The Rescue Team


An insight into the clockwork of Alden Library

Bharbi Hazarika / Senior Writer

Librarian Hanna Schmillen and many of her co-workers are often stereotyped as “introverted, due date stamping hoarders.” But that’s not the case for her.

Their expertise is often perceived as limited to locating and labeling hard copies for the many bookshelves. In reality, Schmillen said, the professionals on the seven floors of Alden Library have a variety of roles to fill.

“Today is going to look different than tomorrow,” Schmillen, subject librarian for health sciences at Alden Library, said.

Though the building itself is situated in the middle of Ohio University’s Athens campus, those who keep the old building alive are usually overlooked. In the digital age, the avatar of the traditional librarian, cooped in narrow aisles between bookshelves, has evolved. As academic institutions continue to mature with the times in educating the students so have the librarians in facilitating their education.

“We do a lot of technical work now and we do a lot of outreach and instruction so that people are as efficient and as effective as they can be,” Schmillen said.

The profession continues to attract public attention with a projected growth rate of 9 percent per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The general populace and those belonging to academia are increasingly turning to libraries not for its conventional services of checking out books and consulting librarians, but they are more interested in accessing digital tools, according to a 2016 research by the Pew Research Center.

Becoming resourceful

Modern libraries aren’t confined to housing tangible documents. Most of the transaction of information in the library happens online. The institution has started to develop more efficient online databases to aid users. Schmillen said a lot of a librarian’s job entails finding online tools and purchasing and managing those electronic resources. They are invested in sifting through online information to help users identify credible electronic data.

At OU, the academic faculty often collaborates with librarians to raise awareness and encourage students to use the resources and services provided by Alden Library.

Schmillen said “one-shot sessions” are effective in introducing the resources to the students. A one-shot session is when a professor asks one of the librarians to come into a class to familiarize the students about the processes involved in accessing databases in the physical and virtual library, she said.

In addition, the librarians can also help educate the students on identifying the authenticity and relevance of the materials.

“It’s very activity focused,” Schmillen said. “We’ll talk for a little bit and work on structured in-class activities for the students to learn about this process.”

The halls of Alden Library are staffed with 48 professional staff members, of which 17 are subject librarians, who are in charge of one or more themes, such as health sciences, business and geography. In addition to subject librarians, there are metadata librarians, archivists, acquisitions specialists and student workers, who make information accessible to students.

Apart from helping the students and faculty in navigating the databases, Kelly Broughton, assistant dean for research and education services at Alden Library, said above all, the librarians are invested in prompting the ability to critically think in students.

“One of the core things about a librarian is what we are interested in is teaching people to be critical thinkers and life-long learners,” Broughton added. “We feel we are the bridges between critical thinking and the world of information that supports you in making a well-informed decision.”


McKinley Law | FOR THE POST

Kelly Broughton teaches an interior design class on January 23, 2018 as they begin working on a “library of the future” project.

Late-night chats

In the pre-digital age, librarians were usually found heading the reception desk in the lobby of the library. But Chad Boeninger, head of user services at Alden Library, believes much of his interaction with students now happen over chat or email. Often a student will email him a question about their research instead of seeing him in person.

According to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, there has been nationwide fluctuation in the usage of libraries in recent years.

However, Schmillen believes there is more student-librarian engagement in Alden Library because of its virtual accessibility. Students are more keen on shooting a message over chat, which is relatively effortless, than arranging in-person consultations.

“In my experience, the response has been instantaneous,” Morgan Cappel, a senior studying English, said. “It’s like they were already in the process of searching what I just asked them about.”

Cappel said her day-to-day activities require her to use the library services frequently. A more digitized version has made the experience easier, but the plethora of information available makes it difficult for her to sift through and find specific material.

Schmillen said the subject librarians are skilled in finding the precise documents and evoking the eureka moment for the student.

“When the students have an idea about their topic and we help them get the information they’re looking for, that’s when they go ‘Oh!’ ” Schmillen said. “It’s an awesome moment.”

To achieve the “oh!” moment, the subject librarian has to put in a lot of effort, Broughton said — even more so during the digital era where information is varied and endless. The possibility of false information propagated by fake news sites make their job even more challenging, Boeninger added.

To ensure the accuracy of the curated information, the librarians find themselves constantly researching and engaging with online associations, such as the association of research libraries and medical library association.

Broughton explained that the introduction of Google hasn’t limited their responsibilities but, in fact, has made it much more intensive.

“If you’re on campus and you go on Google Scholar (to find information), we have already purchased it, made it available, connected it to Google Scholar,” Broughton explained. “And you get it and you don’t even know that we were involved.”

Keyword search

Every subject librarian is expected to have some experience in the field they’re covering, but Boeninger stresses that the factor that sets them apart is their ability to build good research strategies to sift through information.

“There is incentive ... that we are the expert in research and finding things,” Schmillen said. “There should not be the expectation that faculty know how to find everything in their field. It’s definitely a partnership.”

The strategies have become even more complex with the digitization of information. Broughton said earlier librarians mostly referred to a tangible database, but a profusion of information online demands much more advanced and polished research strategies. Broughton believes that, in recent years, the requisites of the job have evolved into learning and managing metadata to find relevant content. In the past, librarians learned indexing, which would now be considered a limited skill.

The main entryways to Alden Library open to a multitude of computers scattered across the second and fourth floors. The subject librarians’ offices are stowed behind Café BiblioTech, away from the inviting illuminated screens. Cappel believes one-shot sessions and online chats have been successful in making them more visible and accessible to the students. Schmillen found that more students would visit her later seeking help.

As a senior Honors Tutorial College student, Cappel is already familiar with the librarians, but she feels many students are still unaware of the abundance of aid they can access through a librarian. They have not only helped her find data but also prompted her to think freshly about her assignments.

“Just because we are quiet doesn’t mean we are not powerful,” Schmillen said.

Development by: Taylor Johnston / Digital Production Editor

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