Meet Michael Shires, Collection Development and Subject Librarian at the Dr. Archer Library & Archives
The following post is based on excerpts of an interview conducted by Ellen Paulley, Communications Officer for URFA, and it is published with permission. The original interview is available at https://www.urfa.ca/news/q-a-with-michael-shires-urfa-member-mobilization-committee-chair.
What is a Collection Development and Subject Librarian?
First, I’ll mention that all librarians and archivists at Archer Library hold faculty status, so there are 14 in-scope librarians. Regarding collections, I coordinate reviewing some faculty requests for new physical and e‑book purchases. Decisions are based on various criteria: price, if it supports teaching, research and curriculum development.
I also oversee physical book donations, but we do get the odd donation of music records and items that might be suitable for placement in special collections, like older materials. We can often be gifted with unique titles, or at times we’re relying on faculty requests for new items to support curriculum and research. When faculty retire, they often will think of the library and donate their materials. I love donations work. It’s really interesting — it’s kind of like getting gifts, so it’s fun.
Regarding being a subject librarian, I provide library supports, which include instruction and showing how to use our online resources and services, providing research and reference assistance to students and faculty in different departments and faculties. Part of that library support involves, especially with students, instilling a knowledge of information literacy which involves developing critical thinking skills and evaluating sources used in the library’s many databases.
Part of your work is exploring and fulfilling requests for new resources. Do you also seek out new resources or materials?
For collections, we have a committee called CAT, or the Collections Assessment Team. CAT includes the Head of Technical Services and Collections, myself, and other subject librarians. We meet regularly throughout the year and assess database license renewals. Decision-making is based on various criteria including usage statistics, cost per download and how resources support teaching, research, and curriculum development. When funds are available, offers for one-time purchases of specialized online historical collections are discussed.
How has your work as a librarian been impacted by COVID-19 and what adaptations have you made?
Like everybody else, we quickly and fairly successfully pivoted to serving the university community online last March. But it wasn’t much of an issue for the more than 50 librarians and library staff. One of the main reasons is that many of our resources have been online for decades; you can access them from anywhere. One challenge was how people could request to loan materials in our physical collections when those areas in the library building were closed.
For the most part, the library’s main floor has been open by appointment where people can book a time and come in for books that we cannot provide as an e‑book. We have a digitization service where we can scan, based on copyright laws, a certain percentage of a book and then it can be uploaded onto an instructor’s reading list in UR Courses. This service was in place before COVID, but knowledge of that, and demand, has increased tremendously.
The library has provided access to many more e‑books temporarily that other libraries have scanned. It’s kind of a consortium of libraries sharing their resources.
In my case, with donations, that’s crawled to a halt. I’ve reviewed one major donation but there are many boxes I need to go through, something I cannot do at home. A lot of my meetings with colleagues and some library instruction sessions, I have done online, which has advantages and disadvantages, but it works. Like others, I miss the hallway conversations, the face-to-face.
The common misconception is that the library closed. We physically were closed for a while, but we’re available through Zoom, chat and email every day, seven days a week.
Is there a unique or obscure book or item in the collection you can highlight?
Our oldest book is in special collections. It’s in Latin and I’ve got the Google translation: In the Hebraic Questions on Genesis as well as over the twelve to take the explanation of the Divine Jerome the younger and the four prophets, by his parents, with the privilege of the newly impresse Commentaria in the Bible by heart. It was published around the year 1497 CE. The binding’s been redone but the pages are original so it’s a massive book. There’s only one copy in the world and we own that copy.
Next thing unique to Archer is we have a great collection of different editions of the novel Robinson Crusoe. The book turned 300 years old in 2019. We have one of the biggest collections of Robinson Crusoe novels in Canada, getting back to like the 6th edition up to copies in different languages; we have a copy in Pitman shorthand.
There are so many books. How does a library decide which novel to collect?
That’s really part of collection development and donating. When I was given this assignment of special collections, it was determined that Dr. John Archer, who was the head of the University of Regina Library at the time back in the early 70s, purchased many old books on different subjects. He purchased this collection from a bookseller in Montréal in the early 70s and it included all of these Robinson Crusoe titles.
What do you find the best part of being a librarian?
I really enjoy the one-on-one sessions with students — you can really spend a lot of time and answer the questions and do some searching with them. And then there is that moment where they begin to understand, it’s a cyclical process of defining your research topic, narrowing it down, choosing a database, developing a search strategy, finding relevant articles, maybe going back and revising. It’s a circular, cyclical process. And if students can understand that, then I’ve been successful.
I want to try and instill in students that we have lots of information to help you. I’m here to help you navigate a pathway through using those materials and it’s a challenge, but I enjoy it.
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