Volume 3, Issue 4
"More Than I Ever Expected" - A Conversation with Jutta Seibert, Villanova University
Amanda Mottorn, Account Executive, Readex
Jutta Seibert is the Falvey Memorial Library team leader for academic integration as well as the coordinator of the liaison team to the departments of history, sociology and criminal justice at Villanova University. She coordinates the activities of the Library's eight liaison teams; provides research support to students, faculty and staff; teaches research workshops; and monitors the collection in her liaison areas. She received her M.S. from Drexel University and M.A. in cultural anthropology from the University of Bayreuth, Germany. Prior to coming to Villanova, Jutta worked at Haverford College and the University of Pennsylvania. Jutta is also a member of the Library's Web Services and Interface team, the Instructional Development team and the Research Support team.
Jutta, what led you to library school?
I was working on a Ph.D. thesis in sociology at the University of Bayreuth when my husband and I relocated to the United States. We started a family and I was looking for new job opportunities that would allow me to stay in suburban Philadelphia. I always enjoyed library research and decided to go for a library degree. I really had no idea what I was getting into, but I'm happy with the outcome.
What was your first job after receiving your M.S. at Drexel University?
I worked as a reference intern at the University of Pennsylvania's Van Pelt Library and in a temporary position as reference librarian at Haverford College while completing my degree. I found reference work to be very stimulating and enjoyed the close contact with students and faculty. After graduating I found a position as catalog and reference librarian at Villanova University.
How has your previous work in cultural anthropology at the University of Bayreuth overlapped with your role as a librarian?
Cultural or social anthropology—as it is called on the other side of the Atlantic—is all about cultural differences. Traditionally, cultural anthropologists studied the culture of "others," usually non-western societies. Today, the same methods—notably participant observation—are used to study cultural differences and group behavior in western societies. The University of Rochester libraries have their own anthropologist on staff to study student and faculty research behaviors. Librarians deliver the best service when we know what resources and support students and faculty need; as well as how, when and where they will look for it. We also know that user needs differ widely from group to group and change over time. We are constantly monitoring user needs and behaviors and my background in cultural anthropology has come in handy at times.
You've been at Villanova for several years. In that time, what change has had the most impact on your library and your colleagues?
The single most profound change in my time at Villanova was 2006's library re-organization. We adopted an organizational model that focused library services on academic departments and programs. The new structure empowered the library's liaison teams and turned them into effective stakeholders for their academic departments and programs. Under the leadership of Joe Lucia, the Library's director since 2002, Falvey Memorial Library has become a proving ground for new ideas and initiatives.
You served on the committee for design and usability tests for your library's homepage. What did you learn?
More than I ever expected. I learned from usability testing that good web design can be reduced to two approaches: one, less is more ("Don't make me think1"), and two, built-in redundancy will get you a lot of extra mileage. On the one hand, usability testing is a very simple and straightforward method for pinpointing problems in Web design; but on the other, finding a better approach can be complex and fraught with failure. Our cross-search box for journal articles is a good example. We tried to follow suggestions from students and simplify our homepage by adding an article quick-search box. We've since been damned by the success of this Google-like feature. Students love it and many use it all the time without realizing that subject-specific indexes can give them more and better results. This experiment taught me that there will always be a need for teaching library research skills. Good research skills are inherently complex and results are usually superior to simple keyword searches. On the bright side, though, this means that we'll never lose our jobs!
How has the library's online newsletter Compass: New Directions at Falvey increased awareness of the library and its events?
Compass is a great way of promoting new library resources and events. The articles link directly to the featured resources and other relevant items. A large number of library staff is engaged in this endeavor, either working on the publications team or writing articles for publication. Judith Olsen, the editor-in-chief, and her team manage to keep it interesting, informative and fun.
What has surprised you about recent freshmen classes?
In the last two years we've seen a shift away from the traditional end-of-semester crunch time in research support. Library research and the accompanying reference questions and research appointments now start much earlier in the semester. The library has become a center of activity on campus and this shift may have caused students to become more aware of library resources.
What are the strengths of the Falvey Memorial Library?
We take service very seriously and get a lot of positive feedback on it. For a library of our size, we have a fairly sizable collection with a strong emphasis on digital materials.
Falvey Memorial Library receives thousands of reference questions each year. What were some of the most interesting questions you were asked?
During the 2007-08 academic year, librarians handled 2,842 research support questions and information specialists answered 1,986 simple reference questions at the library's information desk. Research support questions and research appointments are carefully tracked by location, patron type, type of question and format. I have to admit that I don't remember individual questions for long, but we have a nifty tool with which I can query all the questions I've answered. Currently, our technology team is working on mining this depository for a Help application in the style of "Yahoo answers." [http://library.villanova.edu/Help/Answers]
I would say that my most interesting and obscure questions come from the history department. Our digital collections have made it so much easier to find good primary sources on all kinds of topics. Last spring I worked with a class that read The Hanging of Ephraim Wheeler2, by Irene and Richard Brown. As it turned out, Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819 contains the execution sermon, two editions of the official trial report, and Wheeler's personal narrative. The students also found a number of newspaper articles about this and similar cases in America's Historical Newspapers.
How have you and your colleagues worked to encourage students to seek help with their history research?
First, we try to make our collection as accessible as possible, which means that we buy MARC records with embedded links to the digital works whenever possible. Together with faculty, we design library research workshops for courses that make heavy use of our digital collections. There's also the History Resources Web page [http://library.villanova.edu/Research/Subjects/History], which has all my contact information as well as a chat application. I get a fair amount of research appointment requests from history students, undergraduate as well as graduate, but most of these requests come from students that know me from one of my workshops.
How has the addition of fully searchable digital works impacted your library?
Before we acquired the digital edition of Early American Imprints, we had the microfiche edition and students were very reluctant to use it. They have absolutely no inhibitions using the online collection, however, and I get nothing but positive feedback from faculty as well as students. The ability to search across primary sources for a keyword offers a host of new possibilities. On several occasions, I have been told by faculty that they now find sources they had missed in the past.
The single biggest impact is the improved size of our collection, which includes close to half a million digital books. With the size of our building and no remote storage facility, we wouldn't be able to house this kind of physical collection, but digital books are accessible via our catalog and can be accessed by students and faculty from anywhere in the world.
Can you share any recent successes or failures in conveying the value of your library for immediate research needs?
Since we have a fairly decent sized collection we rarely get complaints, but we frequently notice that students and faculty fail to use our individual collections to their full advantage. Many users don't take sufficient time to familiarize themselves with the ins and outs of a particular collection or index, and they miss pertinent materials. Once they approach us, we can help them with their research, but I sometimes wonder how many of our patrons make do with less-than-satisfactory results. We raise their expectations by offering new digital collections, but I feel we fail to communicate the limitations of these resources. Library research has definitely become easier, but this doesn't mean that everything is easy. I sometimes think that students have a hard time asking for help because they think they should already know how to conduct good research.
How have you and your library colleagues recently tried to improve faculty-library collaboration?
We're taking library resources into the classroom and dorms through WebCT, participation in learning communities, course specific resource pages and library research workshops—to name just a few of the things we're doing. We're also currently working on becoming more involved in curriculum committees across the campus to ensure that all students will be taught necessary research skills.
What advice would you share with new librarians entering the field?
When I look at blogs, list-servs and our professional literature, I get the impression that libraries and librarians have serious image problems. I wouldn't let that scare anyone away. In real life, libraries are pretty exciting places where a lot of things are happening right now. I would advise new librarians to become engaged in one of our professional organizations. They're the best way to find out about the latest initiatives and trends in the library world.
1 Krug, Steve. Don't Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Indianapolis: Que, 2000.
2 Brown, Irene Q. and Richard D. Brown. The Hanging of Ephraim Wheeler. A Story of Rape, Incest and Justice in Early America. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2003.