Anyone who has ever visited our Twin Cities Library has probably noticed that the people on staff are a far cry from the “cartoony” librarian stereotype. The librarians at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota are energetic, passionate about their work, and bring a fresh perspective about the role of libraries in a digital world. We recently caught up with Rachel McGee, Director of Library Services, to learn more about the Twin Cities Library and its staff.
1.) You’re known on campus for having a very fun group of librarians. How would you describe your team? There is a definite air of merriment in the library. While we do play hard, we work even harder. Each librarian is extraordinarily talented, competent and dedicated. We are passionate about our work, and the joy we bring to it is palpable.
2.) What is most impressive about the library at Saint Mary’s? We are unrelentingly loyal to faculty and students’ needs, which has enabled us to be highly responsive and innovative. Because our students are adult learners, we always keep in mind that they have copious work, family, and educational responsibilities, so library research must be easy and convenient. To that end, we implemented SuperSearch, a discovery tool that enables students to search the entire library all at once. This is just one of the many changes that we implemented to simplify our students’ academic experience.
3.) What do people most struggle with while at the library? Students often associate libraries with books and therefore lose out on other valuable resources that we have to offer. In fact, we made 99% of our resources available online since our students are predominantly distance learners. Now students can download eBooks, watch streaming videos, and read articles whether they are sitting in the library or on their couch at home. Our library no longer serves as a repository for books but has become a space where students can get expert assistance, peruse visual art exhibits, and study in groups or alone.
4.) With so much information available online, what do libraries have that the Internet does not? How much time do you have? I may be prejudiced, but libraries are amazing for several reasons. First, library information is free. While it’s easy to keep up with the Kardashians on the Internet, most scholarly information on the Web comes at a hefty price. Consequently, students may discover a citation on the Web, but they quickly learn that to access the item, they will need to get it from the library – where it’s free. This may seem obvious, but we remind students almost every day that they should never pay for an article on the web, and that they can get it from the library for free.
Second, libraries provide high-quality resources, handpicked by experts; whereas information found on the Internet is often suspect, given that anyone can publish to the web. Librarians have, for the most part, removed this step for students.
Third, libraries provide broad information, in type and viewpoint. Most people are unaware that search engine results are limited. According to The Roxor, Google has only indexed four-one thousandths of one percent of the web. Moreover, search engines filter results based on your previous searches, browsing sessions, purchases, etc. So while you may think that you are searching everything on the Internet, your results are actually getting more and more narrow with every search you conduct.
In contrast to search engines, libraries expose users to the widest variety of information. We do not filter results. Further, students can discover articles, books, eBooks, streaming videos, etc. in a single search using tools like SuperSearch, and they can order anything we do not own through our global library network for free.
Finally, librarians are awesome.
5.) The stereotypical librarian puts away books and helps people find information. What are the other responsibilities of a librarian? It is a common misperception that librarians have nothing to do if they are not currently helping a student. The reality is that most library work takes place behind the scenes.
Our primary purpose is to educate students on how to find, evaluate, and use information, which we do via e-mail, instant message, phone, face-to-face, webinar, in-class and online instruction, and tutorials (e.g., pdf, web page, video, etc.).
Besides helping students, we spend substantial time identifying, selecting, purchasing, maintaining, and circulating print resources. What may be unknown is that we also manage upwards of 50 technologies, so a great deal of time is spent conducting usability studies as well as implementing and troubleshooting technologies to ensure they are user-friendly and reliable.
We also contribute to several communities. At Saint Mary’s, we participate on numerous institution-wide committees, consult on technology issues and purchases, conduct literature reviews, assist with course design, and curate an art program. Plus we support the library profession by training interns, serving on professional committees, and presenting at conferences.
Then there are responsibilities like facilities management, marketing, staffing, budgeting, and training.
Last but not least, we truly accompany students throughout their academic experience by helping them interpret assignments, correspond with faculty, follow academic expectations (e.g., APA, resource quality), use technologies (e.g., PowerPoint, Word, Prezi, e-mail, etc.), perform administrative functions (e.g., register for classes, find grades, etc.), and overcome academic frustrations. Given our supportive role, it’s no surprise that library use has been associated with student retention. Ultimately, our goal is to minimize students’ anxiety and help them explore diverse resources, develop as critical thinkers, and flourish as lifelong learners.