On November 1st, 1990, Bobbie Collins set foot on the campus of Wake Forest University and began her career as the Social Sciences Reference Librarian at the Z. Smith Reynolds Library. As a Tennessee native with a background in Education, Bobbie had originally embarked on a path to pursue school librarianship, but after working at the University of Tennessee Graduate Library as a Research Assistant in the Reference Department, she decided to continue a career in academic librarianship.
After 24 years with the Z. Smith Reynolds Library and Wake Forest University, Bobbie will be retiring on April 30th. But before she flies the coop, she sat down with me to discuss her fabulous career and share her insights, memories, and lessons from a life in the Library.
We talk a lot about change in libraries, but there are some things that remain the same. From your perspective, what has changed and what has stood the test of time?
Technology has changed how we deliver some of our information. For example, researchers now have access to electronic journals and electronic databases. Probably one of the biggest changes was saying goodbye to the card catalog. The card catalog served us well for generations. It was an exciting time for libraries when the online catalog was introduced. My first experience with an online catalog was at Texas A&M University in 1982. I helped to develop an instructional program to train students and faculty on how to search the online catalog. Through the years, we have seen enhancements and improvements to the online catalog. Search functions are more sophisticated, and the user interface has definitely improved. It is interesting how people take technology for granted. There was a time when there was no email, no online resources. In April 1992, an email instruction class was offered to ZSR staff members. Email enabled us to launch our popular AskZSR email reference service, and now we can assist patrons beyond our building.
What has remained the same, I believe, is our mission and our basic service. We still collect materials (books, journals, etc.), organize them, and provide access to them in order to help the WFU community succeed.
With the exhaustive amount of information now available online, do you have any words of advice to offer patrons for finding the information they need?
I like to ask myself, “where could that be hiding?” I like to think of information as being packaged, for example, words are packaged in dictionaries, journal citations in indexes/databases, statistical/factual information in almanacs. I’m always thinking, “where would somebody put that?”. This stems from a time before electronic sources, when you had to consider who was printing that information at that time. Are you going to find it in multiple sources? This is not as true today, maybe because the web has provided people with the ability to use search engines to find that kind of factual or statistical information themselves, and they are not used to consulting specialized resources. The questions we receive today are more advanced and require further knowledge about where an item or piece of information may be stored and how can we access it.
What is your favorite library space at ZSR, and why?
I sometimes like to visit levels 7 and 8 on the Reynolds Wing, and another place I really like is Government Documents on Reynolds 4. I enjoy looking at all of the old government documents, and finding interesting items to browse. There are many little gems waiting to be discovered in those stacks. Just browsing the stacks, I have been able to find resources that I can use when responding to student research inquiries. With resources such as the Public Papers of the Presidents, students who are researching the 1960s and the moon landing can read John F. Kennedy’s “Moon Speech”.
There is no doubt you’ve helped countless patrons, and taught multitudes of students about academic research. What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned from your work at ZSR?
One thing that I love about being a reference librarian is that every day presents a new challenge. So one of my ZSR lessons is to always stay curious. There is always something new to learn, and I am hoping to remain curious– that is one thing that has sustained me throughout my whole career. When I don’t have the slightest clue as to a topic or a piece of information, (like ostrich farming in North Carolina ), I have the drive to look further.
Looking back on your career, what are some of your favorite ZSR moments?
There are so many different ones, it’s hard to narrow it down. One that definitely comes to mind is moving into the new Wilson Wing. It was so nice to have an instructional classroom (Room 476). Before the move, librarians delivered instructional sessions in the middle of the Reference Department (where Government Documents is now located). Another one would be in 2009, when I mentored Carolyn McCallum for a period of time as she developed instructional material for Information Literacy instructional sessions. Carolyn nominated me for the “Helping Hands” award, and I was honored for assisting a colleague.
Congratulations on your retirement, Bobbie! And thank you for your years of dedicated service! You will be missed!