Mea culpa, at least a little. In my last post, I did not disclose the full contents of the Provost’s office. I did not mention the College Museum (directed by Richard Saunders), the Committee on the Arts and associated operations (chaired/administered by Glenn Andres), the Rohatyn Center (led by Allison Stanger), Environmental Affairs (headed up by Nan Jenks-Jay), the Admissions office (overseen by Bob Clagett), or the office of Off-Campus Study (whose dean, Jeff Cason, also works with Michael Geisler on a variety of international programs).
And I did not mention Library and Information Services, which employs more than 100 staff members. Mea maxima culpa.
To make amends, I asked Mike Roy, our new Dean of LIS, who just arrived from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, to give his first impressions of the College.
I’m Mike Roy. I started at Middlebury this July as the Dean for Library and Information Services. As part of my effort to learn about all things Middlebury (you can see that plan at http://tinyurl.com/first100days), I had lunch with many of the students who work at LIS over the summer. One of them asked me (in the nicest of ways): “So, what is your job, anyway?”
I said that I go to meetings. I then muttered some stuff about how I try to make sure that the work of LIS is aligned with the goals of the college, how I work on budget and planning to make sure that we have the resources we need to do the work we are asked to do, and work on management and organizational questions to make sure that we use those resources as effectively and efficiently as possible. Before I could say much more, I noticed that a glazed look had come over his previously inquiring face.
“That sounds fascinating” he said.
“What’s your favorite department in the library?” he then asked. I wasn’t sure if this might not be a trick question. Did he want me to say that I liked our collection development area more than I liked circulation? Or was he wondering if I preferred American literature over the Reference section? I hedged. I told him that all areas had fascinating aspects to them, but that for me, probably the most interesting question surrounding the work we do in the library (and in technology) is how that work will change given all of the changes that we are living through. What will happen to our video and audio collections when vast collections become available for download over the web? What will happen to our monograph collecting habits as more and more publishers move to electronic formats? As tools like Google Scholar mature and proliferate, what role will the library website play in the research habits of our students?
He listened politely, but it wasn’t clear to me that these were issues that spoke to him, since these were questions that concerned the professional identities and futures of those of us who work in this area, and even though he worked in the library as a student worker, he had no particular reason to find these questions relevant to him. And that’s understandable.
I organized this lunch as a way of signaling to our students that I am very interested in building relationships with them, as a means of understanding how Middlebury students use our services, our facilities, and our materials to do their academic work. As we plan out the future of classrooms, computer labs, study spaces, the college website, the distribution of software, the network, reference and instruction, our library collections, and all of the other things that we do, we need to find ways to understand the student perspective on these matters. It is a challenge to figure out ways to gain that understanding, since often the only voices we hear from are the voices of the discontented. Over the course of the year, we’ll be trying out various ways to gain a fuller perspective: surveys, focus groups, observation, and more formal advisory groups that can help to ensure that we have regular two-way communication between students and LIS.
One simple experiment that we’ve just launched is a suggestion box/blog (at http://blogs.middlebury.edu/lissuggestions/) , which we are using to provide a public space to ask questions, make comments, and offer friendly suggestions. We’re hoping to respond in some fashion to all questions, at least at the start of this. Suggestions can be emailed to LISSuggestions@middlebury.edu.
If you have thoughts about how we can improve our services to best meet your particular needs, please do try out the blog. If you have thoughts about how we can create better communication channels to make sure that we evolve our services with regular input from students (our only paying customers!), let me know by sending me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or set up a time for us to meet to discuss.