On Campus with: Helena Merriam
September 5, 2017
Coordinator, Library and Information Technician Program, Algonquin College
Where are you from? What did you do before joining the faculty at Algonquin College?
I am originally from Winnipeg, Manitoba and have worked at The Globe and Mail, set up a new library at the Human Resources Professionals Association and taught at Mohawk College and Seneca College, before moving to Ottawa and joining the faculty at Algonquin College, in the Library and Information Technician Program.
What are your research and teaching interests?
I enjoy teaching reference, technology and marketing courses primarily. I am interested in applied research projects, focused at a practitioner level. I am also interested in teaching with technology and effective methods for engaging and motivating students. My most recent project was to determine the effectiveness of a digital badging system in motivating and engaging students.
What advice would you give to a new faculty or staff member?
Think about your favourite professor or teacher and try to be like that person. Bring your love of your subject into the classroom, be compassionate and understanding about student concerns, and be open to learning from your students. Make learning fun, engaging and interactive. Remember to be in charge of your classroom but adaptable to student needs. Take all the courses offered to you about effective teaching, even if you taught before. You can always pick up new ideas. Think carefully about the assignments you give out. Make sure the assignments actually assess student learning and fit in with the course learning outcomes. Consider your marking work load carefully too! Give it your all in the classroom, but be careful not to burn out. Enjoy! Teaching is a wonderful and rewarding profession.
Coolest thing in your office?
This is a tough one. It is a toss-up between the travel coffee mug, inscribed with my very own LC number, accompanied by a heartfelt letter of thanks from a student, or the beautiful hand beaded birch tree, a gift from a talented and creative student.
I also have a Nancy Pearl figurine and a Lego librarian mini-fig, but who doesn’t?
If you didn’t teach librarianship, what would you be doing?
Well, some of my students say I have missed my calling as an actor…. Not sure if this was meant as a compliment or not….
What changes have you seen in the teaching of librarianship since you started teaching?
Some people say that students have changed, and certainly there are some issues with managing digital devices in the classroom, but generally I don’t think students have changed that much. I think students still want the same things; to learn, to do their best, to be successful and to get a job they will love. In terms of the content we are teaching, we teach more technology and encourage students to continue to develop their technology skills. I am excited by much of the new ideas and concepts I am bringing into the classroom, such as the focus on community development in libraries, user experience and the connected library. The concept that libraries are a place to come to create together, not just places to consume information, is inspiring and invigorating.
What do you think is the most important aspect of being an information professional today?
I think focusing on providing a good service is a key aspect in being an information professional today. People can find information online in a much easier way than in the past. However if information professionals can provide a better, faster, more effective service in information provision, organization or analysis, then they will have a role to play. It is important to stay current in this rapidly changing profession as well, but without providing a good service, whether it is in person or online, we will be redundant. Students in academic libraries are still very much lost with all the vast quantity of information and will continue to need assistance and guidance on how to navigate the information landscape. Businesses and government will continue to make decisions based on the best information at their disposal and information professionals will be there to provide this service.
How do you stay current in your field?
I attend conferences, such as the Ontario Library Association Super Conference, Library 2.0 web conference, and read library science literature. I have some favourite online go-to places to help me stay on top of future trends, such as the ALA Center for the Future of Libraries. I also supervise our students on field placements, and the feedback from employers provides information I need to keep our program current. I rely on our Program Advisory Board at the college to bring information about the field and am very grateful for the support of the professionals who serve on that board.
What emerging topics do you foresee in the future of LIS research?
The field of data and big data is certainly dominating now and will continue to do so, along with machine learning, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. The growth of the sharing economy seems to have potential for the library field as well, as the library enjoys a position of trust needed in a sharing economy. The concept of resiliency may be an area to explore in future research. Cities are developing resiliency plans to prepare for recovery from physical, social or economic disruptions. Exploring how libraries can participate and contribute to these plans may be an emerging topic to research.