Future of the Library at Henry Ford College

Eshleman Library reference desk courtesy Kate Harger
Eshleman Library reference desk courtesy Kate Harger

Since Henry Ford College's Eshleman Library was shut down for the entire 2019-2020 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the library is seeing far fewer visitors this semester than it used to. So far in the Winter 2022 semester, with only a select few classes being held either hybrid or in person, the Eshleman Library has seen less than 2,000 total visitors, which is comparable to the average number of daily library visitors before the 2020 campus closure. “Pre-pandemic it was a lot of students in the building. We were hopping,” says HFC librarian Tessa Betts.

“I think what these numbers tells us is that students have embraced the concept of online library support,” says Kate Harger, HFC Director of Library and Academic Support Services. “During the pandemic, students mastered how to get the library assistance they need online. For the typical student, doing research for a research assignment shifted from an in-library to an online process a couple decades ago anyway – with the convenience of online library research databases – so what we’re seeing with our current usage is not especially surprising.” Librarians have helped HFC students with over 1,300 questions so far in the Winter 2022 semester, the majority of which were sent using the Eshleman Library’s online “Ask A Librarian” service.

Henry Ford College’s Eshleman Library has undergone several changes over the years. The library as HFC students currently know it was established in October 1967, after HFC moved from the Miller School building to its current location on Evergreen Road. The library was officially dedicated to Fred K. Eshleman on June 2, 1968. Fred K. Eshleman was Henry Ford College’s first-ever Dean (a position now known as the President), appointed in 1946. In 1997, the Eshleman Library underwent renovation as part of the addition of the Learning Resource Center (now known as the Learning Success Center), a $12 million addition to the Eshleman Library.

The Eshleman Library is ready to welcome more students back in person during the Fall 2022 semester. “I think when more students return for on-campus classes, we will see our number of in-person library visits increase,” says Harger. “Because HFC is not a residential campus, we don’t have students who are always on campus. We generally don’t see students visit the library unless they are already on campus for classes.”

The library is working on a variety of updates to make the library more inviting to students returning to campus, including a major carpet replacement project for the building. “We’re at the stage of going out for bids,” said Harger. “The goal is to replace all the existing outdated library carpet in the coming months. The majority of our carpet is in really poor condition, so replacing the carpet should go a long way toward refreshing the space and making the library more inviting.” The carpet in the Eshleman Library has been a point of conversation for HFC students and faculty alike in recent years. “Some of it is held together with duct tape,” says Betts, “it is truly terrible and gross.” Betts says that the librarians of the Eshleman Library are “so excited” for the carpet replacement project and hope it makes for a more welcoming environment for students.

Other changes the library plans on making include acquiring as many class textbooks as possible for students to check out, and a Fall semester marketing campaign to invite new and returning students to utilize the library. “We are also reconfiguring the seating and tables to create more ‘zones’ for students to use, based on their needs, such as silent study vs. chatting with friends, or something in-between,” says Betts.

The Mirror News spoke with students around campus, asking them a series of questions about their relationship with the college’s library in an attempt to establish an understanding of what the Eshleman Library currently means to HFC students. When asking students how often they visit the Eshleman Library, the most common response was once a week. One student says, “probably once a week, if even that,” despite being on campus twice a week for in person classes. Another student says, “I’ve only been there one time.” This student described the one time she’s been to the library was when her class visited together for instructions on how to use the library’s databases for a research project. When asking this student why she often does not visit the library, she says, “I guess if I’m not there with my class, chances are, when I’m leaving, I’m not gonna go there unless I have to.” Another student says she does not visit the Eshelman Library often because “there are other places to study on campus and I don’t normally resort to the library because it’s not very welcoming.”

When asking what improvements the Eshleman Library might need for students to go more often, one student says, “I definitely think that it is a little outdated” and that the library “could be more resourceful to students. I wish that they would incorporate new texts.” Another student says, “so much” could be done to attract students to the library. Some of which being, “I would love for the upstairs to be open and for those computers upstairs to be able to be used and I think it’s just the library itself, It’s not really welcoming. I wish more people were allowed to go in there at once.” I continued to ask if this student thought the library was resourceful for students where she answered, “I feel like it can be, but I feel like they can also get their resources elsewhere. It can be more resourceful for students.”

“They could open up the private study rooms,” one student says. “There’s minimal tables. There’s not that many places that people can sit. The quiet room could have been in a different place and then those rooms could be opened back up because the whiteboards are useful and so that there could be study groups which are also useful.” This student also asserts that she does not use the Eshleman library resources often because she does not “find them accessible.” She continues to say, “You have to ask people and go through people and stuff, so I just don’t really use them.”

It is not only Henry Ford College’s Eshleman Library that has been trying to navigate through trying times over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. Brian Beecher, the Director of Library and Learning Commons at Grand Rapids Community College said, “When our college was shut down from COVID back in 2020, we focused on purchasing more online content, especially e-books. We began spending about 50 percent of our book budget on e-books and continue with that purchasing model today. Pre-COVID, we had a healthy electronic collection. Today, our virtual collection includes over 60,000 academic journal titles, over 400,000 e-books, and thousands of streaming videos. Our library has one of the largest digital collections in the state (compared to other community college libraries).”

Beecher said, “In terms of physical items, our library has over 74,000 print books, over 350 print serials/periodical titles, and thousands of DVD/CDs. The library remains a destination for students, and oftentimes, we are one of the few staffed resources during evenings and weekends. As the campus moves back to more in-person teaching, we will continue to reach out to departments and faculty to encourage library instruction and research within our physical space. We highlight both online and physical resources.”

Beecher went on to describe increasing access to technology for students during the pandemic: “We began a robust Laptop (and other technology) checkout program with 80 laptops when the library reopened in August of 2020. That program has grown to nearly 800 laptops today due to student need. The library, its collections and services, are constantly featured in our campus newsletters, emails, and updates.”

One of the changes GRCC’s library implemented as a result of the pandemic was adjusting physical spaces and creating virtual resources. Beecher says, “We spaced out tables and chairs for social distancing, and continue to provide PPE to students who want to use it. Laptops, hotspots, and other technology are now offered at the library.”

Beecher added, “We have created many online instruction videos and offer virtual assistance via text, email, chat, video conference, and phone. Our embedded librarian classes have increased as well as library instruction taught via Zoom. As of now, the physical space, collections, and services of the library are back to normal. We plan to continue to offer our additional virtual services into the future.”

Beecher continued to explain how the library has to change to meet the needs of students: “If a student does not have internet at home, they can check out a laptop and hotspot from the library for the entire semester. For those who choose to come to the library, we have a variety of study spaces within our library as well as a computer lab with over 50 computers. We have a textbook reserve collection of nearly 700 titles, and we have faculty librarians and staff to help them.”

Beecher shared how the GRCC library depends on funding from the college and the state: “The normal library operations and staffing is funded through the annual campus budget. The campus is seeking additional state funding to expand and renovate our Learning Resources Building which contains the Library, Academic Support and Tutorial Services, Media Technologies, and Office of Diversity Equity and Inclusion. Our plan is to expand our building to include the departments previously mentioned as well as the Office of Student Life, College Success Center, and several other departments as well. The Library is already a hub of campus, but our goal is to expand and bring other vital services to this building to make us a one-stop-shop for our students.”

The Eshleman Library (Building B) is open for walk-in services. Library services are also available via SMS, live online chat, email, phone, and the “Ask A Librarian” service. For library hours and more information on how to contact the Eshleman Library, visit hfcc.edu/library.