Four is an Impressive Number

This past August I had the opportunity to meet with incoming students during the Student Success Conference. The Alfred University Libraries held a session titled 10 things you should know about the libraries before you start class. Anyone who has sat in on my introductory library sessions knows that I often ask the students if they know how many libraries there are in the village of Alfred. Often enough, one or two students will come up with the correct number: four.

The reason I ask this question is to provide an opportunity to talk about the different libraries available to them, and to discuss the strengths of each collection. I have to admit that I also ask the question because, as someone who lives and works in the village, I am proud of the number and happy that I can possibly surprise students (if that is even possible) with such a big number for such a small village. The question I ask is misleadingly simple, though. I could qualify the question with a possibly laborious introduction to the nature of libraries in the twenty-first century, i.e. what forms they take (physical or digital or both).

With the arrival over the past fifteen years of organizations such as the The Internet Archive and The HathiTrust Digital Library and, more recently, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), these resources expand the reach of libraries beyond the boundaries of any given village. I think I will keep the question I ask the students deceivingly simple (and possibly impressive) despite the fact that the question is complex.

By focusing the question on the four libraries in Alfred, I know that I am giving each student a good place to start and that, over time, they will discover the many remarkable collections that are available online.

-John Hosford

Additional information about the DPLA.

Digital Public Library of America

The National Digital Public Library is Launched! essay by Robert DarntonĀ