Gloriana St. Clair - Future of Librarians Interview

Glorianna St. Clair is the Dean of Libraries at Carnegie Mellon University, but could you tell us a bit more about your background and current work for readers who may not know you?

I'm just starting my ninth year as the Dean of Libraries at Carnegie Mellon University. Previously, I held administrative positions at Penn State University, Oregon State University, and Texas A&M University. I am also one of four directors of a Universal Library, whose million book project has just scanned 1.4 million books with funding from the National Science Foundation. Our partners have been universities and governments in China and India.

Now let's pretend for a minute that you were not involved in libraries. How do you personally use the library? How do you search for and access information in general?

Like other faculty, I use the library in three ways: to support my research, to support my teaching, and to support my life as a consumer with a mobility handicap. Recently, I wrote an article "Accessibility, Affordability, and Accountability in Higher Education" on the accreditation process in universities for The Heinz School Review. While I found some materials on the web, I found more through the electronic resources purchased and licensed by the Libraries. As a discussion leader for classic novels, I mostly use the MLA electronically and often order articles via interlibrary loan using Illiad. All three of the reference departments here help me find the facts and figures needed for proposals, reports, and discussions. The web supports consumer needs from leisure reading to replacing china.

In your opinion, what are the most useful features of libraries today?

The library is crucial in helping students understand the information-seeking behavior of their disciplines. Taking information about using preferred resources into the junior level in each discipline is an important initiative. We also manage the licensing of content for our campus. Because our resources are few, we have to be selective and astute in that realm. The Library continues to play a key role for students as a place to work together in a group, to study in a solitary environment, and to have intellectual discussions over coffee.

What would you say are the most useless features of libraries today? What can libraries do to eliminate them?

What a loaded question! The journey to the digital future means analyzing the use of historically valuable services and figuring out how to reallocate resources from those no longer heavily used to those now in higher demand.

What is digitization doing to CMU Libraries?

We have about 1.5 million pages of locally created digital content and are constantly working on how to preserve it for the future and maximize its use around the world. We are attentive to all the issues around having a robust platform for serving that content. Thus time, attention, and money are all flowing towards that content. Our participation in the million book project has also put a lot of our attention on those international partnerships.

How is digitization affecting physical library space?

A Carnegie Mellon faculty member recently pointed out to the Provost that the library was a warehouse in the middle of campus. My response was that it used to be, but now we have taken in the campus video collection and the Academy for Lifelong Learning, a very successful learning in retirement program. We've also built a cafe, moved 400,000 volumes into off site storage, and are building group study rooms and putting in more electrical outlets for laptop computers.

How is digitization affecting the roles of CMU Librarians?

Librarians at Carnegie Mellon have faculty track appointments and are involved in research on many roles that librarians play in the digital future. We are particularly engaged with the intellectual property arena and are leading our campus towards creating open access journals in various departments and self-archiving faculty content.

Many see the Library 2.0 movement playing a big role in the future of libraries. Library 2.0 seems to mainly involve Web 2.0 technologies such as blogging, wikis, rss, and a number of social networking websites. Is CMU doing Library 2.0. How so?

We're talking about how blogging and wikis can support some of our work here. We like Facebook as a mechanism for communicating with the student community. In partnership with our famed Entertainment Technology Center, we're creating an engineering information literacy module using gaming ideas and technology. We're exploring instant messaging as an alternative to our chat reference.

If you had to name a single most important technology to libraries today, what would it be?

Google has had the biggest impact on student expectations around finding and using information. Google sets the standard to which students compare all of their library experiences.

Based on your experience with CMU, including digitization projects, what can you say about the future of libraries?

We're in our second strategic plan on the theme "The future of Libraries is digital." Carnegie Mellon students are avid consumers of digital information and digital tools. Trying to get students to come back to paper would be futile. Libraries must meet students in their digital environments.

Thank you so much Glorianna for taking the time to share you insights and experience with us.

Customize Your Education