In May, Director of Public Services Deborah Bernnard retired after nearly 25 years of service to the University at Albany. Before she left, we caught up with her to ask her a few questions!
1. You are known for staying on top the latest trends in digital scholarship, data visualization, and librarianship. Why do you find it important to keep up with the developments in the field?
There is a truism that the only thing that stays constant in librarianship is change. One of the challenges in academic librarianship is knowing when to adopt emerging technology and when to wait for something more effective to come along.
I can’t make those decisions on my own and the more informed I become about the technology or the issue at hand, the better I am at making sustainable decisions for the University Libraries. I also enjoy reading about ways in which the profession adapts to the changing nature of students, higher education and technology. There are a lot of smart library thinkers and many ways to keep up with their ideas.
2. We know that the University Libraries have changed over the years, but so too has the information profession. What changes do you think have been most beneficial over the course of your career?
When I started working in libraries, we were using the card catalog to locate items in the library. When I started working on my MLS degree, the Word Wide Web was just hitting the mainstream. It was revolutionary to be able to access the full text of an article online. The information world in now majority digital. Libraries had to change to accommodate this digital world. I don’t think that there is just one change that was beneficial. Instead, we needed to constantly focus on the question of how we can fulfill our missions of supporting student success and fostering research excellence. These guideposts are continually evolving and libraries need to evolve as well. So, our emphasis on digital collections, digital loans, sharing collections, support for digital scholarship and open access serve both students and researchers.
Some of the notable initiatives during my tenure include: Scholars Archive, our digital repository, the creation of a Student Advisory Board to obtain feedback on library services from students. New positions such as our Outreach and Marketing Librarian and our User Experience Librarian who help us understand how to best serve our students. And, the colocation of the reference, circulation, and ITS Help Desk in the lobby of the University Library. I’m sure that I am leaving out some important initiatives, the library faculty and staff are very creative.
Deborah Bernnard (foreground, second from right) cuts the ribbon at the new service desk in the University Library in 2017
3. As the Director of Public Services, you deal with the front-facing aspects of the Libraries. What can libraries do to better serve their populations?
I would love to see more resources devoted to the facilities. Students and community users benefit from a safe space in which to study, meet with colleagues, experiment with technology, etc. Of course, we also need enough staff to make sure the spaces are safe and to provide support.
I am also an advocate of co locating student services such as tutoring and advising within the libraries so that students are able to meet several needs in one location.
4. What advice do you have for new professionals in the library field?
Take advantage of opportunities as they arise. I was thrilled to be able to adjunct teach in the Department of Information Science. I learned a lot about teaching and about the profession at the same time. When an opening for a subject librarian for information science arose, I asked to be considered so that I could learn about that aspect of academic librarianship. The more that I was able to learn about different functions in the library, the better I was able to collaborate with my colleagues and to eventually serve in a leadership capacity.
5. What are you looking forward to as you begin retirement?
Spending time with my family. I will have a new grandson in July and I also have a four-year-old grandson who lives in San Diego. I want to be around to help out with the baby and also be able to spend a long vacation with my California grandson. He calls me York Granmma (for New York based Grandma.)
I also have a long list of things that I want to learn, including chess. I have many gardening ideas that I want to implement this spring and as I get used to having a flexible schedule, I’d like to volunteer on some local political campaigns.
I can’t wait to wake up late, grab a cup of coffee and sit on my front porch for an hour or two, with nowhere else that I need to be.
I’ve had a long rewarding career at the University Libraries. Most of the reason it has been so satisfying is because I had the privilege to work with smart dedicated people.