Library Services for the 21st Century Student

October 15, 2014

"Our students want to do research when they want to do research, so we have to figure out how to be there when they need it."

Like many in the LIS field, MLIP (Managerial Leadership in Library Professions) Ph.D. student Kimberley Bugg didn't set out to be a librarian when she began her college career. A Communications and Media Studies major at Georgia State University (GSU)--she said, "I like to talk about Spike Lee a lot." Her sights were originally set on law school. As an intern at the Fulton County Courthouse, Bugg researched cases and prepared witnesses for pretrial testimony, but found herself discouraged by the environment. The attorneys were "overworked, making peanuts with huge student loans . . . eating at MacDonald's every day because that's all they could afford, and I thought, this is no way to survive." She expressed this concern to one of the lawyers she worked with, who complimented her research zeal and suggested she might find law librarianship rewarding.

Following that advice, Bugg decided to pursue a dual LIS master's/JD program at North Carolina Central University. Discovering that her interest in libraries expanded beyond the legal realm, she chose to focus solely on her LIS degree, a decision that has served her well. She has built a respected career in information and research services, accumulating extensive expertise in emerging technologies and library redesigns.

"In every place I have worked, I have revised the way we approach reference." As assistant head of Information and Research Services at Robert W. Woodruff Library at the Atlanta University Center, Bugg developed and implemented new processes for reference and research, similar to her current post as Team Leader of Information and Research Services at Villanova University. "Every library is having this conversation: we have been offering library services the same way for years and it is not working anymore. What can we do differently to reach our students?"

Bugg consistently emphasizes meeting the needs of the 21st-century student. "I ask, 'where are the users and how can I meet them there?'" Through constant usability testing and surveying of students, she strives to understand her users and support "full engagement," especially complicated in an increasingly online forum.

"What I have found is that sitting at the reference desk is not how you meet users. . . . Our students want to do research when they want to do research, so we have to figure out how to be there when they need it." Much of Bugg's focus has been on creating library websites that mirror the user experience with a research librarian without the student's ever having to come in to the facility. "The 21st-century student is relaxed when it comes to education. It is just a small part of who they are as people. I found it best to support them when the time comes that something is due." Bugg has implemented seemingly simple strategies in her libraries, like focusing outreach the week prior to midterms and exams, assessing library hours, and using online chat services like to connect with users. 21st-century students "tend to study at night, starting at around 9 or 10 when there is no librarian available." Facing barriers regarding staffing at night, Bugg began offering late night chat services for students.

When asked if technological developments created unrealistic expectations in students today, Bugg responded, "It's either unrealistic expectations or no expectations," describing some students as shocked (and impressed) that they could connect to an actual librarian online, while others complained when a 3 a.m. email wasn't answered instantly. Sometimes the solutions are not cutting edge at all: Bugg cited the resident life librarian program at the University of Chicago, where librarians are also Resident Advisors, available to assist students nearly anytime. "I think that's how it needs to be in the future--that what we offer is customizable, there-when-you-need-it service. Maybe we shouldn't always work 9-5."

Of course, adjustments to the status quo are often hard to digest for professionals accustomed to a certain set of procedures. In speaking of the library redesigns for which she was responsible, Bugg said, "Many librarians in reference have been there for a long time and they are comfortable with what they do and how they do it. . . . The biggest challenge has been the resistance of the libraries to embracing a new way of approaching how we offer research assistance, but eventually they get there."

Managing personalities and politics was not something Bugg expected her job to entail, but it has turned out that consensus-building and emotional intelligence have proved vital to her successes. She asked, "How do you get people do to the things we need them to do? They understand that we are doing it for the good of the library, but they are resistant." It becomes necessary to "get them to think it's their idea," she laughed, adding, "It's definitely more challenging than I expected, because I'm task oriented; I'm all about what the goal is. This is my goal; how can I get all these people there too?"

Much of this process involves selling a message and adjusting communication to meet your audience's motivations, serving as a liaison between students, faculty, staff, and administration. "Marketing is the hardest part of being a research support librarian," she said. "Librarians are not good marketers. We don't have good marketing plans; we don't have a public relations person. We need to have a marketing person--someone to create our branding strategy. We have great things and great ideas but we don't know how to get them to our people."

Selling the message of libraries becomes especially important in terms of funding, community support, and legislative action. Bugg was legislative liaison for the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) from 2011-2014 and convener of the ACRL Art Film Broadcast Studies SIG from 2008-2012. She leads roundtable discussions on issues concerning librarians--from institutional use of streaming video, concerns over privacy, and balancing copyright with access, especially in the wake of the Georgia State University case with publishers, Cambridge University Press vs. Becker. "These issues will pop up a lot for librarians." With respect to streaming video, she said, "How do we offer the service and not violate the law? It solves a problem and it creates another problem." The legal concerns facing librarians can be staggering. Bugg has heard of academic libraries hiring librarians with JDs to keep abreast of myriad legal quandaries. "One of our main goals as librarians is to make sure people have access to information and that they do not have to pay for it," Bugg stated, but she referenced many gray areas, especially with respect to privacy and copyright. High-profile cases like Cambridge University Press vs. Becker was a wake-up call to many librarians functioning under an unspoken policy of "ask for permission later."

Bugg exemplifies the dynamic, socially aware, service-minded approach young professionals in research services need to meet the needs of today's library patrons. Serving as the mass media arts department librarian at Atlanta University Center's Woodruff Library, a historically black college, Bugg became known for her ability to assist students researching popular black-culture topics. Bugg was a conduit between faculty and students, helping the latter develop research questions professors would deem appropriate. She also recognized the lack of a centralized source for information on the topic and developed an Electronic Annotated Index of Popular Black Culture. Culling and organizing resources from many related disciplines into one index, Bugg made contacts with frequent contributors to scholarly research, connecting the authors with students conducting research.

To heighten her knowledge of mass media arts, art, music, theater, and sports journalism (her assigned departments at Woodruff), Bugg obtained a second master's degree in interdisciplinary arts from Clayton State University. "The background knowledge that the degree in my subject areas [afforded me] made me a better librarian, especially for retrospective collection development. It also gave me more in common with my faculty. In those subjects few professors have more than an MFA, so they saw me as a peer. We could get into conversations comparing form and artist. It also bridged that gap between modern and classical forms for my students."

Now enrolled in Simmons College's Ph.D. in Managerial Leadership in the Information Professions program, Bugg hopes to expand upon her area of expertise beyond reference, citing the school's "MBA-feel and leadership focus." Bugg explained that the MLIP program is "very specific to the way libraries are going." LIS programs offer students a battery of skills, but "if you don't learn how to manage, you don't necessarily learn how to be savvy when working with people, you don't learn marketing or finance--all the skills you need to be a good librarian. Some of the leading people in the library world teach in this program. You're building your network and you're building your own credibility at the same time." She said that Simmons College has "a great reputation for producing great librarians--and I want to be a great librarian."

By Dean's Communications Fellow Lily Troia