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A Library for the Next 175 Years

1/26/2024

Carrying the Elizabeth Seton Library into the 21st Century

This story originally appeared in the 2023 Annual Report.

Libraries are almost always the hallmark of any educational institution across the globe.

For centuries, academic libraries have served as the heart of information—a source of knowledge and power—for students, professors, administrators and all who have perused their stacks. Aisles and aisles of books, volumes, encyclopedias, journals—the list goes on—have generated idea after idea and supported paper after paper. But, in this age of technology, the books have collected dust, shelves have been left untouched, and the faint “beep” of the barcode scanner is rarely heard as today’s students opt for the speed and convenience of the internet and leave the books behind.

In institutions of higher education throughout the country, libraries have become ghost towns. Already quiet spaces have become quieter. Funding has been slashed, positions have been cut, and materials have been left unused. But the Mount—always forward-thinking—has already been hard at work to redefine what it means to be a library in the 21st century—to garner the proper resources to serve students of the next 175 years and beyond.

Now, the Elizabeth Seton Library at Mount Saint Vincent isn’t going anywhere. As with the entirety of the College’s transition to the University of Mount Saint Vincent, we’re reimagining the traditional use of the library space to best serve the students of today.

The second floor of the Library has already been transformed into the Charles L. Flynn, Jr. Academic Resource Commons, housing a majority of the Mount’s student support services. The Oxley Integrated Advising Program—encompassing the Mount Pathways Programs (HEOP, TRiO, and MAP), the Academic Resource Center, and career and internship counseling—have had their home on the second floor for just over two years now. Stacks of books were removed to make way for dedicated group study spaces, advisor offices, computer work stations, and more comfortable lounge furniture to promote an adaptive learning environment.

This—and more—is what a 21st century library needs to be: a space for learning, a space for personal and academic development, and a space for exploration. There is no longer the need for the storage of walls upon walls of information, as we can gain immediate access to the answer to almost any question directly at our fingertips on our phones and computers.

Joseph Levis, the Director for the Elizabeth Seton Library at the Mount, has seen this evolution first-hand.

“When thinking about the future of the Elizabeth Seton Library and our role in it, I keep coming back to a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education that I read recently, entitled, appropriately enough, ‘The Library of the Future,’” Joe remarked.

Joe went on to describe that the article discussed the evolving notion of the librarian, the changing role of library spaces, and the types of resources the modern library is expected to have.

“With a shift towards electronic resources in recent years, we’ve managed to add over 235,000 e-books in the past decade alone,” continued Joe. “When looking at print books, we’ve gathered approximately 90,000 over the last half century. It’s almost incomparable.”

If the 65,000 unique e-journals the Mount has access to via databases on the internet were printed out and placed on library stacks, they would stand over 10 stories tall—something quite remarkable.

Joe summarizes that the library of the future is one that includes a vast number of resources that can be accessed from patrons’ technological devices, as well as in person. Since the bulk of the Elizabeth Seton Library’s current collection can be accessed from anywhere in the world with an internet connection, the Mount’s Library team is ensuring that support is offered to both traditional students studying on campus and the growing number of remote students who study solely online.

Currently, Mount Saint Vincent serves over 1,200 students in online graduate and adult/professional programs through collaborations with organizations like Academic Partnerships (AP). With a plan to add nearly 20 more online programs this January, the number of remote students utilizing the Mount’s library resources will only continue to expand. Affording this population of students access to e-books and e-journals—as well as 24/7 online tutoring instruction—is a critical factor in their success.

“There has been an evident shift in recent years in what we define as a ‘college student,’” remarked Lynne Bongiovanni, Provost and Dean of the College. “More and more adult learners are going back to school to complete degrees online—or are finally taking the leap to start one. At the same time, we see both the good and bad impacts of technology on our more ‘traditional’ aged college population. Reimagining the use of the Library is fundamental for the academic support all students need.”

With all this in mind, there is also the need for the expansion of the traditional role of the librarian. Joe explained:

“The most important part of our jobs is now to teach patrons how to search effectively through the mass of information available on the internet. In the past, we would have provided access to a limited number of vetted resources. Now, there is a limitless supply of knowledge and, in many cases, it is the patrons and students themselves who will need to do the vetting. The role of the librarian has evolved to scrupulously aid them in that process.”

Students who are enrolled in the Mount’s online programs account for a wider range of age groups and backgrounds compared to traditional-age undergraduate students. For this reason, modern-day librarians are tasked with finding creative ways to offer support via email, chat, telephone, and virtual reference meetings.

This, of course, does not leave out the physical library space, as it must continue to include spaces for people to learn and engage beyond the classroom in a reimagined potential as a dynamic space for all members of the Mount community to gather.

It’s no secret that a great deal of capital projects have focused on the task of transforming the Elizabeth Seton Library space over the past few years—with the renovations on the second floor already proving to be an undoubtable success. To complete this work, the Mount received generous gifts from alumnae/i, as well as $1,000,000 in grant funding from the New York State and Municipal Projects Fund.

In June 2022, the George I. Alden Trust awarded the Mount with a generous grant of $180,000 to help offset some of the costs of the building’s infrastructure and exterior envelope repairs. The Alden Trust is no stranger to the Elizabeth Seton Library, having awarded the Mount significant funding in 2006 to create the Stephen J. Maloney Computer Center on the ground floor—still an invaluable resource for students. A leaky skylight has created the risk of water damage and mold on the first floor, and has necessitated additional custodial and dehumidification efforts. Needless to say, this runs counter to the Mount’s desire to create a supportive learning environment.

As exterior repairs wrap up and air conditioning and HVAC work are completed—imagine studying for May final exams in a steamy, sweltering library?!—the building will soon be ready for preparation and planning to begin on the first floor.

In 2013, the College assembled a Library Planning Committee that included members of the faculty, student body, staff, and administration to determine how the Elizabeth Seton Library could best support and advance the Mount’s academic mission and growing student population. Based on a survey sent out by the Committee at the time, several goals were established and many have already been accomplished. However, several remain, including: incorporating expanded space to house the Center for Leadership, providing small seminar space, creating a more inviting entry experience, unifying help desk services, and even creating a café.

These projects are all at the forefront of the eventual transformation of the Elizabeth Seton Library into a true 21st century learning environment to support students both on and beyond campus. But it all comes with a cost—literally. The Mount hopes to raise significant funding to support what would be one of the final phases of the multi-phase, decade-long renovation and expansion of the Library, building off of the enthusiasm and momentum of fundraising activities garnered from the previous phases.

“By supporting Elizabeth Seton Library renovations, you have the opportunity to enable the Mount to continue to provide its students with access to the resources needed to enhance advisement, enrichment, and research inquiry,” continued Dr. Bongiovanni. “A modernized library space will ensure our growingly diverse student population of learners both in seat and online are equipped to enter and excel in their chosen careers upon graduation. There’s much more work to be done to ensure the Library is prepared to support the next generation of students. Let’s do it together.”


About the University of Mount Saint Vincent
Founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity, the University of Mount Saint Vincent offers a nationally recognized liberal arts education and a select array of professional fields of study on a landmark campus overlooking the Hudson River. Committed to the education of the whole person, and enriched by the unparalleled cultural, educational, and career opportunities of New York City, the University equips students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary for lives of achievement, professional accomplishment, and leadership in the 21st century.