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Mark Roosa - Pepperdine Magazine

Why We Need Libraries in the Digital Age

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Cyberspace is a tool, it is not a place.


Mark Roosa - Pepperdine Magazine

By Mark Roosa, Dean of Libraries

In this era of Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia, some might ask: why do we need libraries? Can’t students get everything they need online? Won’t students become wiser simply by spending more quality time online with their laptops or iPhones?

The Internet has become deeply embedded into every aspect of our private and public lives. In the academy as well, the Internet and the growing cyber-infrastructure that carries information to us and facilitates scholarly work has become an essential fixture in the lives of students.

Without question, the cyber-toolbox has created wonderful new pathways to information. Take, for example, the pure power that online databases provide for quickly locating facts about virtually any person, place, or thing, or the possibilities that cyber-technology holds for bringing together massive geospatial information, which would otherwise be largely inaccessible.

Technology has enabled us to build wonderfully rich digital collections across the country that support teaching, learning, and research, but I would argue that technology in and of itself does not necessarily guarantee that students will become smarter. There is mounting evidence that too much random screen time may in fact hinder deep thinking, contemplation, analysis, and reading and writing skills—things so essential to success in the world beyond the campus.

Consider T. S. Eliot’s prophetic warning from the 1930s:

Where is the life that we have lost in living?

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

-The Rock

The Library as Place... "A Home for the Heart"

As our students have become more and more cyber-dependent, an interesting thing is happening on our college campuses: library use is on the rise.

It turns out that students come to our libraries for the type of fulfillment cyberspace can’t offer. They come to see their friends, to work in groups, to think, and to find a quiet space far from the distractions of everyday campus life. Increasingly, the Payson Library on our Malibu campus offers just this sort of haven. It is, in many ways, already the biggest classroom and the biggest living room on campus, a new student union where students reflect, exchange ideas with one another, and grow intellectually. The library offers quiet space for contemplation in a comfortable setting. In short, our library is a home for the heart, soul, and mind. A destination:

...where students are exposed to new ideas and where thoughtful inquiry is encouraged. Each year we host a broad array of faculty and guest lectures on topics ranging from the human genome project to global warming to Mozart to the African American experience.

...where students become discerning information users and consumers and learn to expand their horizons beyond Google. In addition to providing information literacy instruction to roughly 4,000 students a year, our new search and retrieval portal called WorldCat Local provides users with access to more than 100 million titles from libraries around the world.

...where students find hospitality and flexible seating. And it is open late.

The combination of these elements is a winner; and as we have emphasized them, student use of our libraries has steadily increased. On a busy night one is hard pressed to find a seat in Payson Library. Circulation of materials and use of online resources are also off the charts. It is an exciting time.

What We've Accomplished and What Lies Ahead

We are encouraged by the progress that we have made to create intelligent and welcoming libraries at Pepperdine, places that build community and encourage learning.

We have upgraded our print collections and evaluated our electronic holdings to better align them with our academic programs. As we have made these improvements, happily, we have seen increased use of the collections.

Today’s libraries are not just aggregators of information; they are distributors and publishers as well. Pepperdine on iTunes U, a free online broadcast service that features audio and video presentations by faculty, guest lecturers and members of our community, now garners over 4,000 weekly downloads.

We will continue to explore new ways to serve our students by providing knowledge resources and new spaces that encourage use of those resources. Preparing students to be lifelong learners (and users of libraries) is both a library vocation and a civic responsibility.


We are gratified by the substantial progress made to date to build a 21st-century library for our students. Just as Pepperdine is on the rise in so many areas, I believe that we are on the rise with our libraries. Our students deserve it and our legacy demands it.

With continued support from our community and donors, we look forward to building a great library for our great University, a ‘home for the heart, soul, and mind’, that will, in the words of our founder George Pepperdine, “help young men and women to prepare themselves for a life of usefulness in this competitive world and help them build a foundation of Christian character and faith which will survive the storms of life.”


The new Digital Collections feature digitized versions of special collections and archival materials, including the Pepperdine yearbook Collection, a complete and searchable collection of Pepperdine yearbooks from 1939 to 2006; the John Mazza Historic Surfboard Collection; and the ever-growing University Archives Photograph Collection, presenting high-resolution digital renditions of the thousands of photographic prints, slides, and negatives that compose the Pepperdine University archival image collection, dating from its founding in 1937.

Explore these collections and more: library.pepperdine.edu