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Mission Bell Media publishes print and digital media for the library market with a focus on leadership. Publishing authoritative and empowering leadership content for libraries worldwide.

On Leadership

Leading Voices: Erin Smith

Rolf Janke

Mission Bell Media is pleased to connect with Erin Smith, Director of McGill Library and Associate Dean of Library & Information Services at Westminster College. Our CEO, Rolf Janke, an alum of Westminster College, holds a special appreciation for small college libraries. For Erin, leadership and innovation are essential for building a strong library that supports both the campus and the wider community.

Name:  Erin T. Smith

Professional Title: Director of McGill Library, Associate Dean of Library & Information Services

Organization: Westminster College

What are the opportunities and challenges of being a leader in a small college library?

I think the major challenges faced by leaders of small college libraries are no different than those faced by other academic library leaders. We face the challenges of limited resources, staying relevant to our campuses, and demonstrating our value to our administrations. But I do think that small college libraries are uniquely equipped to meet these challenges.

Leaders at small college libraries are accustomed to working with a tight budget. Most of us have never had the luxury of buying every quality resource on the market just in case. We have always worked closely with our faculty to make sure we were using our limited budgets on resources that directly support our curriculum and the work of our faculty. Those close relationships we cultivate with faculty also help us stay relevant to our campuses. Not only do our collection development policies ensure that we have the resources our students need to complete their assignments, but they also increase the likelihood that our faculty will make information literacy instruction part of the prelude to giving that assignment. And, finally, things like high usage statistics for resources and learning-based outcomes assessments related to the information literacy sessions we teach are quantitative evidence we can use to demonstrate our value to our administrations.

In 2013 you and a colleague were awarded the ProQuest Innovation in College Librarianship Award; can you share with us your innovative idea?

We won the award for our innovative approach to the old library tour. A few years ago, we were looking for a way to introduce first-year students to the physical space of the library that didn’t involve a traditional tour when Jamie Kohler, our fantastic Collection Management Librarian, came up with the idea of an indoor miniature golf course. We wanted something that would make students want to see the library and to discover all of the different spaces and resources available to them.

For the past three years, we have shut down regular library service on the first Thursday night of the fall semester and turned the library into a four-story indoor miniature golf course. We contract with a local party supply vendor that provided golf clubs, balls, fairways constructed of particle board and two-by-fours. Our course, which is staffed by upper class library student workers and faculty in our first year experience course, ensures that new students would see the entire building and important service points.

And as first year students play the course, they are asked library-related questions at each hole, such as “Where can you go for help on a research project?” and “What two collections are housed in buildings other than McGill Library?” Students record their answers, along with their golf scores, on their scorecards. At the end of the night, scorecards with correct answers to all of the questions are entered in a drawing for an Amazon gift card. The library also donated a book to the collection in honor of the winner of the drawing (the winner selected the title and was named on a specially-designed Library FYO Prize Winner bookplate).

You will be presenting a paper soon at ACRL on organizational change in libraries. Can you give us a glimpse into your thoughts and perspective?

My colleagues and I are going to talk about the inclusive, affirmative process we used to completely reorganize our library, based on our assessment of the current and future needs of our liberal arts campus. In 2011, our small liberal arts college found itself in a unique situation when four of our nine full-time employees – including the library director - announced their intentions to retire over the next two years. We took the opportunity to go through the dual process of deconstructing all current librarian and staff job descriptions and identifying new library services and tasks.

We’re going to talk about the honest discussions we had about what we were actually doing and the value of those individual tasks to the larger campus community; the brainstorming sessions we had about things we were not doing, but needed to initiate in order to stay relevant and connected to our patrons; and the heated debates we had about the things that we had to stop doing in order to make time for the new tasks and initiatives that would provide the best experience for our patrons. The end result of our process was a radical restructuring of our staff and a reimagined set of priorities for our library. In one year, we evolved from an organizational structure devoted primarily to resource acquisition to one that gives information literacy initiatives top priority.

We know that needs and priorities will vary from campus to campus, but we firmly believe that the process we used, which involved cross-organizational participation and an “everything is on the table” approach to restructuring, could be employed in any library to result in a better and more strategic use of human and financial resources, happier staff members, and a better and more strategic alignment with our college’s mission and vision for the future.

Fast-forward ten years — what innovations would you like to see in your library?

I want every Westminster graduate to be information literate, regardless of program of study. I want the library to provide just-in-time access to any resource needed by any member of our campus community. I want students to think of the library as their all-day, all-night academic resource. I want to see increased collaboration between the library and IT departments so that the library becomes the major service provider for both finding information sources and for using information technology resources. In general, I want everyone on campus to regard us as the smartest, most helpful people on campus—and for our resources and services to be so popular, we’ll have to hire more staff and an architect to design an addition to the building, just to meet all the demand.

Be sure to check out our full list of library leaders and innovators. Who should we feature next? Let us know!