by Shanesha R. F. Brooks-Tatum (Project Coordinator/Writer, HBCU Library Alliance) <email@example.com>
Savannah State University is the oldest public HBCU in the state of Georgia and the oldest institution of higher education in the city of Savannah. Founded in 1890, the campus serves 4,300 students and an increasingly diverse population.
The Asa H. Gordon Library is the main library on campus, where Mary Jo Fayoyin has been the Library Director for ten years. In 2007, Fayoyin and her staff implemented an enhanced strategic plan that positioned the library to spearhead innovations that have garnered institutional, local, and national press coverage. Transformations in these areas were prompted by the library staff’s self-assessment, which made clear their need to holistically examine and rethink their approach to customer service.
“The questions that we reflected on were ‘Why we do what we do?’ and ‘How can we improve what we do?’” stated Fayoyin. Following the initial assessment, the library implemented a strategic plan addressing key areas that surfaced from patrons’ feedback. Asa H. Gordon Library’s innovations are primarily in three areas: cutting-edge technology, information literacy and assessment, and library accessibility.
Although technological advances were made, assessment tools were strengthened, and library accessibility was substantially improved, the library’s core strategy continues to be improved customer service. “Our library is innovative for the sake of customer service. We are forward-thinking and customer-oriented because we value our patrons,” Fayoyin added.
The HBCU Library Alliance was especially helpful in providing the leadership training Savannah State library staff and faculty needed to create a strong and clearly-defined strategic plan. While the HBCU Library Alliance identified the library’s strengths and weaknesses, implementing the enhanced strategic plan required the commitment and efforts of the entire library staff.
James Stevens, Systems, Databases, and Periodicals Librarian and COST (College of Science and Technology) Liaison, wrote script for most of the programs and helped lead technological advancements at the library. He spearheaded the development of the library’s text messaging reference service, which received “trend setter status” recognition in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the HBCU Digest. However, technology is useless without training for the end-user, so Stevens developed programming to train students. He developed a strong relationship with the Student Body President and Cabinet through giveaways and other incentives for students.
Louise Wyche, a librarian at the Gordon Library for over ten years, focused on improving customer service. Wyche and Librarian, Ivy Brannen developed a training program for library assistants and student assistants. Brannen, who earned her Master’s degree in Library Science while working as a Library Assistant at Savannah State, now heads the Circulation Department, which helps students have easy access to resources. “We received funding to hire additional librarians, and we were happy to support Ms. Brannen as she earned her library degree,” Fayoyin remarked.
Caren Agata heads the library’s Information Literacy Program, which was implemented with grant funding in 2008. The information literacy program ensures that students leave Savannah State as information literate and civically engaged citizens of the world. Librarians are recognized as fellow teachers on campus, assigned to colleges, academic departments, and/or programs on campus through the Library Liaison Program.
Savannah State faculty members were paid a stipend with an understanding that they would incorporate information literacy into their courses. Lauren MacMillan, Collection Development Librarian and Liaison for the Social Sciences, particularly helped spearhead this effort through the assessment of programs. As illustrated in Table 1, the Information Literacy Program has grown tremendously.
The Asa H. Gordon Library applied for a two-year grant as a part of the university’s Title III award to implement the program. But first, library staff had to secure university support to apply for the grant. “Think outside of the box when it comes to funding programs,” Fayoyin suggests. “Everyone is asking for funds. Find seed money to prove that your program is important and needed, and to ensure that it will be successful,” she adds. Because of its success, the Information Literacy Program has become institutionalized and is funded out of the university’s state budget allocation.
In order to determine the degree of success achieved, library staff engage in continuous multilevel assessment of all programming, initiatives, and special activities at the library. Student learning outcomes are assessed using the Project SAILS (Standard Assessment of Information Literacy Skills) exam. Pre- and post-testing documents students’ information literacy skills and proficiency levels and pinpoints areas needing improvement.
Data on user satisfaction are collected through the suggestion board, the comment section of the library Website, surveys, and LibQual, a survey tool created for academic libraries. User satisfaction surveys run continuously, not just at set times during the semester or academic year, and replies are posted to the suggestion board and library Website. “When patrons know that you are honestly interested in what they think and how they feel, and that you are open to receiving their feedback at any time, this builds open, genuine relationships that lead to more innovative transformations,” Fayoyin remarked.
Some of these transformations include building a café in the library, designing a presentation/collaboration area, providing space for the ReWrite Center, creating a Gallery to celebrate African art, and maintaining up-to-date technology in the library’s computer lab, which is open longer than any other lab on campus. To ensure that the technology remains in working order, three staff members — James Scott, James Stephens, and Hunt Luker — agreed to take on the added responsibility of maintaining lab computers. While the library is not able to meet every single need, library staff do their best to compromise by understanding the circumstances informing each request and deciding on what will benefit the most patrons. This helps ensure the delivery of excellent customer service.
Now, librarians at Savannah State sit on several campus committees, and Fayoyin sits on the Deans’ Council. “We have a say in the University’s strategic planning and budgeting committees. We’re able to affect change in a greater way,” said Fayoyin.
In this age of swift technological changes and austere economic cuts, libraries cannot continue to do things “the same old way,” Fayoyin further explained. “We need to continuously critically examine what we are doing and change the ways that we practice librarianship in order to meet the needs of our patrons.”
To learn more, visit http://library.savannahstate.edu.
Leah was appointed Executive Director of the Charleston Conference in 2017, and has served in various roles with the Charleston Information Group, LLC, since 2004. Prior to working for the conference, she was Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions for the College of Charleston for four years. She lives in a small town near Columbia, SC, with her husband and two kids where they raise a menagerie of farm animals.