Podcast Episode 5 Transcript

From the Office of the Provost

Episode 5: Discovering Resources, Research Expertise, One-of-a-Kind Collections, and New Spaces within the University Library System


Joe McCarthy: Hello and welcome to "From the Office of the Provost," a podcast that highlights exciting activities and initiatives in the Office of the Provost and University-wide that bolster and enhance our collective vision for growth and transformation. I'm your host, Interim Provost Joe McCarthy, and today I'm joined by Kornelia Tancheva, Hilman University Librarian and Director of the University Library System.

Kornelia joined the University in May of 2017. As director, she oversees the University Library System, which comprises 10 libraries, including those on the regional campuses. The ULS holds over 7 million print and electronic books and journals, hundreds of databases and full text digital resources, as well as a variety of archival materials and special collections.

The University Library System is also a host to many additional resources and spaces that support research, teaching, and learning, such as research specialists, research guides curated by library staff, makerspaces, and much more.

Welcome, Kornelia.

Kornelia Tancheva: Thank you, Joe. I'm so excited to be part of this series.

McCarthy: Well Kornelia, we're fortunate to have such a robust library system that services all of Pitt’s campuses. Could you detail some of the specific supports available to the community?

Tancheva: That's a question that we probably need hours and hours in order for me to detail everything that we offer. So, I'm going to try and be very selective and just touch on what I think might be of most interest to our audiences and what I also think is very important for them to know.

Obviously, everybody knows that the library provides general and unique collections, and you mentioned some of the numbers there. But if there's something that any of our constituencies want, and we don't have it in our collections, please don't forget that we also offer Interlibrary Loan or EZBorrow. In other words, we can get it for you wherever it is in the world.

And then what I wanted to specifically highlight: We have research specialists who can work with you to provide consultations on your research projects, including helping you with data management plans; as you know, federal funders are requesting those as a condition for grant applications. 

We can also provide metadata consultations. For instance, as you're collecting your data, you probably don't have the time or even the know-how to describe the data so that it can be reused, preserved, and can talk to other data sets. Well, we can do that for you. 

We also provide copyright consultations, digital humanities support, GIS – geographic information systems support – data visualization, and a lot of support in the area of publishing.

Then I want to say a few words about the teaching-learning area. So our librarians provide customized class-related sessions. You can bring your classes. You can get help with specific assignments that use library resources. You can have us talk about using information, ethically and responsibly. And a lot of professors are very excited to bring their classes specifically to our special collections.

By the way, the number of sessions that we are providing there has jumped by 300% in the recent years because of the spaces that we now have there, and because of the resources that we provide. 

And then, we offer a lot of workshops. They could be workshops on things like coding languages, Python, they could be workshops on GIS – things that, you know, you've always wanted to learn, but never had the time to do it. So come to the library and you can learn those skills.

I specifically also want to mention a few, what we call experiential learning opportunities for students. That includes internships with the library, co-ops, residences, graduate student assistantships, as well as opportunities to curate exhibits, both analog exhibits and digital exhibits on our digital interactive wall. We have spaces and programs that support the acquisition of curricular and extracurricular skills or the enhancement of those skills.

For instance, I don't know if people know that we have a very robust equipment lending program out of Hillman. So let's say you're an engineering student, but you wanted to do a podcast or you wanted to do a video. Please come to the library and borrow our equipment. We can also provide some help with how to use it.

And then the various spaces that we have created in the renovated Hillman are also probably going to be of interest.

McCarthy: Okay, that's fantastic. I'm always pleasantly surprised by how much I learned during these podcasts. Speaking of the renovation, though, as many in the Pitt community know and a good chunk of us can often hear, the Hillman Library is undergoing renovations, as you mentioned, with the final phase underway. Can you give us a look into the progress and what's in store for the library?

Tancheva: So every time I talk about the project, the first question that people ask me is, “When is it going to be over?” Okay, so I'm gonna say it's supposed to be over in spring of 2025. That's the latest news, you heard it here. And we'll see whether this works out.

So the floors that are open now are fourth, third, second and first, and the only floor that is under renovation in this final phase is the ground floor. The spaces that are available to you are multiple study spaces in multiple individual and group configurations. We have increased the number of group study spaces by hundreds of percentages there. So come reserve the rooms, they're extremely popular, by the way, so you know, you have to reserve in advance. The fourth floor is primarily the so-called quiet study floor.

On the third floor, you will find our special collections and our exhibits, as well as our collaborative space with the Center for Creativity, the [Text & conText Lab], which we affectionately call the Book Lab. This is a space that allows you to learn skills that are adjacent to librarianship, to resources in libraries, but also let you engage in creative pursuits. So there you can learn how to make paper, how to print books, how to bind books, how to digitize books by taking your product to our Open Lab and explore the connection between the analog and the physical world in how the message changes when the format does.

On the first floor, you will find another collaborative space that we have with the Center for Teaching and Learning, the so-called Open Lab at Hillman where you would find innovative technologies for teaching and learning such as virtual reality stations, 3D printers, 3D scanner. Again, very popular with classes and with individual students; they come to you know, print, let's say bones in the spine, and other things that they need in order to enhance their learning. So this is really, really something that we are very proud of.

On the ground floor, you will find multiple Media Creation Suites. There's going to be a Media Lab. There's going to be an audio editing space, one button podcast studio, editing rooms. There's also going to be a data science lab. So in general, the idea is that people come to the library in order to learn new skills by doing something. So when they engage in this process of doing the so-called experiential learning, they acquire skills that can help them not only in their academic careers, but post-graduation.

McCarthy: Thanks, Kornelia. I remember back when you and I first met, and I think it was 2017, you did outline your vision of the library being this hub for both learning and research, and I love to hear how that's coming to fruition. Another initiative of yours over the last couple of years has been acquiring a number of special collections, and you mentioned special collections a minute ago. Can you give us some highlights on some of the recent acquisitions?

Tancheva: Special collections play a really important part in what research libraries today are, because the general collections that we have are often overlapping. Almost 80% of the collections are shared between all the research libraries in North America. And because we have this robust system of resource sharing, we don't have to have everything here in order for you to get access to it. So we are focusing on acquiring unique special collections and archives.

Of course, the greatest acquisition in recent years is the August Wilson Archive. But before that, actually, we acquired the George Romero Archive. And around that one, we started building the Horror Stories Archive, which is the premier horror studies archive in the country.

What we're really interested in is having archives and special collections that are used not only for research; obviously, these, the ones that I mentioned, are used for research. And we have others that are of historical strengths to us, like the children's lit collection, or the archive of scientific philosophy; it's very obvious how these are beneficial for research. We build those archives in order to attract not just the new faculty, or the current faculty that are working on those topics, not just the researchers from around the country or around the world, but also for students to get inspiration from those special collections.

So we're really focused on bringing our students as well as the community and high school students into special collections. So that they can learn how to work with artifacts with special collections, how to get their research projects done, but also maybe they find some creative inspiration. So we have students who are looking at our archives and writing plays that are based on some special collection.

And as an aside, another dimension, if you will, of this living archive, is the fact that we are offering creative fellowships to local artists to come use our special collections and create different works of art that just take inspiration from the archives. So we've worked very hard to come up with strategic directions into which our special collections and archival collecting go. Because there are so many materials out there, we can't really acquire everything; we want to be very intentional and deliberate about that.

McCarthy: Nice, thanks. Let's take a step back and think about the whole University for a moment. As director of the University Library System, you're in a unique position in that you oversee libraries on all five campuses. With each campus varying in need and size, how do you maintain access for and support of Pitt students, faculty and staff?

Tancheva: So that's a great question, Joe. And I think that very often, the reality of one library system, University Library System, is lost on a lot of people who are thinking about a specific location or a specific library in that location.

First of all, I want to mention that the University Library System and, for instance, the Health Sciences Library, are separate as far as administrative reporting goes, but that doesn't and shouldn't in any way or form impact users. We work collaboratively with health sciences in order to provide access to all the resources that we share subscriptions to for everybody. And the same is true for people on the regional campuses or for, let's say, students in engineering. Even though there's an engineering library, this is not the only resource that you're using. You're using the resources of the whole University Library System, plus health if you need anything in that area, but it's not just the resources – it is also the expertise.

For instance, we don't have data management specialists in each of our 10 locations. We have a core group of people that services the needs for data management plans, both on the, let's say, Bradford campus and the Greensburg campus, and on the Oakland campus, same with all the other services that we provide. Think of the library as one big source of expertise for everybody. It doesn't matter where you're located. Even if you need something that's a physical book, let's say, and you are, oh, I don't know, you're in Johnstown. And the location of that book is in fine arts, which is part of the University Library System, we'll ship it to you. So we serve all of the Pitt constituencies with the same type of resources, the same type of expertise.

McCarthy: Yeah, thanks. We've certainly covered a lot. But I'd like to look into the future here for a second and, and ask you, you know, what, what are some opportunities coming ahead for the library?

Tancheva: Obviously, we want to have this Hillman renovation project finished, right? But I have to mention that many of our other physical locations also need a lot of tender love and care.

For instance, when we think about the engineering science library, or even fine arts, or even music, all the campus libraries, are there opportunities to renovate those and bring them up more to par with what the research library location should be? So these are two things that are very internally focused.

But then, strategically speaking about the role of the library within Pitt, I would like to see us be a more integral, even greater partner in the research enterprise at the University. Librarians have this information management expertise that is of great use to our researchers and we just need to be emphasizing those types of services.

We also want to look as strategically at our general collections as we have done with our special collections, and make decisions on where we are going to build the strength of our collections, where we are going to rely more on Interlibrary Loan or EZBorrow or other resource sharing opportunities.

And on the national stage, there are three big areas in which we are playing a great role, but I would like to see us contribute more. One is open scholarship, the other is copyright in the digital age, and then freedom of speech and expression. With the current climate of book banning, there's a lot of advocacy that libraries can do.

McCarthy: Thanks, I know that we've only scratched the surface on what's going on in the ULS. So how can people learn more and get connected with the library system and take advantage of the services that you guys offer?

Tancheva: So all of the departments on all the campuses have a librarian that's their department liaison. So you should find out who that person is. Go to the library website and find the liaison for your department or school or campus and start there. Any question that you have, if they cannot answer it immediately, they will point you to the group of people or the person who can answer that question. Then, we also have something called the Student Library Advisory Board. I'm very excited about that. I've been working with them for the last, I want to say, five years. And we ask them for feedback on things that we're thinking about. They bring in concerns.

Of course, you can learn a lot more about our services on our website, library.pitt.edu. You can use our Ask a Librarian service, which is a virtual help tool. And in general – because I can absolutely not enumerate everything that we can do to support your academic and post-graduation careers if you're a student – think of the library as your community resource. If you have an idea for an exhibit or an event, if you want to somehow connect that to our special collections. Or if you have an idea about the thematic celebration of some sort, I don't know, Women's History Month, African American History Month, et cetera, et cetera. If you are a faculty who would like to try a new approach to research, do something with digital humanities – get in touch with us. Chances are we can help or we'll know who to refer you to.

McCarthy: Thank you so much, Kornelia, for joining me today and sharing the great work that you and your team are doing in the University Library System. And as usual, thank you listeners for tuning in. I'm Interim Provost John McCarthy and this has been “From the Office of the Provost.”