Re-Tooling Academic Libraries for the Digital Age:
Missions, Collections, Staffing

California Academic & Research Libraries
Third Annual Conference


Librarians As Leaders: Bridging the Academic Gap

Najwa Hanel, Head, Reference & Information Services
Science & Engineering Library, University of Southern California

From the onset and infancy of our profession, we librarians have been charged to: select, evaluate, organize, connect, store, retrieve, and present information in all its forms -- text, photos maps, sound, and now the digital images.

The challenge is to filter and deliver the most useful information from the vast quantity available which continues to mount with the introduction of the Internet. For this, we have to master the technical aspects of our profession addressing the ever changing designs and systems through which this information is being delivered.

However, getting engrossed and immersed in the hype of technology, we tend to ignore the personal and most importantly the social and popular aspect of our profession. The major component which is concerned with the PEOPLE who use this information -- our patrons: the students, the faculty, the staff and administration of our institutions.

The interaction of technology and sociology should be our strength and our goal for a comprehensive approach to the dissemination of information. We need skillful people in the technological aspects of our profession, but let us not loose sight of the human management factor as an essential integral.

Focusing on the need of our patrons can be accomplished, not by locking ourselves in our libraries, glued to our computer terminals, or even becoming constant figures at our reference and/or access services posts. Only through effective leadership in the overall picture of the academic environment do we attain our goals as leaders and educators.

Some of us are at institutions where librarians share the "Faculty" status in the academic community. This status should serve as a good opportunity for involvement in the academic affairs in the fullest capacity. A few years ago, in my institution, we the librarians were represented by 8 members in the faculty Senate. I was one of the 8 librarians elected by my peers to be a senator for 2 years. What role did we play, what impact did we make? As the Senate was reconstructed and downsized to fewer representations, I remained an active and effective member. Why was I singled out for this role? The answer is simple. I got involved. Two task forces were appointed to study the issues and make recommendations for the development of two important documents: One the Sexual Harassment Policy and the other The Family Leave Policy. As this task force reported to the Senate, I did not only sat there in a vacuum, but I listened and provided my input having read what other academic institutions have done and how they dealt with these issues. This was greatly appreciated by members of the Senate in general and by those on the task forces in particular. I got involved, and I made a difference.

Because I voiced my opinions, lent my support, and showed a genuine interest in the academic affairs of the University, I was appointed to chair the Faculty Handbook Committee. This appointment has been very difficult but also very challenging to me. Through the revision and editing process I have become more involved with faculty members, chairs, deans, directors and the office of the provost. This exposure and the impact and the positive contributions which I made created a link between the library and the governing body of the faculty. Bridging this gap, led to my election to the Academic Senate Executive Board.

This selective group of faculty meet on weekly basis to discuss some of the most important issues and policies that govern the entire institution. The Provost as a regular guest at the Senate and Board meetings where he discusses with us some very important governing issues that affect, not only faculty members, but the entire university community, librarians and libraries included. Other visitors to the Senate Executive Board from the University Administration included the Dean and Director of Admissions, and the Vice-President of Student Affairs. Both of these administrators have sought my input and my opinions in matters related to the recruitment and the retention of students. My involvement with student affairs is personal as well as professional. I have two sons who are students at USC.

I also served on a panel dealing with "The quality of Students Life" along with such notables as: Vice President for Student Affairs, Chaplains, Athletic directors, student counselors and advisors, and the director of admissions. This panel was chaired by Dr. Kevin Starr who is now our California State Librarian, but remains a professor at USC in the School of Urban and Regional Planning. Recommendations from this panel will eventually be presented in a symposium and published as proceedings. I have also personally communicated to the President the frustrations that the students have to face in dealing with bureaucracy from the registrar's office to the degree checkpoints and across many stumbling blocks in between. As a result an SOS task force has been created to advise the students and to solve their problems from one single point.

Because of my willingness to serve and to get involved, I have been selected by the President and the Provost as one of two faculty members university-wide to represent the university at the Board of Trustees Committee dealing with Alumni affairs.

Our contributions to the academic community do not always have to be of high profiles. We can make a difference by serving on committees and task forces which make us librarians more visible. These include serving on the University Library Committee of which I am a member, but sadly, as I found out later I was the first librarian to have the privilege of serving on this committee because, I was told, by a former library administrator: Librarians should not be members of this committee!! "members of this committee should be the teaching faculty - those who are able to tell the provost and the administration what the library needs."Who should know better what libraries needs? I asked. In my opinion, we do, and we must let them know that!

In my association with the Academic Senate over the last 4 years, I have been selected to serve as member of two task forces. We were charged with the writing of two white papers: One on Informal Learning where I made sure that the role of the library in this capacity was well heard and represented. The other was on Faculty Rights and Responsibilities. Once again, I presented the status of librarians, attached the librarians' criteria documents on APCAT, and Peer Review -- documents that I had been personally involved in reforming so that our involvement in the University academic community is recognized, and the structure of the scales will result in rewards. Once again, I voiced my opinions and those of my peers on issues and policies pertaining to the rights and the responsibilities of the librarians at USC. Yes, we are partners in these processes, and our documents have been recognized among those which are at the cutting edge.

Contacts with the academic community do not always have to be on a formal basis or limited to committees. We may not all or always have the opportunity to serve on the senate executive board, but we always have or always can create the opportunity to contact the faculty through our day-to-day procedures such as: Collection Development, Reserves, Reference, these are some of the traditional ways where we can creative partnerships. In these times of financial crisis and budgetary restraints, the faculty can be our sounding boards, our supporters, and our links to the deans of their respective units. We must share these frustrations and use them, as pillars underneath the long spans between us and deans and the administration who ultimately set our budgets. We can go a step further and create a social and relaxing atmosphere where exchange of ideas with the faculty can take place over lunch or coffee. How many of us have had department chairs write letters to the provost asking that they would rather have their own budget cut than that of the Library?

I have, because I communicate with my faculty liaison and all other faculty on a regular basis. With whom have you had lunch lately? With access to modern technology at our fingertips such as the email, the fax machines, the WWW, and other Internet resources - media through which we can create and foster relationships with our patrons. These bridges, as we design them, build them, and cross them, should remind us that they are designed for very important clienteles and components of the academic community -- the STUDENTS.

Without the students, none of us would have a reason to justify our existence as librarians and educators. Without the students none of us, including the classroom faculty will have a job!! We can count on their support, especially in the private institutions where high-tuition paying students may make a difference in the outlook of the administration to their academic needs and demands. Share with them the reasons why the library is not open more hours, or why certain journals had to be canceled. Don't just say: "If you can't find it, we don't have it!" Remember that happy students make happy alumni, and those of us in private institutions know well how important it is to have the support of the alumni and how important their role can be in the development of the academy.

So as we bridge the academic gap, let us no forget the number one span -- the students -- the overall products of our efforts. The quality of their education validates our own reason for existence. We don't have to build huge bridges with long spans (like the one we see out here over the bay), but let us build bridges with many spans erected upon strong foundations.

In Conclusion: Libraries have been referred to as and I quote, "Humbling places, because they remind us of the vast store of knowledge which we can approach but never really control. They are also, or should be, humanizing places, because this is where people are brought into contact with so many lives lived in the past as well as in the present. They are symbols of continuity of learning."

High speed communications will continue to get faster. Computers are now being developed for the 21st. century using quantum mechanics, Molecular computers with DNA sequence and cell storing information in digital formats with higher speed, more energy and a lot more memory are being assembled. Our freshmen, entering the universities, are more and more sophisticated technologically, and we have to keep the pace.

However, through this fast moving process, somehow, some way, we must take the fullest advantage of the power of this high-speed technology, processing and communication without loosing sight of the larger purposes of our existence -- the human factor and the interpersonal relationships. This is where our credibility will truly be validated.

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