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Janine Schmidt has big ideas for McGill's libraries. The new Trenholme Director of Libraries comes to McGill from the University of Queensland in Australia, and started here on February 1. Already, she is determined to hit the ground running. Schmidt had an impressive reign as lord of the books Down Under, her innovative efforts garnering her a Library Manager of the Year award in 1999. She is determined to make a similar splash here, and is metaphorically rolling up her sleeves already.
"The usual thing is to begin at the beginning," she said. "If you don't know where you're going, you'll never arrive."
A look at where she's been may give and idea as to where she is going. Schmidt has published widely in a variety of professional and academic journals, with particular attention paid to the evolution of the role of libraries in the 21st century. She is a frequent speaker at Australian and international conferences, has served on national committees in her native Australia and has consulted widely around the world on library developments.
Her initiatives at the University of Queensland (UQ) included revamping both the physical and online space to create a "Cybrary." That initiative involved adding over 1,000 computers to the UQ library system, as well as configuring the physical and online space in such a way as to be as useful and intuitive to undergraduate users as possible. As well-informed and friendly as your human staff may be, simple human nature needs to be taken into account in designing library services as well.
"[For] some people, the last thing they ever want to do is ask a question," said Schmidt.
It's a long haul from Australia to Montreal, especially given that she left their summer to arrive in the depths of our winter. Schmidt was already familiar with McGill and our library system when she was first approached to come here, as her home institution is a member of Universitas 21, as is McGill.
The two schools were similar enough in size and scope that Schmidt felt comfortable making the intercontinental shift. She said she is impressed by the quality and dedication of library staff, but already has some strong ideas as to how to make the whole library system better.
One of the key ways to do this is to make the libraries more a part of the teaching and research missions of the university.
"We need to be able to understand and support changing approaches to teaching and research," said Schmidt.
Better and more training of library staff is important, she said, but so is better explaining the mission of the library to staff and students. McGill's collections are excellent, but there is a disconnect between what the university has and the public's knowledge of them.
"There are very good collections and services here, but they're not very well known — marketing is a real need," she said. Quality surveys and focus groups are ways to find out how to better appeal to library users, though Schmidt concedes the methodology might not be popular in an academic setting.
"Marketing is a term that tends to make people nervous in a university," she said.
However, we are in the information age, which means the library is only one of many competing sources that researchers may turn to. This means developing a presence in a world where scholarly and personal communication is changing rapidly. Appealing to the "coffee-and-fingernails" generation — ultra-savvy technophiles — is a challenge she's ready to meet. Texts via BlackBerry wireless devices and overdue notices via cellphones are two possibilities.
Schmidt is obviously thrilled to be starting at a new location, and the same motivation that drove her success in the Southern Hemisphere is visible here.
"The reason I do this job is because of the importance of information in people's lives. Contributing to teaching and research gives me a real buzz."