05 November 2020 Blogs

‘Partners in the Learning Process’ – Thoughts from a Librarian with a (Nearly) 30-Year Career

“We can expand beyond the walls of our building and extend our reach to become more accessible to students,” says Scott Drone-Silvers

Note: after you read this interview, you can learn more about how other libraries are adapting, and how ProQuest can help.

For nearly 30 years, Scott Drone-Silvers has been the director of library services at Lake Land College in Illinois. Scott is retiring in December 2020 – and before his “due date,” as he calls it, he took a few minutes to speak with ProQuest about his career as a librarian, the evolution he’s witnessed over the decades, his experience with vendors, and his advice for librarians of the future.

ProQuest: First…congratulations on your pending retirement after a long and successful career! What path did you take to become a library director?

SDS: As a first-generation college student, I started working as a shelver in my college library while finishing my bachelor’s degree in secondary education. After graduation, I got a full-time job at the library, where I worked with some great librarians who gave me exposure to the different aspects of librarianship. I went to library school at the University of Illinois, and upon graduating with my master’s degree, I became the library director at Lake Land College. I started there in the fall of 1991, and I’ve been there ever since.

How has the career of a librarian changed since you started?

I was a librarian before the advent of the internet. In fact, I was the second person on my campus to have an email address, and that was only because I was friends with the technology folks. The internet was one of the big turning points of my career.

Lake Land got our first internet-based database in 1994 or 1995. Big changes always come with resistance, and the internet was something I don’t think anyone was fully prepared for. Eventually we had to step back and view it as a useful tool to help us do the same job we’ve always done – connecting people with information. Now, we just have better tools to do that with. We can expand beyond the walls of our building and extend our reach to become more accessible to students, when and where they need us.

How do you compare your ‘90s experience to the drastic changes libraries faced in 2020?

Right now, we’re going through another one of those tipping points. We’re in the midst of it, and we feel like everything’s three feet over our head. But someday, when we have a little more time to reflect on 2020, we’ll look back and see that this was a time that we really learned how to adapt to change. It’s evolve or die. And we’ll evolve.

What’s been the worst and the best parts of that evolution?

(Note: Lake Land College has resumed in-person, socially distanced library services, but the library continues to provide significant virtual support.)

We really missed seeing our students and having those face-to-face interactions that lead to serendipitous discoveries, and we didn’t have as many reaches into the classroom as we might like. But many of us have had to develop the mindset over the years that the library isn’t just a physical place, so when COVID hit, we were pretty well-prepared to support our users. We got some really great benefits out of Zoom.

I hope that libraries are taking a look at the positive interactions that occurred and will continue with those ideas into the future. We’re not going to go back to the way that things were before – there will be more online instruction, more remote interaction – so the skills we’ve gained will put us in good stead down the road.

What advice would you offer for trying to help today’s students with information literacy?

I think we need to reevaluate our assumptions that students are proficient with all technology. While we have all the technology, students’ knowledge of it is sometimes an inch wide and a mile deep. Knowing how to use TikTok doesn’t necessarily translate to being able to evaluate information.

What’s easiest for most students is, of course, Google – and if an instructor doesn’t dig harder or push the student to go further, we lose out on the ability for them to develop research skills. I think libraries have a great opportunity to provide curated information that students will actually use.  

After 29 years at Lake Land, what has been your experience working with library vendors like ProQuest?

What we’ve always gotten from ProQuest – aside from really good data and products – is a great relationship.  You’ve been willing to work with us during tough times to make sure our students never lost access to the content they needed. The products are good, and the people are even better.

The relationship is what makes all the difference. In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve had a handful of first-name-basis relationships with vendors. That’s how it is at ProQuest. They know me, and they’re never going to try to sell me something that isn’t a good fit.

Why did Lake Land College choose to adopt ProQuest One Academic?

Lake Land has a long history with ProQuest. We started with a series of subscriptions to individual databases. For a small extra investment, we moved to ProQuest Central, which gave us a lot more content than we had before.

It was the same process that got us to ProQuest One Academic. We had access to some streaming video resources and a small ebook package from ProQuest, both of which we wanted to beef up. When we looked at the price difference, we decided to make the leap to ProQuest One Academic. The simple fact that we got a fivefold increase in our ebook package and access to Academic Video Online made that purchase worthwhile.

Sometimes librarians get preconceived notions about products and services, and we want to make sure we are spending our money appropriately and wisely in making resource decisions. Especially for those of us at the two-year college level, it can be a challenge to balance the content offerings. And while we want to have a good match of content with audience, never be afraid of challenging users. Having a good vendor partner can help with that – you can get the most of the resources you select.

And finally…before you retire, do you have any parting thoughts?

When people worried about the internet taking over our jobs, I used to joke, ‘what do you do when a new product comes out? You look for a book to teach you how to use it!’ From my perspective, librarians are always going to be partners in the learning process.