Mark Haslett has been University Librarian at the University of Waterloo (UW) since 2003. Mark began his career in 1980 as a UWO coop student working at McMaster as a Library intern. Since then he has worked at UTLAS Inc., various positions at the McMaster University library, then as an Associate University Librarian at UW before taking on his current role. Mark also serves on various ARL and CARL committees. He says he is an avid but average squash player, sings in a fine chamber choir with his wife (the Guelph Chamber Choir), and enjoys trying to play classical guitar.
How long have you been University Librarian at the University of Waterloo (UW) Library, and what do you like most about your current job?
I have been the University Librarian at the UW for 8 years, and have worked at UW for just over 15 years. I like that my job lets me deal with an incredible variety of substantive issues: internal to the library, throughout our campus; and at the provincial, national, and international levels. I get to work with a wide range of people across campus at all levels of staff and the public. A part of my job that gives me great pleasure, and that I spend a lot of time thinking about, is creating opportunities for others. I enjoy thinking about ways to foster a positive, constructive, and engaging work environment.
How do you respond when students or faculty question the relevancy of libraries in face of Google and Wikipedia?
I have never actually had a student or faculty member say that to me, but I know where the question is coming from. Firstly, I think this is an aspect of working as a librarian and working in a library. There are persistent stereotypes of librarians: you can't fail to see librarians depicted stereotypically in movies or books. Many people would have no idea, for instance, that I deal with a multi-million dollar budget, and work with a large number of staff. Librarians need to shatter and dispel these images. Second, from my perspective the library is still relevant and has never been busier, something I point out whenever I make presentations at Senate and other campus events. For all libraries, not just at UW, there has never been a time when we've had more information in different formats available to students, faculty, and staff. Ever. To me, this incredibly rich information environment is the beauty of working in an academic research library. Recently one of our VP's shared his experience of writing an NSERC grant, and he described a process that now involved 2 days working from home, and compared it to a time when it would have taken him 2 weeks, coming to the library, to complete the same research.
What trends in higher education are currently affecting the UW Library?
This question comes at an interesting time. Both the Library and the University are undergoing strategic reviews, and we are all moving down a path to answer the question "where are we?" There are a variety of trends occurring at the campus level that we have to ensure the Library is in sync with. The University president has asked campus units, including the Library, to focus on academic excellence, student success, student engagement and retention, and teaching excellence. The current financial reality is another trend affecting us. You cannot talk about higher education without recognizing that Ontario is one of the lowest funded in this sector. Because of this, there has been a real focus at UW on how to supplement funds, and so the University has looked at innovative ways of fundraising and development. In the Library, fundraising activities have helped us to repurpose some of our spaces, and increase access to electronic resources.
Do you spend a lot of time fundraising?
Yes, this is a significant part of my job, particularly during a major campus campaign. Like all other units on campus, we are in general all using money from “one pot”, and so we need to focus on partnerships and collaborations to get a bigger bang for the buck.
You mentioned student success. What do you see as possible ways of assessing the library’s impact upon students?
That is one of the findings I am hoping will become evident in our strategic library review, that we determine best ways to assess our service quality. Currently we gain some of that information through surveys, focus groups, through ongoing engagement with students, the front line staff and liaison librarians that work with students, and through conversations with UW’s Federation of Student. We need to think about a multipronged approach of gathering our information, and then determine the best ways to act on the feedback that we gather.
How prominent are ebooks in the future of the UW Library?
A key point to recognize here is that regardless of format – print or online – books matter; I think sometimes we lose sight of this in our discussions. It is not one or the other, it is both. While ebooks gain relevancy here at the UW Library, we remember that our print collections continue to be heavily used. There is continual demand for our own books, but also for material that comes through our consortial partnership with the Tri-University Group of Libraries (TUG, which includes UW, with the universities of Guelph and Wilfrid Laurier), not to mention ILL. Our distance education efforts also benefit from the use of ebooks. Another thing that ebooks have allowed us to do is manage our physical space better by replacing, for example, many of our print books in the sciences with ebooks. Of course this does not work across the board, and these decisions are often discipline based. Interestingly, while our ebook usage grows, our purchase of print books is back to levels that I have not seen for 20 years. This returns us to the fact that we live an extremely rich information environment. One final comment about ebooks is that the ebook market is in flux, with many unresolved issues of access rights, digital rights management, and platform and device availability.
What are some ways have library services changed over the past 5 years?
Introducing our eReserves (ARES) system has streamlined things for faculty, and it has positioned us well in terms of the current copyright environment. The issues of open access and open journals are also important to us, and we have set up a pre-print server. The other interesting way our services have changed involve our physical spaces. In consultation with our student users, we have altered many of our spaces to serve them better.
How have library resources and services changed based on student and faculty expectations?
Electronic theses is a good example of this. While online theses submission is mandatory now, it was not always fully supported by all student associations, but with student input it has become accepted over time. The physical reconfiguration also involved student input, with participation by students involved in a systems design course classes at UW's Architecture School. For faculty, we focus on regular engagement with all faculty, and the Library has representation all faculty councils. The liaison librarians continually engage with faculty. When we talked about the renovations, one of the first things we did include faculty members who we knew were interested in our space, and gathered their input as well.
What do you hear from students and faculty that they really like about the Library?
We regularly hear positive responses about the ability to get resources delivered from TUG libraries. Our physical spaces are also appreciated. I know that between class times is not the best time to go down to library coffee shop, since the place is packed. Our space is in such demand that I see students working in stairwells (this is not necessarily a good thing!). As mentioned before, our access to electronic resources is always appreciated. And from the faculty perspective, each year I receive positive feedback from new faculty who receive a brief email from me connecting them with their liaison librarian and a few useful links for information that would important to them. And finally, our students and faculty appreciate the librarians and staff that they receive research help from.
What is the biggest challenge currently facing the UW Library?
There are many challenges, and we as part of our strategic library review we are engaging broadly with the campus community to help identify them. We know that they will broadly relate to advancing research and scholarship, enabling student success, engaging with our users, serving our satellite campuses; and ensuring that our staff have the resources they need to continually train and adapt. At the ground level, we have a space crunch across campus that needs to be addressed. The challenge is to make sure the Library can do what it needs to do in an appropriate way with its resources and spaces, ensuring that they are strategically aligned with the university's strategic directions.
Are they any challenges that wake you up at night?
In general I sleep well! Interestingly, if I wake up, it is with thoughts of the world economy and the impact that it will have on all aspects of our work and life. UW has done a good job to position itself to weather the economic crisis. It meant at times that we had to have ongoing cuts, but at the same time strategic reallocation of funds.
Do you have any words of wisdom for anyone interested in a career in libraries?
It is good to keep in mind that libraries represent a large spectrum of opportunity, and not all libraries are the same. All the library sectors – public, academic, special, etc. – represent many different areas of expertise, and which one you get involved in is important, for sometimes it may be difficult to jump from one sector to another. I think people need to be flexible, and a helpful trait is curiosity. And of course, the nature of the beast is that new librarians need to be IT savvy, and if they are not, to pursue it. All librarians, new and veteran, should be thinking about how to differentiate themselves, how to make themselves stand out, and to focus on specific things. There are the usual ways you want to engage with other people, and for example participation in library associations is one way. But another way is to look for and create different opportunities for yourself. There is not one way to do this, but regardless of the direction, it will involve taking charge of your own future.