Interview | Beth Kumar, Director of Library Services
Beth Kumar is the Director of Library Services at the GTU Library. Beth has held a number of positions in the GTU library since arriving in 2014, including the Head of Reference for five years. She holds a MS in Library and Information Science, and an EdM in Educational Leadership and Organization in Higher Education both from the University of Illinois, as well as a BS in History from the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.
GTU: What were some of the formative influences in your life — places, experiences — that led you to where you are today? Did you grow up loving books and spending time in libraries?
Beth Kumar: I did grow up being a big reader, and I loved going to the libraries as a kid. I grew up in Wisconsin and spent a lot of time in the woods, camping and swimming in the lakes. I still love to go hiking and I spend time in the public library with my kids. However, I didn’t really consider libraries as a career option until I was an undergraduate and had a part-time job working in the interlibrary loan department and as a shelver in reference. This was before library databases were on the internet, so for interlibrary loan, I would photocopy and mail articles to people. In reference, we had many of our databases on CD-Roms, so I spent a huge amount of time reshelving the discs after students had searched on them. I remember the librarians talking about how someday soon we’d be able to search all the library databases from home, and that seemed amazing to me. I took a few years off after college to work and save money before going to graduate school, and by the time I enrolled at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, we had the databases on the internet. It’s still hard to believe how much the process of doing research has changed in twenty years.
GTU: What initially attracted you to the GTU?
BK: Originally, when I started working at the GTU, I was looking for a librarian position that would give me a work/life balance. I had come from a tenure-track faculty position at the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs and was working long hours, seven days a week, and wanted a change from the publish or perish mentality. I also had a newborn, so the part-time reference position was perfect, as I got to spend more time with my daughter. The first year I was at the GTU, I did not interact with the staff and faculty as much but I was really getting to know the students and their research needs. After I had been in the part-time reference position for about 6 months, the director offered me the full-time Head of Reference position, which is when I really got to work closely with the faculty and staff. This position allowed me a lot of freedom to modernize reference services, transitioning from paper guides to online LibGuides, making video tutorials, starting the chat service, and teaching our first online workshops. I still appreciate the GTU culture around maintaining a work/life balance, and that there isn’t the expectation that you are working around the clock. I’ve found that most of the faculty, staff, and students are at the GTU because they like mission, culture, and diversity of religions – I know I do!
GTU: You’ve been at the GTU since 2014 and have held several different positions during your tenure. What have you learned about the institution during your time here?
BK: Yes, I have! In addition to being a part-time reference librarian and the Head of Reference, I have been the Learning and User Experience Librarian, and the Interim Director of Library Services, before becoming the director in October. I have learned about the different religions and schools, but mostly I’ve learned that among the needs of the students, the students are not that different from each other. They all need a real person who is willing to sit with them and help them find library materials, even if the librarian, student, and book are all online. It’s a different library, with different needs of the students from when I first started, however, we want to keep some of the important aspects of the traditional library experience that people still want, like being able to browse a print collection and gather together with others to study. Those things won’t change.
GTU: What excites you about the future of the GTU Library and its services?
BK: I want to emphasize the “services” part of library services. Most libraries, not just ours, are in a period of change, where our community is no longer just the people who walk through the door. We have a growing number of students and faculty outside the Bay Area that increases each year. They need to have the same level of service and access to do their research. This means, not only that we are purchasing new books and journals online, but we are actively digitizing parts of the collection in mass and other materials on-demand. At the same time, we want to maintain the in-person, high touch experience for those who come in. We intend to continue our hybrid services to be available for both groups. I’m excited about where we are headed as a library, and how we can continue to work to make a seamless (and frustration free) research experience for the students and faculty.
GTU: We are so looking forward to the library’s grand reopening in January. Can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect in the new year?
BK: We can’t wait to show you what has been happening. When everyone returns in January, they will be able to enter the library from Scenic Drive, through the original library entrance into the first floor. We will still have the circulation desk and reference desks staffed and ready to help you, but we’ve moved a lot of the study spaces to the permitter of the building, to take advantage of the natural light. The large oak tables that the students love are still there, refinished and now in the sun near the entrance. And I don’t want to give anything away, but we have commissioned a new mural from a local artist. In the center of the building, we’ve relocated the reference collection, and you can look up from the new shelves all the way to the 3rd floor and the skylight.
The re-opening party is January 26th from 4-6, and all are welcome to explore the library before then!