UNION — A report ordered by Kean University showed the library may be a nice looking building from the outside but has a serious security problem and lacks the fundamental requirements college students require.
The fact that the building lacked security, though, was one of the most alarming deficiencies at the Kean library, and the report pointed out that the administration should have previously had a handle on the problem.
“Without exaggeration, this situation is the worst security situation we have encountered in our collective 60 plus years of working in academic libraries,” the report concluded, adding that while library staff were well aware of the situation, they were unable to change the situation because administration would not address their concerns.
The report, obtained by LocalSource through a source at the university, is a 22-page window into the inner workings of the library, by the Association of College and Research Libraries. The association was retained by Kean University Vice President of Academic Affairs Jeffrey Toney to conduct the external review, which included an on site visit Oct. 17 and 18, 2012. The report, however, was never released to the public, nor was it discussed by the Kean Board of Trustees at a public meeting.
The association interviewed not only Louis Rodriquez, library director at the time, but studied annual reports, surveys, and statistics relative to other state libraries while also delving into budget and staffing data. What they found, though, was not reflective of a “world class” institution, as Kean touts itself.
Specifically, the lack of security was of immediate concern in October 2012, but according to library sources, nothing was done to remediate the situation, despite strong warnings in the report for attention by administration officials.
“Our immediate recommendation is there be a solution implemented as soon as possible,” the association said, questioning why this was allowed to occur in the first place.
The team noted that while there is an alarm warning if a book is not properly checked out, there are an additional five entry and exit points in the building where a would-be thief could leave with books or personal items and not be noticed.
“The Starbucks access point to the perimeter is especially vulnerable,” the team noted, adding that they were told by the evening staff that occasionally they leave an outside door open after the cafe is closed, leaving the library “at risk.”
They suggested an alarm be installed at the entrance of the coffee shop, but advised that may not be enough to deter a perpetrator from stealing library materials.
The visiting team also found that while campus security does check the building, they merely come to the building and look in but do not make the required rounds of the library.
“This is cause for concern,” they said, noting that “thieves do not steal junk.”
The association pointed out that academic libraries worldwide know that students want to study in a safe, and appealing place, one that is social and provides diverse physical space and materials. The Kean University library, they said, does not meet these expectations.
“The Thompson Library as a space and building does not achieve its mission and potential as a space conducive to research, study and learning,” the report noted, adding that it lacks the identity to be the “intellectual heart of the university.” However, the library does have what most universities lack: useful available space. But students reported that while there is ample space, there is a lack of quiet space for individual activities.
The association said they explored the library through the eyes of newly arrived undergraduate students with no previous knowledge of the building, and what they found left a lot to be desired.
In fact, they said, although the setting was beautiful and there was a sign announcing the structure as the library, “there is nothing upon entry that suggests its mission and role.”
The report noted that there were no signs offering assistance, none directing students to the impressive computer laboratory down the hall, or explaining what is on any of the floors in the building.
“In short, the library as a space lacks identity. It does not announce itself as THE place to go to get help on research assignments, to find the right information sources, or just go to study,” the report indicated.
But even though students can get all this information at the Kean library, the report said it is not as evident as it should be.
“Even more fundamental, in our opinion, it’s downright confusing,” the report went on, adding that it could be improved without expending a great deal of money.
The team recommended that the first floor be transformed into a learning common, where students can obtain hands-on individual expert help from library staff. The report pointed out that Kean should put together a team of librarians, instructional technologists and at least one person from the vice-president’s office to visit other libraries with a central “commons” theme. The association said Kean’s library space could be improved immediately with some simple signs.
“Signage is either lacking or misleading, confusing or deficient,” they said.
But when the association tried to uncover why many of the issues they found deficient were not brought to the attention of administration, they were told by staff “we are not allowed to do so.”
“There is a disturbing pattern here regarding responsibility,” the report said, mentioning that this perception of a lack of shared responsibility and participation between central administration and the librarians was not good.
“It is clear to us that if Kean’s library is to achieve its mission and potential it will require engagement by a partnership of librarians, IT professionals, faculty and administrators,” they said, adding “we know of no successful academic library where that is not the case.”
The team did not try to venture a guess as to why the library staff and central administration has not partnered better. But they believed that this was critical to the success of the staff and use of the facility.
“The Thompson Library needs to be front and center as a partner with central administration and the faculty in determining Kean’s future. It must become more than just reactive to plans and policies made from afar,” the association said, adding that if this occurs the library it “will be a key contributor to the ability of Kean University to deliver on the promise of a world class education.”