In the library, as elsewhere in academia, change is the only constant, says Marcela Rivera-Cornejo. Serving as the Deputy Director of Information Resources and Archives at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile), she is the latest guest in our interview series titled “Academic Librarians on Intellectual Freedom and Change”.
In a conversation with Annika Bennett of Gold Leaf, Marcela shared valuable insights on how her library is actively embracing the fast-paced developments in the teaching and research landscape to stay abreast of evolving trends and meet the diverse needs of its users.
Annika Bennett: Thank you very much for agreeing to share your thoughts and experiences with us, Marcela. Please describe your role and your institution.
Marcela Rivera-Cornejo: The Library of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile operates to a strategic plan and my role is to meet its objectives. This includes guiding the staff of the sub-directorate and managing the annual resources budget. I also propose new ideas for improving the management of both people and financial resources. The University is a traditional privately-run institution. It has a high profile for research and is considered one of the country’s top universities.
We have a network of 10 libraries across 5 campuses. They provide information services, collections, technology, and physical spaces appropriate to the needs of the different academic units. The libraries all have internet access. Our collections (both print and electronic) are considered among the best in Chile.
AB: Disinformation and misinformation are a real battleground in the pursuit of knowledge. How do UC Libraries help library users to critically evaluate information sources and distinguish between reliable and unreliable content?
MRC: At UC Libraries, training in digital skills is considered fundamental. It is a core aspect of all our information literacy workshops. The first module consists of Information, Data and Media Literacy, and how to search the web. It shows how to evaluate what you find and how to search the Library’s resources in your area of research.
AB: Does your institution have a formal policy concerning the use of Artificial Intelligence? Do you yourself have views on how AI should or should not be used?
MRC: We are currently signing agreements that will contribute to the digital transformation of our university and the development of AI technologies. This will have a significant impact. The aim is to “build and lead a cutting-edge horizon in terms of digital transformation through the integration of artificial intelligence, with the purpose of generating impact both in the university’s own work, as well as in Chile and the region”.
“AI opens up enormous opportunities for the Library – e.g., for processing information.”
AI as a tool will affect or is already affecting both our academic and administrative work. The use of ChatGPT or similar applications allows us to “create” content, but this content still needs to be critically evaluated. It is important to validate the sources of the information, to go beyond what is presented to us, to find out who is the author on whose work the information is being based. AI can be a positive force for good in teaching: for example, it can help engineering students by creating mathematical routines and eliminating repetitive processes. However, we are also strict upholders of academic integrity. And AI opens up enormous opportunities for the Library – e.g., for processing information. Activities such as cataloguing can be replaced by content creation alternatives that allow libraries to recommend content and direct users to it.
AB: Most universities now encourage the recruitment of students from diverse backgrounds such as ethnic minorities, first-generation university attendees, mature students, and individuals with disabilities. How has this affected collection development and types of learning resources you recommend?
MRC: Our collections cater for people with sensory and/or physical disabilities. We have developed the CODEX Digital Library, which converts essential reading texts to different formats (MP3, Braille and Word, etc.).
The Directorate of Gender Equity is leading a project entitled “University Education and Gender Equity: A challenge to raise awareness and integrate the gender approach in the culture of the UC community”. We add new titles to our collection to represent intersectionality and gender more equitably in the collections of UC libraries. We have also added 171 new titles to our extensive collection entitled “Gender and Intersectionality”.
We foster and promote digital transformation and operate an e-preferred policy. We have long stocked audiobooks, an essential part of our service for the blind and partially sighted. We also invest in audio-visual materials.
AB: Can you share any specific instances in 2023 where the deployment of unusual or unorthodox learning resources and/or the freedom to read was celebrated in your library?
MRC: We founded our Materials Library in 2023. It gathers, catalogues, and exhibits a selection of materials frequently used for prototypes developed by Schools of Architecture and Design. The aim is to promote innovative use of materials nationally, including to members of the public, not just to academic institutions. We hope this will enable users to make informed decisions about the performance, aesthetics, and sustainability of materials used in their own disciplines.
AB: There has been considerable recent publicity about how new graduates have not been taught to think for themselves and are not ready after graduation to join the workforce. How does your institution/library support student success, foster future confidence and happiness in the working environment, and prepare students for their post-graduate appointments?
MRC: At UC we have units committed to fostering the well-being of students. We also have a Student Departments unit, which contributes to every aspect of students’ education and seeks to improve their quality of life by providing excellent health services and promoting sport. It supports students’ rights, advocating respectful treatment and good practices within the community.
AB: Building on Barack Obama’s message about the power of books, can you share examples of how literature has influenced leadership or personal development within your academic community?
MRC: We have built collections of recreational and scientific literature in both the Arts and Humanities. We place special emphasis on literature that develops competencies and skills in effective leadership.
“We believe that the power of literature can transform people’s lives.”
We believe that the power of literature can transform people’s lives: for example, we have a library for people whose circumstances deprive them of liberty by restricting their powers of movement or what they can read. The books and other content in these collections offer them the chance to travel the world virtually and project their lives into other dimensions. Using this collection has helped academics to meet and learn from other scientific communities and identify possible areas of common interest. It creates learning communities worldwide.
The University has made special financial resources available for a cultural fund that allows for the acquisition of books to read for pleasure and recreation, contributing to the development of well-rounded people by engaging them in activities outside their disciplines.
To promote the love of reading, we support our Reading Club, which has been running since 2020.
AB: The modern teaching and research landscape is both complex and dynamic. Particularly since the Covid lockdowns, librarians seem increasingly to have led from the front. Could you describe your role and the role of the library as an agent for change?
MRC: We have long asked ourselves what our role is and should be. Answering this question is always a challenge. I think our main focus must be on becoming more academically and professionally prepared: to seek innovation for our processes, ask ourselves daily why and for what purpose we do something.
“We take people out of their comfort zones and encourage them to aspire to the challenges presented by learning new things.”
The pandemic taught us that our role is to be the social agent that brings information to people. We make the content available, and we provide the tools to manage it. We take people out of their comfort zones and encourage them to aspire to the challenges presented by learning new things. Nowadays change is the only constant and those colleagues who are not willing to embrace continuous change will be left out of the virtuous circle of information, because our users will develop faster than we will.
AB: Looking ahead to 2024, what initiatives or goals do you have for your library in promoting intellectual freedom and the love of reading?
MRC: According to the Declaration of Principles of our University, professors enjoy academic freedom, which includes the possibility of analysing any form of thought and giving an objective and rational assessment of it while making clear the thought of the Church regarding these forms of thought and ideas. The only limits that our university sets are to respect human dignity and the common good of our society. Our rector has stated that, “Academic freedom is crucial for each teacher to think and develop his or her knowledge to the fullest. Professors at UC have the freedom to teach and research freely, in accordance with norms of scientific competence and professional responsibility”.
The library, as a neutral space, is the natural catalyst where different disciplines and ways of looking at things may safely converge and work together. It is in this space where multi-perspective collaborative work can be achieved.
In 2024 we will offer more space for collaborative work and the co-construction of interdisciplinary projects. When adding to our collections, we will observe the principle of intellectual freedom, teaching and vision by allowing our academics to select whatever they require.
AB: Marcela, thank you very much for this fascinating conversation.
[Title image by vnwayne fan via Unsplash]