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Profile of an Ethereal Library - Kresge Library Services (Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)

by Corey Seeman

Kresge Library Services provides research, instruction and curriculum support for the faculty, students and staff of the Ross School of Business (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor).  Kresge Library Services is an electronic-only library with staff offices located on the east side of the 4th floor of Kresge Hall.  Kresge Library operates independently of the main University Libraries, receiving our funding from the Ross School of Business.  This allows us to focus on the specific information resource needs of the Ross Community, especially in support of faculty research and action-based learning programs.  While our focus is the Ross School of Business community, we also assist other students and faculty at the University of Michigan who are conducting research in business or related fields.  We work closely with the University Libraries at Michigan on collaborative purchases, services and management of business print collections.  Additionally, Kresge Library Services supports the course materials needs of the faculty at the Ross School of Business.

Kresge Library Services is one of the larger academic business libraries in North America and a charter member of the Academic Business Library Directors group (http://www.abld.org).  At 19 staff (10 staff, 9 librarians), Kresge trails only Harvard University's Baker Library among academic business libraries in staff size.  We are particularly proud of the occupational diversity of the librarians on the Kresge team.  We have extensive experience in academic, public, special and corporate libraries.  This has enabled us to be more proactive in addressing the information needs of the Ross School of Business Community.

Becoming the Ethereal Library

Kresge Library Services started out as a traditional library and transformed into what I have referred to as an ethereal library.[1]  The Kresge Business Administration Library opened in 1984 after a gift was received from the Kresge Foundation.  The four story building was connected to other buildings in the Business School campus.  In 2013, Steven Ross gave a significant gift to the Ross School of Business to reimagine the school.  At the time, the Kresge Library took up parts of three floors and had 70K volumes in the building and an additional 70K volumes off site.  With the gift, we actually lost most of our space as it was reallocated and repurposed for other functions at the school.  We were able to rethink the library as a place through this process and reimagined the role and function of Kresge at our school.  In 2013, I was given an opportunity to think about the Library as Place for a program sponsored by the Michigan Library Association. In that program, I shared the notion that the Library had two spaces: a physical space and an ethereal space. While both places are critical for members of the library community, each space provided a distinct function and benefit. The physical space is used for a variety of functions including: the storage and retrieval of print materials and other physical objects; computer terminals for walk-in access to licensed resources; staff workspace; public desks or interaction spaces;  etc.  The ethereal space was where the higher level work of the library took place. This is the place where we connect with our community. 

After a two year construction project, we moved into our new permanent space at the school.  It was during this time that we changed our name to Kresge Library Services.  Kresge Library had a great brand name recognition as a service champion at the school.  We also did not want people to come to the library if they were looking for traditional services, collections and places to study.  So we branded our library as Kresge Library Services during the construction phase and have kept it ever since.

The new library space is very modest.  It was designed to provide room to meet with students, but not for student study or collection storage.  Student study space was elsewhere at the school.  The main features of our space are four terminals (two of which have Bloomberg); a reference desk; a desk for Kresge Learning Services staff; and six study/breakout rooms that are used to meet with students and for meetings that require privacy in our open office environment.  While the library space is modest, we are able to fundamentally do everything we need to do with our setup.  Much of our research interactions are via email and chat, though we do have a busy walk-up reference desk.  One unique element is that the library does not have a front door (per se).  Instead, access is freely available to anyone in the interconnected Ross complex.  So when we lock the door to the staff area, the six breakout rooms and four terminals are available during the times when we do not have staff on campus.  This provides greater flexibility and access to space during the evenings and weekends without the requirement of the library to provide staff.

While we moved into the space in the Fall of 2016, we have continually tweaked the space over these past four years.  The new group supporting the Ross Online MBA moved into our suite, forcing us to rearrange cubes so that we could accommodate more people in the staff area.  We also added a separate reference desk to enable us to more easily meet with students in our public area.  We expect that there will continue to be modifications as we enter the post-COVID-19 world - hopefully sooner rather than later. 

Pictures of Kresge Library Services - 4th Floor, Kresge Hall

Supporting Action-Learning at Ross

One of the key programs provided by the Kresge Library is our support of action-learning programs at the Ross School of Business.  Action-learning or action-based learning is a major component in the way that business education works at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. While the students use a great deal of cases during their time at Michigan, the major educational component of the Ross student is the completion of an action-learning project. With standard business cases, the problems, supporting documentation, and data as well as guiding questions are all provided to the students.  However, there is no ability to deal with the world as it is - full of ambiguity and unexpected realities (especially now).  Business cases are learning objects with an educational goal and notes to guide the students.  Action-learning takes students in almost any direction as the students learn more about the project and their sponsor.  At Kresge Library Services, we have been supporting experiential learning projects at the Ross School of Business for over 20 years. As experiential learning programs have expanded across the school, we have continued to support them and have shifted staffing to meet the needs. This strong embedded librarian program has become the central element in our service proposition to the school and the main reason why we have been able to thrive despite a dramatic reduction in the physical size of our library since 2013.

With most action-learning programs at Ross, students are pulled together into groups of between four and six to a team. The key program is called MAP, or Multi-disciplinary Action Projects.  They work with a sponsor agency (that might be a company, nonprofit, NGO, or governmental agency) on a particular project that is of great interest or concern for that entity. Among the recent projects that I have supported, the problems that they have been charged to solve include the following:

•        A business school from Eastern Europe looking to expand services to their local entrepreneurial community

•        NGO grappling with recycling and waste in the Pacific Islands

•        A social enterprise trying to determine new markets for products exported from Africa

•        A larger commercial bank trying to grapple with fintech changes and mobile payments in India

•        An online educational entity looking to support students in remote locations with easily transferable classes that may be taken for credit

•        Improving corporate onboarding for an International financial services firm.

While originally a part of just the daytime MBA program, the Ross School of Business has expanded action-learning programs in nearly all curriculums.  We continue to support each team with a dedicated librarian.  This enables teams to more efficiently work through information needs than if they were to go to a central reference desk or online chat.  The key element with that relationship is that student teams do not need to explain their project or what they have already received repeatedly.  Using a dedicated librarian, each interaction helps grow the information resources that the students have access to. 

The below chart demonstrates the large increase in action learning that has taken place at Ross over the past 10+ years.  This work has been critical in cementing the value and function of the library, even when the physical space was removed.  This is where we have truly become the ethereal library.


Supporting the Curriculum with Kresge Learning & Digital Services

Kresge Library Services also takes on a number of responsibilities that support the curriculum at the Ross School of Business.  Many of these responsibilities are fairly unique among libraries, but reflects the unique positioning of our library service unit. 

We have a large group of staff who support the course material acquisitions at the Ross School of Business.  For course material, I am referring to cases (a staple in most business education programs), simulations and etextbooks.  There are many schools where these tasks are outsourced or completed by printing services (or a comparable organization within a school).  With most business cases and simulations, there is no fair use exemption that can be claimed, so managing the cost of rights per student enrolled can be challenging.  Our model is to charge students (either directly or as a course fee) exactly what is needed for their course.  Nearly 50-60% of Ross courses have course material through Kresge Library Services with the remaining courses typically not using licensed material.  During the last few years, we started a course fee program (as opposed to student direct pay via credit card) for courses where the material fits the requirements of the University's Office of the Registrar.  We have started working with eTextbook adoptions that have seen dramatic reduction in the costs for student access to these works.  Also, since 2014, we have provided these materials in electronic format, but have offered students an optional printed version at an extra price.  Prior to 2014, we managed a course reserves program as well.  The goal was to return that when we reopened after construction in 2016.  However, we did not feel that we had sufficient space for that to do it effectively. 

In 2014 (the year we changed from our traditional library), we started the Assignment and Exam Pick Up & Review program.  This has been a popular program among faculty and one that has been steady over the past six years.  It started as a pilot and there was a demonstrated desire to keep it going.  Given that we just stopped processing print materials, we had the capacity to bring this service on.   This service provides the school with a secure distribution or review of assignments and exams at the Kresge Library Distribution Desk. The two options provided are (text from the Kresge website):

•        Assignment/Exam Pick Up: Allows students to pick up an assignment/exam without using class time. A photo ID is shown to the staff member and the assignment/exam is permanently returned to the student.

•        Assignment/Exam Review: Allows students a short period of time to review an assignment without using class time. A photo ID is shown to the staff member and assignment/exam is provided to the student to review in a secured, supervised manner (around 15 minutes or less). Students are not allowed to copy or remove the exam/assignment from the viewing area.

The Kresge Library also has a team that supports the Ross School of Business' adoption of Canvas, the current Learning Management System (LMS) at the University of Michigan.  The Kresge Library, for nearly 18 years, has served as the manager for Canvas the CTools, the predecessor LMS system used at Ross.  The Canvas support team includes four people in Kresge Library and one person in Digital Education.  They work collaboratively to ensure that faculty can use the LMS effectively. 

Managing through COVID-19 Pandemic

It would be remiss to write this piece in the first half of 2020 without reference to the response of Kresge Library Services through the COVID-19 Pandemic.  While being an electronic library has enabled us to fundamentally operate normally during this time, many of our services were face-to-face and those needed to be curtailed. 

The week of March 2nd was Winter Break, with MBA MAP starting on Monday March 9th.  On Sunday March 8th, it was announced that travel to projects in Seattle, San Francisco, New York as well as international travel would be canceled.  Over half the teams are international in scope.  While there was great disappointment among the students, the decision quickly turned out to be a good one.  Classes started on Monday March 9th, but only two days later, the decision was made to pivot to online classes through the end of the term (starting on March 16th).  Starting on March 12th, we encouraged staff to be home if they can work remotely as we ramped down face-to-face services.  We curtailed the Assignment and Exam Pick Up & Review program quickly and refunded TEXTPAKs (printed versions of course materials) that were not picked up.  Librarian reference services worked well as our holdings are all electronic.  When meeting with individuals or with teams, we all became experts with Zoom and BlueJeans for video conferencing. 

On March 23rd, the University of Michigan President (Mark S. Schlissel) announced that we would not have in person classes for Spring/Summer.  We are hopeful that Fall term classes will be on campus, but will be working through contingency planning to ensure that we will have a public health advised fall term that provides a safe environment for students, faculty and staff.  Decisions on that will be made as the health conditions change over the summer.  A normal Fall Term is the only scenario that we are fairly certain will not happen.

Kresge Library Websites

•        Home page:  https://www.bus.umich.edu/kresgelibrary/.

•        Kresge LibGuides: https://kresgeguides.bus.umich.edu/index.php?b=g&d=a

•        Articles and Presentations by Kresge Librarians (Michigan institutional repository): https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/handle/2027.42/50473

•        Ross School of Business & Kresge Historical Resources: https://kresgeguides.bus.umich.edu/rosshistory

Copyright 2020 by Corey Seeman

About the author: Corey Seeman is the director of Kresge Library Services (Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), a position he has held since 2006.  Prior to that position, Corey served as Assistant Dean at the University of Toledo, a training consultant at Innovative Interfaces, and a librarian and archivist at historical libraries including the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  Corey has written and presented on customer service and change management within libraries, especially academic ones.  He also maintains the Library Writer’s Blog (http://librarywriting.blogspot.com/).

[1] For more information on the history of the library, please see "Creating The Ethereal Library: Thinking Creatively When You Have No Space To Think," presentation at the The 2014 Conference for Entrepreneurial Librarians, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina on October 17, 2014. Link / Proceedings Link