Nolan Atkins

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Vermont State University announced in January that it would have a digital resource library as of July 1, 2023. We were immediately met with a wave of questions, comments, and concerns. And though there was a negative sentiment, we were heartened to see our university and community unite passionately around the value and role of libraries to our mission as an institution of higher education as well as a thread in the fabric of Vermont’s intellectual life.

Make no mistake — library resources and robust student common spaces are a critically important part of Vermont State University’s future.

That’s why we are not closing our libraries but instead changing how we offer library services to best respond to the needs of all our students. A digital model gives us the opportunity to best serve students who are both on-campus and online or in our programs that blend in-person and remote learning where students may not need to spend as much time on campus. Digital access allows greater flexibility in accessing resources and services. We will be working with each student to ensure their connectivity to our library.

We will also ensure their connection to librarians. Students will have access to credentialed librarians in-person and face-to-face at all Vermont State campuses. They will also have access to professional research librarians 24/7 via chat coverage. Library professionals play a powerful role in each student’s educational journey. We understand and value that greatly.

Library spaces will be transformed to meet student and university needs by providing resources such as enhanced study spaces, community commons, and student services. Access to computers, printers, and class materials will be available. These spaces are at the heart of our campuses, and we will be engaging with the campuses and local communities as to how these spaces can better meet the needs of students and community members.

Students will have greater and expanded access to the resources they need, such as databases, scholarly articles, and articles behind paywalls. Special collections, on-reserve resources, and interlibrary loans will still be available, albeit differently. We will engage with our librarians and faculty to identify frequently used books and high-value physical materials essential to academic programs and scholarship to retain in our libraries.

We are transforming our libraries, not reducing them. We are expanding the possibilities of our libraries on all our campuses, not closing them. We are transforming and modernizing, and evolving for our future as a thriving and sustainable hybrid university. A clear trend in higher education is that students need and expect more flexibility in how they consume their degree programs. This allows us to provide that flexibility. This is an opportunity to be innovative and responsive to students’ needs. We invite you — our students, our faculty, and our community — to imagine with us.

Nolan T. Atkins, Ph.D., is vice president of academic affairs, provost at Vermont State University and Provost at Northern Vermont University. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.