Beth Kumar is the Head of Reference Services at the Graduate Theological Union Library, managing reference, instruction, and the library’s website.
Teachable Moments in the GTU Library
Students need librarians more than ever to help navigate and determine the authority of content, so they are using sources appropriate for graduate-level research. This is my favorite part of my job, using the teachable moments to help students learn how to research, and then seeing them again later as they ask increasingly complicated questions as they grow as scholars.
As a librarian, I get the opportunity to work directly with the students of the GTU, primarily at the reference desk and in the classroom. The diversity of topics the students are researching is amazing; some students are asking questions and writing on topics that have little published literature and are adding new perspectives to the conversations within their religious traditions.
Now that I have been at the GTU for five years, I’ve seen students start with a kernel of an idea and transform it into a well-researched (and successfully defended) dissertation or thesis. We keep copies of all students’ theses and dissertations, and I’m often surprised by how much this original material is used by other researchers. We even get requests from grandchildren of alumni, who want to come in and read Grandma’s dissertation.
As the educational landscape changes from a traditional face-to-face learning to a blended model of online learning, the ways of meeting with students have exploded--and it’s been fun. I’ve helped our students all over the world online, in Zoom, on chat, over email, and a few students still even pick up the phone and call me! With the many reciprocal borrowing agreements we have, GTU students are able to check out material at hundreds of seminary and theological collections in the United States and Canada, and use these in combination with our online resources.
A common misperception is that as more and more education moves online, libraries (and librarians) won’t be needed. But I’ve found just the opposite to be true in my 13 years as a librarian. Yes, more of our resources are available as ebooks and online articles, but students still like having a human to reach out to--to help suggest search terms, find rare books, or locate material that is not digitized and online. Online research can be like trying to drink out of a fire hose; if you don’t know where to start, it’s overwhelming and frustrating. With scholarship moving toward Open Access and freely accessible sites, students need librarians more than ever to help navigate and determine the authority of content, so they are using sources appropriate for graduate-level research. This is my favorite part of my job, using the teachable moments to help students learn how to research, and then seeing them again later as they ask increasingly complicated questions as they grow as scholars. Physical libraries aren’t going away either; they grow and change to accommodate new scholarship and new ways of content creation, with digital editing labs, maker spaces, and remaining flexible. However, having an old-fashioned table and lamp is still preferred by many GTU students--and due to our recent upgrade of the electricity, you can have your both your traditional library as well as a and a work station where you can plug in 6 devices!
As always, if you have a question, librarians are available to help. We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or just send us a chat to say hello.