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Library environment always a drawcard for students

Tuesday 23 May 2023 11:18am

Richard German with a visibly aged centuries-old ‘pop up’ anatomy plate in Health Sciences library image
Looking beneath the surface… Richard German examines a more than 350-year-old ‘pop up’ anatomy plate – an item from the Health Sciences Library’s historical collections.

Otago medical students are more likely to be crouched over a laptop than a textbook these days, but that hasn’t affected the popularity of the Health Sciences Library.

Library Divisional Manager for Health Sciences and Sciences Richard German says there are tauira who are there when the library opens at 7am and some who turn up every day to study at a favourite spot.

Associate University Librarian (Customer Experience) Shiobhan Smith says re-opening the University libraries was a top priority for students following the COVID‑19 lockdown in 2020.

“There’s just something about studying in a library that makes it more efficient and effective for most people. It enables staff and students to really focus on their work; it’s a motivator for them.”

The Health Sciences Library, which occupies three floors of the Sayers Building, is open from 7am to 11pm every day (except public holidays) from February to November (it operates limited hours over the summer break). As well as some who have an early start, there are plenty of students who study late into the evening.

“Now our student population is more varied, and some people are juggling lectures, work and families, evenings are a time when they can come to libraries to study,” says Shiobhan.

Although there are still stacks of books in the Health Sciences Library, in line with modern practice most of the texts used by students are now available electronically. Richard says journals have been electronic for 25 to 30 years (the library has tens of thousands of them available) and books have been following suit.

The Health Sciences Library started life in 1912 as a solely medical library, originally housed in the Hercus Building and run by honorary librarians instead of paid staff. Now part of the University Library network, it also incorporates the Pharmacy, Physiotherapy and Dentistry library collections.

Richard says there is a “constant flow of information” between the Health Sciences Library in Dunedin and Health Sciences Libraries on the Christchurch and Wellington campuses.

While the library is used heavily by students in the Early Learning in Medicine programme, it’s not just health sciences tauira who frequent the library. Undergraduate and postgraduate students from other disciplines also spend time there and staff and students can request resources be sent to any library across the University Library network, regardless of what subject is being studied.

There are five Health Sciences Subject Librarians, who help people find the information they need and how to evaluate it in the challenging times of misinformation and disinformation, as well as a team of Library and Student Assistants.

“We support people to sort out the wheat from the chaff,” says Richard.

No library would be complete without a heritage collection and the Health Sciences Library has rare and historic items which he says “puts us on the world map in terms of medical collections”.

Some items are now housed in the Central Library, such as the Monro Collection which includes more than three hundred volumes of early printed editions of classical texts (such as works by Galen, Hippocrates and Vesalius), contemporary texts and manuscripts.

Other treasures are stored in the Sayers Building, including plates from a 1667 ‘pop up’ anatomy book, Pinax Microcosmographicus by Johann Remmelin. The Health Sciences Library also has New Zealand’s only complete collection of the New Zealand Medical Journal and an early copy of Darwin’s Descent of Man.

The historical collections are stored in a controlled environment and can be made available by request.

Kōrero by Andrea Jones, Team Leader, Divisional Communications