George Hart, the University’s new director of libraries, describes his mission in simple terms.
“Our top priority is student success,” says Hart, who arrived on campus in July after several years as associate university librarian at UMass Boston.
Hart wants to make it easier for students and faculty to use the ever-expanding resources available through the University’s libraries.
In recent years, academic libraries have undergone a seismic shift, transitioning from repositories of printed books and scholarly journals to providers of services that help students access and navigate the vast sea of digital information.
“We aim to help build the national reputation of UMass Lowell by virtue of its innovative, excellent and collaborative uses of library space, resources and technology,” he says.
Hart, who began his library career in 1987 at the Somerville Public Library, says many academic libraries are dealing with a reversal of fortune precipitated by the changing economics of electronic publishing, among other factors. Years ago, many libraries faced a scarcity of copyrighted materials like scholarly journals and research publications because of high costs and limited availability. But with the proliferation of digital content, the ubiquity of broadband networks and new pricing plans from publishers, access to copyrighted materials has exploded, he says.
“There’s been a huge shift from scarcity to abundance,” he says.
The challenge for librarians now is helping students and faculty take full advantage of the journals, books, videos, films and other materials that are available with a few clicks of a computer mouse. While today’s “digital native” students have grown up with anytime, anywhere access to electronic content, they still need guidance finding what they need for research and scholarship.
“Using portals to access copyrighted materials is not native to anyone,” Hart says.
Hart wants to find new ways to make the expertise and knowledge of the library staff available to students and faculty. He has implemented a web-based software platform called Brainshark for creating multimedia presentations such as tutorials. The library is also overhauling its web pages to offer guides featuring aggregated information for all course topics. And new customer-relationship management software from Salesforce.com will allow the library to send out newsletters and email to specific groups of library users.
“Our priority is to open many new, effective channels of communication connecting library staff to students and faculty in very friendly and helpful ways,” he says.
An idea in the early stages of discussion is establishing what Hart describes as a “center for the complete book” within the library that would include bound copies of books as well as kiosks where e-books could be downloaded and titles could be printed on demand.
A resident of Concord, Hart earned a bachelor’s degree in history from UMass Boston, a master of library science from Rutgers University and an MBA from Babson College.