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By Karen Herland
Anyone who thinks librarians are stern figures who act as strict gatekeepers for the knowledge placed in their care should get acquainted with the staff at Concordia's Webster and Vanier Libraries.
"University libraries do still play a critical role in safeguarding the world's cultural heritage," acknowledged Gerald Beasley, who started as university librarian this past summer. "But the librarian’s role has evolved, and we increasingly work both inside and outside the library walls as facilitators, educators, and advocates for a more informed society."
A driving force in that direction is the rise of the internet, with ever-increasing opportunities for accessing information. But Beasley does not believe that the internet forced the change. “When the world wide web came about it was predicated on two concepts with a long tradition in library thinking: that information should be accessible to all, and free to the end user.”
He added that we already have expertise in this area. "Concordia is the kind of institution on the cutting edge of what is happening in librarianship." He underscores that many librarians are involved in research on open access, net neutrality and copyright, in efforts that will ultimately improve the circulation of information for all students and faculty.
It was the opportunity to work with the team, and the IT power and resources a comprehensive university can offer that led him to leave his previous position as director of the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University.
The other attraction was Montreal. He had emigrated from England in 1994 to take charge of the rare books collection here at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.
Now he wants Concordia's libraries to have an enhanced role in the city he loves. "The buildings that house us were designed to be translucent and welcoming, and like all libraries we should give back to the community that sustains us. "
Beasley is keen about the potential of the library as a physical space. "The life of the mind is infinitely rich, and the library is the best place for it to play as well as learn. You should be able to walk in with a specific question and encounter half a dozen other useful and interesting things along the way to finding your answer."
On the other hand, "it's great if you can be working at home at 3 a.m. using the catalogue and whatever electronic resources the library has purchased. After all, if every user were here, we would be overwhelmed."
He wants to increase options for both the physical and virtual library. On his to do list he has a commitment to finding funds to increase the library's digital collections "to meet the university's teaching and research aspirations." He is also aware of the commonly articulated request for increased study space in the Webster library and would like to work with users and other stakeholders to determine how best to meet that need.
And, to facilitate usability of these growing resources, he wants the library to play a major role in improving information literacy at all levels of learning and research. "It's a fundamental part of critical thinking to have the skills and ability to evaluate information and use it effectively and ethically."
However that knowledge transfer occurs, it is important that users can access it at no cost to them. He points out that, unlike your average café, "you don't even have to buy a cup of coffee to sit and use our resources."