Hilary Bussell is OHIO’s eLearning librarian, the subject librarian for political science and public administration and a member of the Libraries’ reference department.
Photographer: Tyler Stabile
Tim Smith joined Ohio University Libraries in the fall of 1985 and serves as a reference librarian and the subject librarian for classics and world religions as well as philosophy and modern languages.
Photographer: Lauren Pond
Matthew Vetter and Sara Harrington look through a scrapbook in Alden Library's Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections. Harrington joined the staff at University Libraries in August 2011.
Photographer: Lauren Pond
Apr 21, 2014
By Angela Woodward
Behind every great university is a great library, and behind every great library are great librarians.
For the past 200 years, Ohio University Libraries has been the heart of the University, serving as its center of discovery and partnering with its students and educators in the creation and exchange of knowledge. As Ohio University celebrates the bicentennial of its Libraries, it’s important to reflect on those who have contributed to University Libraries’ mission and the generations of librarians who have played a pivotal role in the inspired teaching, learning and research of OHIO students, faculty and staff.
The lowdown on OHIO’s librarians
The “Library of Ohio University” was officially established by the University’s Board of Trustees in 1814, but it wasn’t until 1820 that the University hired its first official librarian, Archibald G. Brown. In 1905, the University hired its first full-time librarian, Charles Matthews.
Today, University Libraries employs 36 librarians in both professional and classified positions. Those librarians work side by side with the Libraries’ other professional and hourly employees, including its archivists, computer support personnel, a large number of student workers, as well as the University’s facilities staff, to provide the OHIO and local communities with one of the top research libraries in North America.
University Libraries’ librarians are credentialed professionals whose expertise and responsibilities are as varied as they are. Each of OHIO’s librarians holds a master’s degree accredited by the American Library Association, and many have other advanced degrees.
“If you examined a day in the life of any single librarian, it would be completely different from another, and they don’t do the same thing every day,” said Kelly Broughton, assistant dean for research and education services who is also a librarian. “Almost everybody here has multiple responsibilities.”
Among the variety of positions held by librarians, there are 18 subject librarians who cover every academic department on campus.
“While the subject librarians’ responsibilities are pretty wide ranging, they are considered the go-to people for the department or the academic program or the college that they work with,” explained Broughton.
Subject librarians are responsible for purchasing materials that relate to the curriculum and research interests of the faculty in their particular areas; for educating students, faculty and staff on library resources related to those disciplines; and for researching and partnering with faculty. They are the whole educational package – learners, teachers and researchers.
A passion for service
When asked to describe OHIO’s librarians, Broughton noted the one attribute she sees in all of the librarians regardless of their credentials, areas of expertise or duties.
“They really understand what it means to put the students first, and they approach problem-solving and all of their work by asking, ‘Is this going to help students succeed.’”
It is the service that librarians provide to students and the role that information literacy plays in students’ personal and professional development that drew Hilary Bussell to a career in library science.
“I’ve known since college that I wanted to work in higher education in some sort of educational role,” explained Bussell, the University’s eLearning librarian who landed her first professional position at OHIO in August 2012.
As a graduate teaching assistant in the philosophy program at Loyola University Chicago, Bussell said she had the opportunity to work with a number of undergraduates and faculty.
“Through that experience, I realized that knowing how to search for and find information and engage with that information ethically and effectively is one of the crucial skills that students should really come out of college knowing,” said Bussell, which prompted her to pursue a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne.
As an eLearning librarian, Bussell is responsible for supporting other librarians and working with staff throughout the University to enhance information literacy initiatives and for promoting the use of library resources in online teaching.
Bussell also serves as the subject librarian for political science and public administration and is a member of the Libraries’ reference department. As a subject librarian, Bussell teaches information literacy classes, conducts research consultations with the students and purchases materials for the Libraries’ collection – all within her subject areas.
As one of many librarians who comprise the Libraries’ reference department, Bussell answers questions at the reference desk in the Learning Commons at Alden Library. Librarians in the reference department take turns staffing the desk, which is open 24 hours a day, five days a week and is staffed by classified employees during overnight hours. Thanks to advances in technology, getting information from the Libraries’ reference department no longer requires a trip to Alden. Reference department librarians also handle inquiries via online chat, instant messaging, e-mail and text.
“I think that Ohio University librarians have really embraced new technologies,” Bussell said. “We are fundamentally a service profession, so regardless of what form that takes – whether it’s staffing the Learning Commons desk or cataloging or working in technical services – it’s all to the end of serving our students and faculty and community members and connecting them with information. Librarians want to be of service. It’s one of the common threads to what we all do.”
At the Libraries, the times they are a constantly changin’
The field of library science is one of constant and rapid change as discoveries are made and the means of sharing information continue to evolve.
“Not only has technology changed but also the speed of scholarship,” said Scott Seaman, dean of University Libraries. “Yet our mission remains the same: To collect and make available scholarly material in all formats for faculty and students.”
As Seaman points out, there have been more changes to University Libraries in the last 20 years than there were in its first 180 years.
There is perhaps no OHIO librarian more familiar with changes in the Libraries than Tim Smith.
A reference librarian and subject librarian for classics and world religions, as well as philosophy and modern languages, Smith joined the Libraries in the fall of 1985. Smith received a doctoral degree in classics from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in library science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Smith refers to the days when he started working at the Libraries as “B.C.” – before computers.
“Everything we did when I started here, we did on typewriters,” he said. “There were three computers in the whole building. None of them were for the public. Their basic main use was for doing online research. The Internet existed, but it wasn’t a publicly available thing then.”
At that time, the Internet functioned like a taxi cab, charging users for every minute they were connected to the databases. According to Smith, back then reference librarians would do online searching for students and faculty, consulting with them ahead of time to figure out what information was needed and where that information might be found – all in an effort to get the biggest bang for the buck.
“That was online searching in the good old days,” Smith said.
In the late 1980s, CD-ROMs, compact discs that contained data, came along and were purchased by the Libraries’ reference department. CD-ROMs were incredibly popular among those doing research at the University, allowing the users to do their own searches.
“By the mid-90s, the World Wide Web came along, and, of course, that changed everything,” Smith said. “Everybody’s work has changed the last 20 to 30 years because of computers.”
In fact, when asked what the most challenging part of his job is, Smith was quick to say, “Keeping up with all the changes in technology,” which he noted he does through training webinars as well as by reading and working with individuals in tech support.
But it’s the diversity of his job and the supportive individuals he works with that has led Smith to devote nearly 30 years of his professional career to Ohio University Libraries.
“These are nice people to work with and for,” he said. “Sometimes that’s more important than the job itself – having good colleagues and a good supervisor.”
Part of the OHIO community and curriculum
It’s the sense of community at OHIO and the opportunity to work with young people at a critical point in their individual development that led Sara Harrington to University Libraries.
An OHIO librarian who also holds an administrative role at the Libraries, Harrington is the head of arts and archives and manages the Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections as well as the Harris Fine Arts Library and the Music and Dance Library. Many of her duties involve project management, helping library patrons work with the collections, and developing plans to integrate the Libraries’ collections into the University’s curriculum.
Harrington holds a doctoral degree in art history and a master’s degree in library science, both from Rutgers University, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in education from OHIO. She joined the staff at the Libraries in August 2011.
“One of the things that I value most about my job is the sense of community at the University,” she said, noting that she sensed OHIO’s community spirit the first time she stepped on the Athens Campus when interviewing for her current position. “I see that spirit in co-workers and in the students and in the faculty and staff at the University.”
One of the greatest joys of her job is engaging with students at a time, she said, when they are discovering their true selves and exploring what they want to do in their professional lives. Among the number of rewarding interactions Harrington has had with students, she noted in particular her experiences working with students employed at University Libraries through OHIO’s Program to Aid Career Exploration (PACE).
“I feel nothing but confidence and joy that these people are going to be my colleagues in the field one day,” she said.
Harrington strives to make University Libraries and, in particular, its special collections part of the OHIO student experience and a part of the University’s curriculum. She noted an opportunity to collaborate with Matthew Vetter, who at the time was a writing instructor, on integrating Mahn Center materials into the classroom by having students write and edit Wikipedia articles based on items housed in the Mahn Center.
“That was a really exciting experience for me,” she said.
Today, Harrington is part of a team at OHIO that is working on a project to put the University’s history online as one way of welcoming incoming students as members of the Ohio University community.
“We’re exploring what we can put online that will leverage student interest, that provides information to them, and that encourages them to come in and expand their vision of what is not only available online but what’s available in the physical collection,” she said.
Ohio University Communications and Marketing is providing this Compass series in partnership with University Libraries in honor of the Libraries’ 200th anniversary.