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October 2, 2013 | 2 Comments
Borree Kwok loves books, and she loves people. That’s why she became a librarian, she says, though she didn’t initially start out in that career.
Kwok grew up in Hong Kong and attended Hong Kong Baptist University. During her senior year, she was an exchange student at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., which brought her to the U.S. for the first time. She returned to Hong Kong, worked as an editorial assistant at Asiaweek, and then started teaching high school. But the “draw of books and libraries and people were so strong, I yearned to work in the library,” she says.
So she persuaded her husband, Siu-Ki Wong, to return to the U.S. with her to attend graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she completed a Master of Science in Library Science in 1992. She went on to work for the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., but she returned to North Carolina and accepted a position at Campbell University in 1993. She has been here since.
During her 20-plus years at Campbell, Kwok has held a variety of positions, including as director of institutional research and director of library services. She became the dean of Campbell University Library in 2011. As the dean, she oversees a bustling library system that includes Wiggins Memorial Library and three branches (the School of Osteopathic Medicine Library, the Gilbert T. Stephenson Business Library and the Curriculum Materials/Media Center). At the start of the new academic year, Campbell's libraries had a collection of more than 341,200 print and 848,900 electronic volumes, as well as some 57,900 serial subscriptions. The Wiggins Memorial Library alone had a door count of 249,440 last year.
“When I see students utilizing the library’s collections or services, I can almost visualize an intellectual transformation going through them,” says Kwok, adding she walks around Wiggins Memorial Library from the basement to third floor at least once a day. “We like to think of the library not only as a place where students can come to discover knowledge, be inspired to their own discoveries, and grow intellectually, but also as a place where they can come to ponder and discover who they are and grow toward who they want to become. When I walk about the library, I can see that going on. That makes a good day for me.”
Kwok spoke with Campbell.edu about the role of the library in the college experience and how it has responded to technological changes and evolved to meet students’ needs. The following is an edited transcript.
What's new that Campbell students can expect this academic year?
In Wiggins Memorial Library, in response to student’s needs, we’ve expanded the space available for 24-hour access to include the 2nd floor of Wiggins. That’s in addition to the 24-hour lobby on the first floor. Another new initiative that should be available by mid-October is the creation of a silent study room in the basement of Wiggins. We are turning what is the microforms room into an area where there will be 24 individual carrels for students who prefer to have individual study space.
What are other new initiatives?
A new library website was launched in July. This completely redesigned website provides a simple, easy-to-use interface for our users to access the wide array of resources offered. The homepage offers quick links to most frequently used materials and services, prominent display of library hours, a calendar of upcoming events, and easy access to librarians’ assistance. Another new feature is the availability of tutorials throughout the site intended to provide help at the point of need. In response to feedback from the last library survey, we have also included more graphics to improve the aesthetics of the website.
On our website you can also find a digital collection where we’ve started preserving Campbell’s long and rich history -- another major initiative. We have digitized major university publications, such as the undergraduate catalog, the student yearbook and student newspapers Creek Pebbles and The Campbell Times. This will not only preserve the university’s history but will also make it accessible to the general public. We see that as important because it will allow future generations to understand and celebrate the history of the institution.
You've been at Campbell since 1993. What have been the biggest changes for the library during the 20-plus years you've been here?
There are three major aspects of library operations: collections, facilities and services. The core is the collections. For centuries, libraries have sought to build a strong physical collection. And Campbell's libraries have a sizable physical collection; there are lots and lots of books. But in recent years, because of technological advances, there has been a shift to building more and more of a digital collection. We now provide access to over 270,000 e-books; there are many online databases that the Campbell community has access to; there are streaming audio and video files online. The collection is now both physical and digital, and that has major implications for library operations.
In the past, libraries purchased books to ensure access for users. Libraries used to have to make sure those books were classified correctly and placed in the right spots on the shelf so users can go and find them. But now, with digital resources, our library has expanded services to include such things as negotiating access licenses, managing systems, website design and maintenance, and so on. We still do the part about selecting and making sure appropriate resources are available, but the part about making sure that it’s accessible to our users in today’s world has become increasingly complex.
How has this affected the role of librarians on college campuses?
Because of the increasing complexity of information resources, librarians more than ever play the role of teacher or educator. Last year, the library provided 291 instructional sessions to a total of over 5,900 students. That is largely due to the complexity of the electronic resources involved. Now, instead of just pointing and saying “Go to that shelf and retrieve that book,” we spend a lot of time educating our students and users how to access the myriad of information resources, how to evaluate them critically, and how to make effective and ethical use of these information resources.
We’re also less passive. We see the need for the library to take a more active role in seeking to promote academic excellence by working more closely with the faculty and students. Instead of just waiting for students to come to the desk, we go out and meet students where their needs are. Last year, we piloted an embedded librarian program where librarians held office hours in academic buildings like Taylor Hall. That allows us to answer student questions and help students where they’re taking classes. We’re continuing that program this year.
We’ve also been able to increase the ways that we provide our services through the use of technology. Instead of just sitting at the reference desk waiting for the question as they come or answering phone inquiries, we now use chat, text messaging, and email to provide reference services and research assistance to our students.
Have there been changes over the years that have affected the physical space of libraries?
The library as a place is vital to campus life because it provides space for students to do academic work away from the residence halls and other noisy venues. It also provides an environment where students can see others engaged in learning activities, which encourages academic pursuit. Those aspects have not changed at Campbell. But in response to changes in pedagogy, now students are more group oriented in their learning activities. In addition to the quiet, individualized study spaces we provide, we now also have to take into consideration the need for work groups. That is why when the library was relocated from Carrie Rich to Wiggins, we added group study areas and rooms.
What are the challenges libraries face today?
Keeping up with the changes. Information technology is changing rapidly, and it is vital to have a clear vision and be wise in the decisions that libraries make in order to move along with the changes and to choose the correct tools and resources for the users.
What's your long-term vision for the libraries at Campbell?
For them to serve as a major resource to inspire and empower the Campbell community. To do so, we will need to continue to build our collections according to the changes in and needs of our academic programs and to provide easy access; our physical and virtual spaces will need to be responsive to the changing habits of its users; and our services will need to stay user-focused.
What do you think are some misperceptions about the library?
I think many of our students may not realize that librarians are very eager to help them tackle some of their academic challenges. When they approach a librarian at the Research Assistance Desk, more often than not they begin by saying, “I am sorry to bother you.” In reality, librarians love to be asked to help. That’s why many of us chose to become a librarian in the first place.
Another major misperception is that students think that the information found using popular web search engines such as Google is as good as those found using the tools and resources provided by the library. This speaks to why it is increasingly important that librarians play the role of a teacher in the use of information resources, and play it well.
What would you hope students would say about the library?
That it is an inviting place, and that it plays a crucial role in their pursuit of their academic goals.
Interview conducted by and edited by Cherry Crayton, Digital Content Coordinator
Photos by Bennett Scarborough