WKU Libraries rehouses special collections library

Alexandria Anderson, Editor-in-Chief

The special collections library at WKU, currently housed in the Hardcastle Kentucky Building, is being moved to the second and third floor of Cravens Library this summer.

Special collections holds unique, rare reference materials with a focus on Bowling Green and South Central Kentucky. Those who visit the collection are able to use materials for research and study in-house, which could include diaries, photographs, letters and other primary resources.

Susann DeVries, dean of WKU libraries, believes the move is vital to the usage and accessibility of these materials, since they will now be located in Cravens Library.

“We’re really doing this to help engage people with the collections, help them access and discover the collections and then hopefully inspire them in their research and using the primary sources for their research,” DeVries said. 

Special collections closed on May 2 and will reopen by appointment only on June 30. It is now primarily located on the second floor of Cravens Library, which previously housed the Visual Performing Arts Library that was moved earlier this year.

DeVries said the WKU library will see a huge benefit from this move, as it consolidates all library materials into the Helm and Cravens library buildings. The special collections floor also has a new “active learning” classroom, with Zoom capacity and whiteboards across the walls, where lectures and labs for using primary resources will be held.

“We’ll have one stop shopping, so to speak, for everybody, the faculty, staff and students,” DeVries said. “It will help the personnel, the faculty and staff, work together in a more collaborative environment. It’ll be more convenient for people. But the primary reason for doing this is to make this more accessible for students and student success.”

With the difference in space between the Kentucky Building and the second floor and some of the third floor of Cravens Library, the entire special collections library will not be brought over. DeVries said they are bringing the “highly used items,” and there will still be closed stack storage at the Kentucky Building.

“We’ll still have closed stacks in the Hardcastle Kentucky building, but those are easily retrieved with little notice,” DeVries said.

DeVries also expects increased circulation of the special collections materials from this move. She said that the previous move of the Beulah Winchel education library to the ninth floor of Cravens Library increased circulation by 60%, and there has already been an uptick in Visual Performing Arts Library material circulation.

“I think that is a lot of evidence and proof that having everything in the same building [and] convenient for people really adds more,” DeVries said. “The main focus I’m working on is engagement, inspire and discovery.”

Nancy Richey, professor and visual resources librarian in the special collections department, said WKU is lucky to have the special collections library, as it is not something every university has.

She agreed that accessibility is a major reason for the move and that with a more central campus location, students could even stop in between classes.

“It will make us more a part of the hill,” Richey said. “Toward the commons, that’s been very attractive to students. I feel like it will make us more accessible.”

The move won’t just make the collection more accessible for students, but faculty as well. Richey said with its new location, the library hopes to work more closely with professors and integrate the unique resources into various courses.

“We’re going to be working, and we’re already working, with professors to bring out those resources, but we hope that they’ll integrate them even more into more of their classes,” Richey said.

As the special collections library becomes more accessible and potentially more widely used, Richey believes it has room to grow. She hopes donors of materials see this increased circulation and choose to donate to the collection.

“We hope that Special Collections grows,” Richey said. “Because we don’t have a purchasing budget, not very much, it grows by donors […] The visibility is very, very important. That’s the whole gist of what we’re trying to do. And it’s just to become more an integral part of the campus and the student life.”

The movement of the various library collections had to be extensively planned and moved in the right order, and the special collections move is the last one, DeVries said.

With these moves and the construction of the Commons, DeVries has seen invigorated student engagement and enthusiasm with the libraries. She said much of this also comes from library room reservation and refreshed furniture on some floors.

“People are finding their spots and everybody tends to find a spot and gravitates toward that,” DeVries said. “Whether you like more engaged areas or quieter study areas, I think we have something for everyone, and by bringing Special Collections and Archives over we’ll be able to serve everybody.”

DeVries said she hopes to see increased circulation of the special collection materials once students see how “warm and inviting” and “easily accessible” the space is. This accessibility is vital to her overarching goal as the dean of libraries.

“Ever since I came here, my goal was to increase information literacy, making them [students] aware of sources that are out there to use for research and your classwork, and this is another step in reaching that overarching goal,” DeVries said. “My goal is that every graduate comes away knowing how to use primary and secondary research and evidence based arguments. And this is one step closer to getting there.” 

Editor-in-chief Alexandria Anderson can be reached at [email protected].