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The Evolution of USF Libraries

The Library rethinks the ‘traditional service model’ to better serve students, researchers, faculty and staff

USF Libraries Dean Todd Chavez (right), Assistant Dean Carol Ann Davis (center) and Associate Dean Tom Cetwinski (left).

The University of South Florida Libraries is reinventing itself.

For more than a decade, USF Libraries has been exploring different models and methods to better serve the USF community in an ever-changing academic landscape. Now, as the entire USF System charges into a new era, the Libraries’ evolution surges on – transforming everything from student study space to its role in cutting-edge research across campus.

“It’s a very exciting time for us here at the Libraries,” said Todd Chavez, dean of USF Libraries. “Everything we’ve done in this new direction builds on our traditional strengths – our strong commitment to service, our role building meaningful collections and our desire to provide top-notch facilities. But, we’re definitely changing how we do those things in an effort to better serve USF.”

For Chavez, this push is driven not only by a vision for the library, but by the incredible trajectory of the entire university. USF’s designation as a Preeminent State Research University, its new Phi Beta Kappa chapter and its improved ranking in U.S. News & World Report all inspire and motivate the USF Libraries team to find new ways to deepen the engagement with students, faculty, researchers and staff.

Research Platform Team members Meghan Cook (left) and Matt Torrence (right) work with students and researchers from the USF School of Geosciences.

One way they’re doing this is by transforming the way the library serves researchers and students. Their Research Platform Teams (RPT) are part of an innovative model that creates a series of librarian-led teams tasked with establishing deep relationships with faculty and graduate students in academic areas.

Traditionally, librarians would provide researchers with background support and instruction on finding and utilizing information resources for their work. The RPT model emphasizes active participation in research, grants, teaching and publication – giving librarians a more hands-on role across campus.

Right now, USF has RPTs in geosciences as well as history and classics. The Library plans to expand the program to include business, marine sciences, data analytics, digital humanities and more as needs arise.

“We’re trying to build these research platforms for our graduate students and faculty to stand on to have maximum success,” Chavez said.

The push for a greater impact on research doesn’t stop at their service model. Library administrators are also transforming the way they build their digital collections. Using data from research across campus, the USF Libraries partner with faculty to develop high-value and distinct collections not available anywhere else in the world.

Researchers with USF Libraries Digital Heritage & Humanities Collection gathering 3D images of Stela K from the World Heritage site of Quirigua in Guatemala.

At the center of this effort are USF researchers Lori Collins, PhD, and Travis Doering, PhD, co-directors of USF Libraries Digital Heritage & Humanities Collection. For years, they have been working to preserve cultural and natural heritage sites through a variety of digital imaging and visualization methods. Now, as part of USF Libraries, they are transforming over a decade of work in the field into digital collections – in the process making this critical material globally accessible to students, researchers and policy makers.

“For us it means that our data will have a lasting legacy through future research and will be able to be used in much more engaging ways in the classroom,” Collins said. “We’re creating these tools that will be available to a much wider audience and live beyond our academic publications.”

Chavez and his leadership team plan to add four to six of these projects to their digital catalog every year and create the infrastructure that will allow other researchers to build collections from their work as well. 

The completed 3D model of Stela K is available for students and researchers around the world to utilize in their work.

While the services and academic resources are a key part of USF Libraries, Chavez and his team are also focused on the physical space they provide for students.

Since opening the current facility in the 1970s, tens-of-thousands of Bulls have spent many late nights studying inside USF Tampa’s primary library along Leroy Collins Blvd. This year, the USF Libraries completed a massive renovation project, transforming the facility’s fifth and sixth floors.

“Our strategy around facilities is to engage students,” Chavez said. “We want to create spaces that students will be comfortable in, so we looked to them for guidance when it came time to renovate this space.”

Now used entirely for quiet study, the library’s fifth floor can seat nearly 420 students, more than three times its previous capacity. Chavez says lighting and HVAC systems have also been upgraded to provide a more comfortable and eco-friendly environment for students. Add to that better WIFI connectivity and increased access to power and data outlets, and students now have a state-of-the-art space in which to work, study and succeed.

Students studying on the newly renovated fifth floor of the USF Tampa library. 

“Whether it’s our new service model or the upgraded facilities, we’re trying to transform the experience here for researchers and students,” Chavez said. “We want to be the best resource for the USF community that we can be, and we’re excited about what’s still to come.”

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