Indiana University       Research & Creative Activity       January 2001 • Volume XXIII, Number 3

A Lifelong Library

by Elizabeth Hunt

Few college students manage to earn their degrees without logging hours in the campus library, but graduation usually means the end of time spent studying in the stacks. In Indiana, however, it doesn’t have to mean the end of access to the powerful research tools found in an academic library.

As resources of a public university, each of Indiana University’s libraries has a responsibility to serve the public—not only university alumni, but any resident of the state. It’s a responsibility that Michele Russo, director of library services at IU South Bend, takes very seriously.

“Each of IU’s libraries interprets the obligation to community service a little differently,” says Russo. “I try to interpret it as broadly as possible. Service to the community is part of our mission statement, goals, strategic plan, and collection development policy.”

Although South Bend is served by a large public library that has garnered national attention for its collection and quality, Russo stresses that the resources of IUSB’s Franklin D. Schurz Library are also vital to the community.
“Researchers can often go a level deeper at our library than they can at a public library,” she says. “We offer resources that are more advanced and more sophisticated.”

Michele Russo, director of library services at Indiana University South Bend, assists John Matwyshyn, of Mishawaka, Ind., at IUSB's Franklin Schurz Library.

South Bend’s other university library, at the University of Notre Dame, extends borrowing privileges only to students and faculty of Notre Dame and a few smaller colleges in the area.

In Russo’s view, fulfilling the library’s mission of serving the public requires more than simply waiting for the community to approach. In the four years since Russo became director, Schurz Library has developed severalnew programs aimed at attracting audiences from beyond campus boundaries. In 1997, the library launched a speaker’s series that has featured presenters on topics ranging from American Indian literature to the re-education of German prisoners of war.

As part of the library’s tenth anniversary celebration in 1999, noted technophile John Perry Barlow spoke on the Internet and society—a topic that has special import for librarians serving the public.

“The Internet makes our job both easier and more difficult,” Russo says. “Certainly, there’s much more information available online now. But finding good, relevant information is not as easy as you might think.
Some people think everything is on the Internet. But finding the best information is like gold mining. It can take time.”

And like mining, it can turn up worthless material along with the good stuff. Russo says helping users learn to evaluate information critically is one of the most important tasks for librarians in the Information Age.

“We teach people to look at who provided a Web site. Is it a dot-com or a dot-edu? If it’s a commercial site, what stake does it have in the information provided? How recently has it been updated? These are questions anyone needs to ask about Web sites. It doesn’t do you any good to find information if it isn’t good information.”

To help library users make the most of Internet technologies, Schurz Library reference librarians are available to answer questions and provide on-the-spot tutorials. And because so many business professionals are rushing to join the Internet revolution, the library offers Internet workshops aimed at the South Bend business community.

“You hear a lot about lifelong learning these days, but we really are believers in that,” Russo says. “We want to help people build the skills they need, not just as students, but in their careers as well.”

The workshops and the speaker’s series are free, as is research time on the library’s computers. “Information should not be viewed as a commodity,” says Russo. “People have the right to know, and not everyone can afford a computer and Internet access. We’re glad we can help people find the information they need.”

Beyond meeting the community’s hunger for knowledge, Schurz Library also responds to the literal kind of hunger through a newly instituted “Food for Fines” program. For one week each June and December, the library accepts nonperishable food items in exchange for overdue fines. The donated food is given to an area food bank.

Russo, who has also been a reference librarian and coordinator of library instruction in her 18 years at IUSB, knows that members of the general public use the library every day. But she isn’t sure just how many of the library’s users are from outside the IUSB community.

“IUSB has many older students, so you can’t always tell who is a student and who is not,” she says. “And we don’t keep track. We’re more interested in serving people than counting them.”

For more information:
• IUSB Franklin D. Schurz Library Home Page

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