Alumni stepping into Fort Hays State University’s Forsyth Library this weekend might be taken aback by what they see — or don’t see — there.
Today, the library celebrates the 50th anniversary of its building. The celebration at 1:30 p.m. includes cake, a ribbon cutting for the media lab and the unveiling of a portrait of retired government documents librarian Lawrence “Mac” Reed, painted by Joel Dugan.
As in many libraries, Forsyth’s changes are driven by technology.
Gone are the card catalogs, reference desk and many of the hard copies of current journals and other research material.
“We used to be more in a mode of waiting for students to come in. Students had to come in physically to a library to get help,” said Deborah Ludwig, dean of the library.
But today, with more than 3,500 students enrolled in FHSU’s international partners and more than 6,800 in the Virtual College, outreach programs have become a larger part of the library’s service.
The reference desk was eliminated last year. Instead, librarians keep office hours through 9 p.m. to offer help through various platforms.
“They carry a cellphone. You can text a librarian. You can call a librarian. You can go online from our website and chat with a librarian. You can email a librarian. That’s a real big change for us,” Ludwig said.
Electronic books also are becoming a bigger part of the library’s offerings. In 2012, Forsyth had 19,800 electronic books. Now it’s almost 208,000, Ludwig said.
That doesn’t mean you won’t find old-fashioned books, however. While the library has culled approximately 108,000 volumes because of low use, it still holds more than 506,000 physical volumes, according to a statistics report provided by Ludwig.
In fact, in the last few years, the library actually has seen an increase in the circulation of physical materials. In 2012, 6,350 materials were circulated; this year, that number is up to more than 7,000.
“I was really stunned to see our circulation of books and physical materials started an uptick last year. We’ll see if that’s a trend or not,” Ludwig said.
There’s even a new section on the main floor showcasing books for leisure reading that came about from student demand, she said.
Use of the library also has increased. Counters installed at the library entrance gates showed visits to the building increased by more than 10,000 from a year ago, Ludwig said.
Even with those numbers, there are more students that could be walking through the doors, Ludwig said.
“What surprises me is it’s sometimes hard to get them into the library. There’s sometimes some anxiety. So we try to be very welcoming to students and be very helpful,” she said.
That starts at the front desk coffee bar and continues inside with fresh paint and new carpeting.
The Learning Commons, in the lobby and at the front desk, offers typical library services such as book checkout and return, and copy and fax service. It also offers check out of cameras and computers and assistance using them. A makerspace in the basement offers 3-D printing.
In the just-opened media lab, students can create a video for a class or organization, all at the touch of a single button.
There are partnerships with other campus departments and organizations that offer help writing a paper, a food pantry and even clothing for job interviews.
Group study rooms can be reserved, offering flat-screen monitors with laptop hookups, DVD players and whiteboards.
And yet for those who have been through Forsyth’s doors in the last 50 years, there are still familiar sites such as the original study carols and journals in the stacks still used for research in this digital age.
“We've got Ladies Home Journals dating back to the 1800s that still get used by students in graphic design, for example,” Ludwig said.
Material from the library’s archives are being added to digital collections. Football game films, the Reveille yearbook, faculty papers, historical photographs and documents can be viewed by anyone at contentcat.fhsu.edu/digital/ and scholars.fhsu.edu.
While technology throughout the library has had regular updates, Ludwig acknowledges the building itself could use an update.
"If there's one thing that's a little bit discouraging, it is this building. It is 50 years old,” she said.
Collections on the third floor had to be covered with plastic to protect against leaks from the heavy rains this year. Windows also leak, and water has leaked through walls into the floors, causing tiles to buckle.
Some of the space could be arranged for better use, especially by campus organizations, such as the Democracy Project’s Times Talks, she said.
“We let campus groups use this space in the library, but it's just right out in the middle of everything,” Ludwig said.
“We're hoping that we can do, at minimum, a refresh of the space and make it more functional and focus more on the creative role that libraries have,” she said.
A renovation could be in the library’s future, however.
“There is a potential date of 2022, but of course that depends on a new president and their directions,” Ludwig said.