SJR Column: Brookens Library, April 2014

One of my favorite locations on the University of Illinois Springfield campus is the Norris L. Brookens Library. Dedicated in 1976, the Library was the first permanent building on the campus. During the nearly four decades since its construction, the Brookens Library, like many other academic libraries, has been transformed to become much more that a repository and circulator of books. Thanks in part to the strong leadership of Library Dean Jane Treadwell, the legendary hushed atmosphere is long gone and in its place is a lively, digitally sophisticated, and entrepreneurial “learning commons” where professional librarians and peer support staff provide all manner of resources and services and make possible – for students, faculty, staff and visitors – the vibrant circulation of ideas.

And when you think of a librarian, what words come to mind? Quiet, stuffy, drab, timid, puritanical, strict, fastidious? Well, that’s another thing about libraries that has changed! Sarah Sagmoen, whose official title is Director of Learning Commons and User Services, is a perfect example. Sarah has just been named a 2014 “Mover and Shaker” by the American Library Association. This prestigious national recognition is given each year to 50 emerging leaders in the library profession who are innovative and creative and who are moving libraries ahead to be more relevant and to better serve library users.

Sarah acquired her “customer service skills” at a young age.  Growing up in Kewanee, Illinois, her parents both ran local businesses and, while in high school, Sarah worked at Heartfelt Gifts, her mother’s gift shop. As a graduate student in Library and Information Science at Chicago’s Dominican University, she managed a Lebanese restaurant.

Those early experiences have served Sarah – and UIS – exceedingly well. She now leads a team of 16 tech-savvy student employees who provide “roving reference” customer service throughout the Library and who use computers and iPads to assist library patrons to select and access resources; including over 40,000 e-journals, 200,000 e-books and 120 full-text multidisciplinary databases as well as over a half million print volumes.

“Students come to the library for many reasons,” says Sarah, “to participate in an information literacy class, to meet with a study group, to access electronic resources, to study on their own, to watch a video, to work on projects together, to meet for individual consultation with a librarian and, yes, even to check out books.”

“One of the biggest challenges for academic libraries today,” says Dean Treadwell, “is teaching students how to navigate the masses of information now available electronically. An essential part of information literacy,” she says, “is learning how to wade through, filter, evaluate and select the best resources.”

Whatever their needs, Brookens library patrons learn quickly that library staff are energetic, knowledgeable and creative and are there to help them. The old stereotypes of the librarian have disappeared and, according to Sarah, she gets shushed more often than she ever shushes someone else!

Like all of her colleagues in the Library, Sarah is passionate about working with students. “Some days that means I’m in the classroom teaching,” she notes. “Other days I’m supervising the library’s student book club, working with student support staff, creating new ideas for the annual Haunted Library or locating resources for a faculty member who is designing a new course.” Next week, Sarah will be standing knee-deep in mud. She volunteers each year to serve as a judge during the annual UIS Springfest tug-of-war – a popular campus event.  We would expect nothing less from UIS’s own “Mover and Shaker!

Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield

Chancellor Susan J. Koch