Dean Expands on the Future of the Library

By: Luke Shannon | Sports Editor

For this Q and A, I wanted to talk with someone who had a large pull in the direction the University of Scranton is headed in. Who better that someone who has served as a dean, professor, department chair and research coordinator here? George Aulisio started as the interim Dean of the library July 1st, 2021, before taking over full-time, and discusses his plans for the future of the library, events and staffing shortages here.

Q: How was your experience before taking over full-time?

A: It was an enjoyable experience in many ways, but there were lots of challenges as well. There was a flood over the summer- I don’t know if many students know about that. COVID was, of course, a major challenge and we had some other major issues that came up, including health concerns and things like that that we were struggling with. For as many challenges as there were, it was also a very enjoyable time. I got to meet and work with a lot of good people, and I got to work collaboratively to advance the library strategic plan, which we develop in concert with the university.

Q: What did you have in mind for that? What was the library’s end of the strategic plan?

A: Basically- if I had to boil the library down to sort of talking points- the library is basically three things: services, spaces and resources.

Ultimately, in terms of resources that’s like books, databases, journals, things like that. My focus was to maintain what we had and to develop new collections, new resources to meet the new needs of students. That might include new academic programs, but it also included things like- I met with student government and they really wanted a recreational reading collection. So, I looked into what we were able to do and added a recreational reading collection, which is in the lobby of the library.

I also talked with faculty and other administrators and there is a publication called “The Chronicle of Higher Education.” It’s basically a newspaper about higher ed and what’s happening in the world of higher ed. And it’s something that we never offered access to in the past. But I thought it was important for us to have it, especially now as we’re dealing with COVID and sort of making our way forward and deciding what’s new and next for us. I thought it was important for us to have this sort of industry publication for us to better understand what our colleagues and peers are doing across the nation.

Things like that are the resource side. In terms of services, we, like every other industry in the world right now, are struggling with staffing and other things like that. Basically, my focus was how I could make things more efficient so that the staff felt comfortable- not overworked, not overburdened- while still providing students, staff and faculty with all the services they expect. One example of what we did here was we lost some people between the research services department and the circulation department. What I did was I ended up suggesting we close the second floor desk at five PM and move everybody down to the first floor. You still get both services, it’s just at one place and that way the two have different roles but can support one another if somebody goes to dinner they call in sick the other one can pick up the place. We went from two service desks to one in the evenings, so like little changes like that

And then in terms of spaces, the library does what we call the MISO (Measuring Information Services Outcomes) survey, we just recently did it in 2022. Previously we did it in 2018. So, a few years back.

Now with about 100 students, they were run independently by the counseling department. They really reveal that students feel like the library is dated and needs to be modernized: brighter colors, more light, newer furniture in places. So really just seeing what sort of deals I can find with sort of ways I could address those concerns that came up through the MISO survey and also just accommodating different types of learning styles. So, you know not only do we have undergraduates, but we have graduate students… so undergraduate, graduate students, and commuters of course is a different learning style. Differently abled people as well. So, all those considerations we have to take in mind and be able to support all of our students.

Q: I guess one decision that I’ve heard a lot about from other students has been about the 4th and 5th floors closing earlier. Has that kind of been an effect of the lack of staffing?

A: It is, so 4th and 5th used to be open until 11:30 p.m. and we really just didn’t have the resources throughout the day to keep that going for that extra hour and a half, so now they close at 10 p.m. and to be quite honest, it was a hard decision in many ways, and it was an easy decision in another way. We do periodic what we call head counts. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but we have students and sometimes staff go through the building with iPads and actually count everybody that’s here at a given time. We do it and then we look 10 to 11:30. Are we getting a lot of book checkouts? Are we having a lot of people on these floors? And the reality is that floors one, two and three are 24 hours and that’s based on the head counts. We have based on the use of services between 10 and 11:30, Those three floors can accommodate the capacity that we need and without like really crowding people together and it still offers quite a few, it still has quiet space, it has collaborative spaces, it meets those different types of learning needs, I would say, or learning styles.

It was a difficult choice because I didn’t like the idea of having to cut back a service, but it was an easy choice in that staff really couldn’t handle it. People were leaving in part because we close at 11:30- they don’t want to walk through the parking garage at 11:30 at night in the dark and they were getting better daytime offers and earlier offers and it was hard to kind of keep up with that. To sort of stop the bleed of losing people, shifting to 10 p.m. closing was the was the best option and the statistics really supported it.

Q: That makes sense. I know that there are a few student work study positions in the library. Would you consider expanding that or is that more in just a supporting role?

A: I’m actually in favor of supporting it. People probably don’t know this, but the research services department, which is the second floor department, I used to be the coordinator of that department. And, before I was coordinator, we never had a student workers, but one of my initiatives was to get student workers into that department. At our height we had probably 10 this year. I think we only have, I’m not exactly sure, I think there might be four or five. I’m no longer overseeing the department, so I’m not sure. But yes, I think having students in the building adds incredible value to the library in multiple ways. One it gives students that aren’t

working a face they can relate to and that might be more comfortable approaching. And I like that.

I like the fact that students that work in the library actually get office experience and professional work experience. We rely on them very heavily and we give them a lot of responsibility. I actually think students that work in the library in many ways have a leg up in their careers almost because they have that work experience and a lot of responsibility, we put on some of them. So, yes, actually I’m interested in expanding it.

For example, one position that I have in mind or maybe multiple positions, is basically like a social media intern is what I’d like to have in the library. I’m thinking we would hire for fall 2022 at this point social media intern.

And then the various service tests have a student circulation- the first floor test research services. The second floor has like five. Like I said, [the service desks have] many more than five. Media usually has around five, that’s the 3rd floor department. And then Text services added a student there-sort of a back behind the scenes department of students that you don’t interact with directly, but they’re the ones that get all the books out, make sure the databases work and the website work and all that stuff. So, very important part of the library’s infrastructure, they added a student worker that we’ve never, we never really had student workers working there before either.

So yes, technically our numbers are probably lower this year, but we had fewer applicants for jobs and I’m not sure why that is exactly, but I think everybody’s sort of adjusting. And I think for the fall, I’m hoping to get those numbers back up to pre pandemic days and, really expand roles even.

Q: Are there plans of renovating the fifth floor? That’s what I’ve heard.

A: What I can share is that the friends of the library there, an external group have committed some monies towards updating furniture in the heritage room, contingent upon recognition of the former Dean of the library, my predecessor, not the former interim dean, but Charles Kratz, he was dean for almost 30 years.

If all that goes through, then that $75,000 will go towards making all the students’ seats in there the same nice new furniture, getting new tables up there as well for students and then also we use that room for events. And a lot of students don’t notice this, but there’s like two green credenzas in sort of the middle of the room, there’s one in front of the fireplace and there’s one in front of the exact opposite side of the floor. We’re thinking about removing those and replacing the one with like a large credenza with a tv about that size in it that raises up for events. And that way when we have guest speakers and things like that rather than wheeling in A small 50 in TV, this could raise up and then, you can have a nice event, nice display. So that’s what we’re have planned.

And hopefully all that gets done over the summer and by fall students will have a nice, updated heritage room.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: I’d like to add that it’s the 30th anniversary of the library this year. So, the building was built in 1992. That means 2022 is, of course, our 30th anniversary. I’m sort of looking at 2022- 2023 academic year as a celebration of the library’s 30 years. So, I’m hoping to be able to hold a few events and trying to fundraise for the various renovations and updates that I’ve had in mind, including, the heritage room is one of them, but there has been a second floor renovation plan in the works for years now. It’s very expensive to be honest. And the university doesn’t have the funding at the moment, but if we had a generous benefactor then it could happen, but basically it would be adding group study rooms on the second floor, adding a quiet study space, keeping that aesthetic going that we put at the top of the stairs there, that new look at the new carpet, new tables, new computer lab kind of flushing that throughout the whole second floor second floor is our largest space. It’s a lot to do all that. I don’t expect that to get done over the summer to be clear, but I hope to be able to secure funding for that in my tenure as Dean to get that done.

Q: Do you have any idea what kind of events you would like to have?

A: Yes, some ideas. So, I’d like to have a distinguished author event which we’ve done in the past, bringing in someone that has written a novel that is highly regarded or up and coming. Having a dinner in their honor, have them talk for an hour, invite students, invite the public as well, so that would be one of those things. I’m thinking about doing collaborations with various other entities on campus, like the library has art in it and some of it has been up for 30 years and some of it’s newer and I’d like to do some sort of exhibit on art of the library, for example, something like that.

There’s also plans, we do special collections exhibits. One of the exhibits could be, 30 years in retrospective or something like that. Events like that, maybe something during alumni weekend if I can collaborate with the alumni groups and maybe do a reception in the heritage room, something like that would be nice on the balcony for example. And things like that basically maybe little things here and there as well. But those are good, and I’m also open to suggestions if students have ideas for things that they like to do. I love suggestions. I’d love to get feedback from students. I’m happy for this opportunity.

I’m fairly passionate about the library. I think the library is the heart of the campus, both literally and figuratively, so we’re right in the middle here. But you know the library also connects with every department on campus, interacts with the library in some way, not just academic departments but like the Jesuit Center, Humanities Center and we talked about the art gallery, so every great University has a great library at its core, and I think University of Scranton is a great university and I want to make sure that we have a great library that supports it.