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Vt. college library celebrated as national stand-out

Monday, April 23, 2012, 5:07pm
(NECN: Jack Thurston, Burlington, Vt.) - Inside the library at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt. Monday, sophomore Kendra Pillsbury, 19, was buckling down for the start of finals.

"The librarians downstairs are the friendliest people you'll ever meet," the South Burlington native beamed.

Pillsbury was working in the space the national Association of College and Research Libraries just named the top college library with its annual award. The ACRL is a division of the American Library Association. It decided Champlain's application proved its services best met the mission of the school, in large part because of the way it embraces technology.

"A lot of teachers now actually require you have both print sources and internet sources to ensure you have the best of both worlds in your research," Pillsbury explained. "It expands your library by five times, just by sitting at your computer."

"I think we just need to remain dynamic and agile," said Champlain College Library Director Janet Cottrell, describing the challenge of keeping libraries relevant to today's students.

Cottrell acknowledged students don't actually need books the way they used to. Online research has become much easier, but not a total replacement, she said.

"We find our students want to come to the library," Cottrell added, pointing out the building's cozy study spaces, and scenic views of Lake Champlain.

When it comes to public libraries, Williston Vermont's is one of the state's busiest.

"With the tank in the economy, our services went up," noted Marti Fiske, the director of the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library.

More than half of the town's eligible residents have a library card, and Fiske said they're flocking to the library's website to download e-books and audio-books, even after the close of the normal business day. Programming like children's music events can also draw upwards of 100 people on a Monday morning. Fiske pointed to the crowds as proof that home technology has not turned libraries into dinosaurs.

"[Libraries are] continuing to be the community hub; the place people come in and meet their neighbors," she said.

Back at Champlain College, the staff said the school is in good company. Other New England colleges have also won the ACRL’s top library honor over the past decade or so, including Wellesley College and Mt. Holyoke College. The award comes with a $3,000 prize, but Champlain has not decided how its library will spend the money.

"We make sure that learning and fun are fundamentally connected in students' minds," said Andy Burkhardt, Champlain's emerging technologies librarian. "One way we're doing that is by connecting with students where they are: online."

Kendra Pillsbury even plans to spread her love of libraries to a new generation. She's majoring in secondary education.

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