5 Questions: with Beth Namachchivaya, University Librarian

Monday, October 16, 2023

Once a month the Student Engagement and Communications Assistant co-op student interviews Library staff to provide Library patrons with a peek behind the bookstacks at all the work that happens to provide a variety of services and resources that support the learning, research and innovation that happens at Waterloo. 

This month, co-op student Meray Philobbos interviewed Beth Namachchivaya, University Librarian to coincide with National Library Month, a celebration of the valuable role libraries play in the lives of Canadians.

Question 1: How does your position benefit the Library community?

Beth: As the University Librarian, I communicate the many ways in which the Library helps to advance learning and research. Libraries exist to help us ask difficult questions and find the information, tools, and expertise to understand and solve problems. I focus on crafting that message and being the two-way conduit between the people who are delivering the Library’s programs and services and the students, faculty and staff who use them

Meray: That message is so important because it gives people direction and helps them understand what's happening. You’re the voice that guides people. What’s your favourite part about doing this work?

Beth: My favourite part is interacting with many different people and groups across campus, as well as alumni and community groups. For example, over the spring and fall terms, I have met with the dean of each faculty to learn about their activities and priorities, and in turn to share information about how Library-provided services and resources help to advance the work of their students and faculty.

Q2: What is one Library service or resource that Library users should know about?   

Beth: The Library is a highly valued place for study and collaboration but it’s also an information resource in and of itself. While over two million people visit the library in-person every year to study, find information, or attend an instruction session, we have millions of virtual visitors each year as well. Community members visit our website to find information about our services, or to research information from a database, book or journal. Waterloo students might use the Library’s Omni catalogue or Google to easily find an article or book; behind the scenes, it’s the Library connecting them to that resource in our collection. It's a little considered fact—the Library works tirelessly to make finding and using information as easy as possible. 

Q3: What other faculties or departments do you work with on campus? 

Beth: I am fortunate to work with almost all of the units and groups on campus! In my day-to-day work I collaborate regularly with student groups, colleagues from other Academic Support Units, Faculties and across University administration, including the Board of Governors and Senate.

Q4: Where do you see the future of the Library?  

Beth: For the last couple of years, the Library has been focusing on reimagining our physical spaces to communicate a broad range of services and resources. This fall, the Provost has asked the Library, alongside his office, to engage the University community in re-imagining library spaces and programs to support learning, research and community building—for now and into the future. Waterloo is renowned for its experiential learning. A virtual reality lab is but one example of how academic libraries advance experiential learning—through projects (course- or research-focused) that give learners the tools and supports to create immersive experiences as part of problem-solving. The Library is delighted to engage in conversations and brainstorming with the University community about what the future of library services, spaces and programs at Waterloo can become.
Going into this initiative, we know two important things about libraries: first, advancing scholarship through knowledge creation and stewardship is a critical part of what libraries do today and what they will do in the future, regardless of format. Second, the ability to integrate knowledge into new solutions fuels creative thinking, which is at the heart of the University of Waterloo’s vision. This is precisely why the University is poised to reimagine Library spaces, programs and services as integral to campus programs—to advance the flexibility to think differently, and to realize the outcomes of unconventional thinking.

Q5: What is your favorite book?

Beth: My current favorite book is called Designing Libraries for the 21st Century, edited by H. Thomas Hickerson, Joan K. Lippincott and Leonora Crema. It is packed with examples and ideas for reimagining academic and research libraries for the future. A key question that this book explores is how do library spaces, programs, technologies and expertise advance learning and research in this century and beyond? 

Meray: That sounds like such an insightful book. What’s something that really stuck out to you while reading it?

Beth: In the book, Harriette Hemmasi notes the transformational role of libraries in scholarship—a role that helps learners and scholars to apply readily available information, technology tools, and expertise to advance new ideas and solutions to problems—the essence of experiential learning:

“The future of scholarship is the future of universities and the future of libraries… For scholarship to be transformed, students and faculty need their libraries to grow and flourish as laboratories and communal workshops where they can learn and share tools, skills, and ideas.  Libraries need their university’s support to invest more deeply and deliberately in their services and spaces that enable exploration, experimentation, and iteration of all forms and methods of making scholarship.”

If you enjoyed reading about Beth’s role at the Library, read our previous interviews in the series:

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