impressed by what your colleagues have done.

  • Right now we are planning a new library building for the east side of campus. That building is being designed to support the work of communities. Collections and study spaces will be interspersed. There will be numerous group study rooms. And interactive technologies will be available throughout the building. The fifth floor of the building will be dedicated to faculty. There will be meeting spaces, media production facilities, video conferencing and a technology support center for faculty. We are especially excited about the prospect of sharing space in the building with the newly created Center for Faculty Innovation. The programs and services in the new building, which is scheduled to open in 2008, will be available to all faculty.

In the coming year it is our intention to explore new ways of supporting learning communities. This will involve strengthening relationships between the library and educational technologies parts of our organization. It will also involve strengthening our relationship with the faculty. We look forward to working with you in the coming months.

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