A Day In The Life Of The Library

by Jim H. Smith
Photos by Richard Bergen

Information never sleeps. There are areas of the Trinity College Library, which shares the Raether Library and Information Technology Center with Trinity’s Information Technology Services, that are open around the clock. And there are times of the year, especially as the end of a semester nears, when large populations of students encamp there all night, cramming before finals and churning out their own library of term papers.


When Jeff Liszka, circulation librarian, arrives at 7:45 on a cool September morning, however, it seems as quiet as a country graveyard. A few students are using the library’s computers and printers to pull their homework together. One or two are dozing in chairs, waiting for Peter B’s, the in-house café, to open so they can wake up with a cup of coffee and a pastry before early classes.

After answering overnight e-mails, Liszka meets with the first group of student workers who’ll be staffing the circulation desk throughout the day. He’s not surprised by the small number of students who trickle in when a timer opens the library’s outer doors at 8:30. Most students who use the facility attend morning classes and then study at the library after lunch or in the evening.

Liszka has worked in this area of the library for 11 years, and over that time he’s seen the circulation of print books drop every year, but “library use has gone up over the same time period,” he says. To understand why, it’s useful to take a short walk through shelves of books to the north side of the library, where Nancy Smith ’96, image collections librarian, is preparing for a meeting with Katharine Power, associate professor of theater and dance. Smith has been digitizing slides of art works and murals by Works Progress Administration (WPA) artists for Power’s course, “Art and the Public Good.”

NancyThe library already has a large collection of such images in ARTstor, an immense digital “cloud” of images and related data created by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2001 to enhance scholarship, teaching, and learning in the arts and associated fields. Today, many faculty members teach using ARTstor as a repository for digital course “folders” that students can access easily through online accounts. Trinity’s library began licensing the ARTstor database in 2004.

And it was around that same time that the impact of digital technology–nothing short of revolutionary–began to become increasingly apparent throughout the library.

Teaching Tools in the  Digital Age

By midmorning, staff members all over the library are using online tools to perform a wide range of tasks, many of which did not even exist as recently as five or six years ago. Amy Harrell, digital projects librarian, is uploading a batch of Trinity theses to a digital repository, where they will be accessible to scholars worldwide. Amy Rua, circulation reserves manager, is uploading a movie to Trinflix, the College’s online video streaming service for faculty who want to share videos digitally with their students. And Yuksel Serindag, acquisitions and interlibrary loan librarian, is sending out the day’s electronic article notifications to faculty and students who have requested items from institutions all over the planet.

library2Serindag uses a program called Get It Now for many interlibrary loans. It’s an online service that enables library patrons to find and acquire articles from journals to which the library does not currently subscribe. But even aided by such a system, and even though Get It Now is constantly adding more journals to its inventory, Serindag is regularly tasked with tracking down articles not available through the program. He also fields requests from other libraries for resources in the Trinity collection. As soon as he finishes sending out the day’s electronic notifications, he’ll turn his attention to the 16 requests he received from other libraries since yesterday afternoon.

Around 11:00, Erin Valentino, research education librarian, is meeting with an American studies student who has spent the summer zeroing in on a senior thesis proposal. Valentino works half an hour with him, discussing library resources and materials. With two monitors in her office, she and the student are able to observe the screens simultaneously as they work through the proposal.

Just around the corner from Valentino’s office, Jennifer van Sickle, science and electronic resources librarian, is wrapping up negotiations to renew a package of several hundred online journals for Trinity’s collections. This afternoon she will meet with students in “Physics in Science Fiction,” one of 2014’s first-year seminars. The course is taught by Associate Professor of Physics David Branning, and van Sickle knows that many of the students will have had little experience doing the sort of intensive research required for collegiate success. She, along with many of her colleagues, assists professors in assembling course content and supports the students as they learn the ins and outs of rigorous research.

library3As the afternoon progresses, staff members interact with students in myriad ways. Shortly after lunch, Kelly Dagan, outreach/instruction librarian, is leading a student-faculty discussion group focusing on the nature and challenges of research. As Dagan’s discussion group is winding down, Rob Walsh, social sciences librarian, is meeting with a student to help him find and interpret data for a political science project. Meanwhile, Katy Hart, arts and humanities librarian, is teaching a session about both print and online primary-source research strategies for a history thesis seminar.

Tangible Resources

Though digital communication has made it possible for the library to serve its various patrons more efficiently, swiftly, and cost-effectively and to easily acquire and share vast amounts of data, the library has not conceded its traditional role as a repository of physical books and other tangible resources. Doris Kammradt, head librarian for collections, research, and instruction, devotes the afternoon to decisions concerning materials the library will purchase in the near future.

While the acquisition of new titles is down from the roughly 7,000 books the library shelved annually a decade ago, the institution still adds about 3,500 new books every year. And even though various models of e-book acquisition help to contain costs, Kammradt still must make astute decisions on how to use the library’s budget as judiciously as possible. “It’s important to keep the collection fresh,” she says, “but a large part of my job involves cost-benefit analysis. If we buy something, what does it replace?”

library4One of the greatest collections of tangible books and documents in the Trinity Library is in the special collections department, the Watkinson Library. An extraordinary collection of archives and rare books, it began as a part of the Wadsworth Atheneum in 1866 and became part of Trinity in 1952. Today the collection includes more than 175,000 printed and manuscript volumes dating from the 15th century to the present, as well as thousands of manuscript and archival files, some 25,000 pieces of sheet music, 5,000 sound recordings, and much, much more.

As the afternoon winds down, Richard Ring, the Watkinson’s head curator, is meeting with a student who is taking advantage of the Watkinson’s Creative Fellowships program. Designed to encourage use of the library, the fellowship offers a $1,000 stipend to aid student research. This student is researching America’s evolving relationship with food. She expects to make a presentation at the end of the semester of foods prepared using recipes found in the library’s books that reflect the culture of their time.

“For a four-year liberal arts college, Trinity has an incredible collection of rare books and archives, and over 65 percent of our users are students,” says Ring. “When it comes to rare books and special collections, the Watkinson Library is arguably one of the largest collections among small college libraries in the country.”