A challenging time for libraries—and librarians

Author: Carol C. Bradley

Denise Shorey

“What do you think the library does?” is a question Denise Shorey likes to ask people.

Shorey, one of Hesburgh Libraries’ three associate directors, knows people understand the library’s function in connecting people with information. But it’s much more than that, she says.

“We develop and maintain our collections with online resources, as well as with print. We collect in formats people don’t always think about—microfiche, video and audio.”

Once the materials are all there, she goes on: “What justifies our existence? What difference do we, as librarians, make in the lives of students and faculty?”

What she’d like for the campus community to know, she says, is that “we are about service. Our key imperative is service excellence. We put the user first. We are a support and and supplement to the academy.”

The libraries, Shorey notes, house and organize materials that need physical space, but they also provide access to materials that serve the University’s research mission, and the goal to offer an unsurpassed undergraduate education.

The Hesburgh Libraries look continually for ways to enhance the user experience, through things such as the HathiTrust digital initiative, which will make more than 10 million digitized volumes available to the campus community, as well as partnerships and collaborations with others on campus.

Librarians contribute expertise, sometimes in unusual ways: Librarian Thurston Miller in the Chemistry/Physics Library saw that the library catalog—excellent for inventory control and for circulation of materials—could be adapted to include scientific equipment on loan to high-school teachers through a program in the Chemistry Department.

Other library initiatives include a weeklong thesis camp in the fall designed to help Arts and Letters seniors writing theses, and a dissertation camp in the spring for graduate students. Students work in dedicated library spaces, and have the opportunity to consult with librarians, writing tutors and faculty—all while developing a sense of community with other students.

Tutoring is now offered through the math library. “We saw the need, and we’re facilitating the interaction.”

A service helpful to many on campus is document delivery. Any faculty or staff member or graduate student can request a book and have it delivered to the office, or have a document scanned and emailed. Librarians also offer scheduled research consultations, to offer in-depth help on a specific topic.

Such consultations are not restricted, and can be scheduled more than once a semester. Shorey hopes people will take advantage of librarians’ expertise, and let them help you think through a topic. What are the resources available—databases, primary sources and secondary sources?

“We don’t want you to waste your time. We can help you make links that are not always obvious,” says Shorey. “You can’t go wrong if you start with us.”

This is a challenging time to be a librarian, she notes. “We’re still in the process of redefining ourselves. The digital age has allowed us to expand our mission. The ‘library’ as a concept is vastly broader than the physical building. It’s a suite of services, expertise and resources.”