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NIU Today | Fred Barnhart earns second term as NIU Libraries dean

NIU Libraries Dean Fred Barnhart, a champion of student success who played a key role in helping the university weather pandemic-related challenges, has accepted a second four-year appointment.

NIU Libraries Dean Fred Barnhart.

“I’m excited to continue our work as we demonstrate that University Libraries is much more than books on the shelf or databases on a website,” Barnhart said. “At its heart are dedicated staff and faculty with specialized training and degrees who acquire, curate and disseminate information and services on a daily basis throughout the year to support our institutional mission.”

Committed to student success, NIU Libraries went to extraordinary lengths during the most challenging periods of the pandemic to continue its many services for the Huskie community while offering additional technology supports to students.

Working with several other colleges and the Division of Information Technology, the library expanded its fleet of circulating laptops by more than 200 and began circulating hotspots as well. The effort required quick work to upgrade older laptops and development of new ways (including UPS) to get laptops into the hands of students. In addition, the provost’s office received an Illinois GEER grant that resulted in more than 200 new laptops for the library to put into circulation. For fall 2022, the library is purchasing another 100 laptops for students, with plans to continue the program into the future.

The pandemic also prompted the library to add tools, such as self-checkout machines, pick-up lockers and book-paging apps, which increased the independence of its patrons. “One of the things that the pandemic underscored is the benefit of self-service tools for our users,” Barnhart said.

Barnhart and Professor Jessica Reyman further coordinated a campus-wide group of leaders to leverage what was learned about remote work during the past two years. “After talking to colleagues at other institutions, it is clear that NIU is much more progressive in thinking about how to take advantage of lessons learned from the pandemic,” Barnhart said.

More recently, University Libraries successfully began development of its Learning Commons in the Founders Memorial Library. The one-stop shop enhances student success by gathering a wide variety of services all in one place, including writing assistance, research help, group studies and assistance with technology. With the support of Academic Affairs, the Learning Commons will start fall 2022 in a more inviting location on the first floor of the Founders Memorial Library.

“By hiring a Student Success Librarian, we have been able to better integrate library services and skills training into the student experience,” Barnhart said. “The position has also played a key role in fostering the Learning Commons and helping us partner with other units on campus, such as the Huskie Academic Support Center.”

The library partnered with the Center for Teaching and Learning (CITL) to help students defray some of their textbook costs. The Course Materials Affordability Task Force, spearheaded by Barnhart and Jason Rhode, CITL executive director and chief online learning officer, advocates for and supports the adoption of free and open textbooks and other low-cost course materials. The Task Force is co-chaired by Larissa Garcia and Tracy Miller and has grown to include faculty from several different colleges. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences also helped the library support textbook affordability efforts with seed money, and many faculty members have donated their own course materials to the library. Not surprisingly, the initiative, managed by DeeAnna Phares, has proven popular with both students and faculty alike.

Barnhart’s first term also saw the creation of the library’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee (DEI) and the Programming and Promotion Committee. The DEI Committee has worked to make the libraries more accessible and inviting, and also seeks to revise policies to enhance equity. The Program and Promotion Committee was created to help the library formalize and coordinate efforts to promote library services, but also the scholarship and research of faculty and students. The committee has developed such programs as the annual Faculty Book Reception, Tuba Christmas cosplay events to celebrate the graphic novels collection, faculty photography exhibits and a tribute to famed cellist Raya Garbosouva.

The library has also developed partnerships with Research and Innovation Partnerships in the 71 North Partnership Studio and with Outreach Engagement and Regional Development. “We are lucky at NIU to be able to work with creative people outside the library to advance the same goals – student success and extending the impact of our faculty’s research,” Barnhart said.

One priority in Barnhart’s second term will be completion of the library’s strategic planning process. Goals will include maximizing student success through assessment and accountability, transformation of collections to meet evolving community needs, enriched user experiences, and increased awareness and visibility of library programs.

“We remain committed to keeping the library at the heart of the academic and student success experience,” Barnhart said.

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