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Past members encourage applicants for Tompkins-McCaw Graduate Advisory Committee

August 9, 2017

Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences is accepting applications from graduate students for 2017-18 seats on its Graduate Advisory Committee and recent members say grad students should embrace this opportunity to have a voice in library operations. 

This committee is an open communication channel between health sciences students and their library. The committee consists of two members from each of the five health sciences schools and a library advisor. They advise the library about the services and resources provided to the health sciences student community. Topics addressed include library programming, policy and strategic vision. 

Steve Barkley, Operations Librarian for Tompkins-McCaw Library, and Emily Hurst, head of the Research and Education Department, are co-advisers for the committee. They recruit members, arrange guest speakers, set the agenda and run the meetings. “I think students perceive the library as a good place to study or work in groups,” Barkley said. “A big challenge for is making sure students know about all of our services and not just what they see when they walk in the front door."

Two members from the 2016-2017 committee shared their advisory experiences and talked about the importance of student membership.

“I always had a certain level of respect for our libraries. Being on the committee opened my eyes to the resources that are available for students,” said Arnethea Sutton (right). “It also gave me an appreciation for the amount of work that occurs in the background to ensure that students have access to quality literary resources, technologies and consultation services.”

Sutton represented the School of Allied Health Professions on the committee and she is a postdoctoral fellow in the VCU School of Medicine. Having served two years with the committee, Sutton said that one of biggest challenges was spreading the word about the library’s services.

“Our libraries are constantly creating new events, hosting workshops, acquiring new technologies, but unfortunately, with such a large and diverse (on-campus, online, commuters) student population, we found that many students were not aware of the libraries offerings” Sutton said.

Alvin Chang served alongside Sutton in 2016-17, and he shared similar thoughts. “It’s really amazing to see what the library has to offer,” Chang said. “I was surprised that more students didn't take advantage of its resources.”

Chang (below) represented the School of Medicine on the committee and is studying cardiology. A member of the class of 2020, plans to reapply for committee service for 2017-18.  

During my year here, the library had some remodeling done on the first floor,” Chang said. “I have to say I was really impressed by the accessibility of the power outlets!”

The prioritization of user space was a common topic of the committee as they discussed the needs of the health sciences student population. The 2017  renovations to Tompkins-McCaw marked a significant improvement to better serve the library’s patrons, they said.

“Health sciences students have been vocal about the space difference between Cabell and Tompkins McCaw, with many students choosing to work at Cabell in the evenings and weekends,” Sutton said.  

These concerns helped influence library operations that led to improvements including expanded library hours and services at the MCV Campus library.

For Sutton, she was pleased to see the committee’s work materialize into results. “We discussed opening up the library to the community for a night to give people an opportunity to see what VCU libraries look like and what they offer,” Sutton said. “The next year, Cabell offered tours to community members. I was very happy to see this as this was one of my suggestions. “

For Chang, he found the committee’s discourse to be reassuring. “As much of the learning material is shifted to digital formats, it was interesting to see how the library staff was working toward suiting the student's best needs. We had the discussion of buying a set of the Microsoft Hololens for learning. While my opinion was different from the others at the committee, it was still a great discussion,” said Chang.

In reflecting about their experiences with Graduate Advisory Committee, Sutton and Chang encourage students to get involved.

“The Graduate Advisory committee is an excellent opportunity to learn about the libraries and their offerings, but it also gives an opportunity for students of different disciplines to come together and learn about the various programs on the health sciences campus. Your voice WILL be heard,” Sutton said. “I really appreciated this committee. I served for two years and had I not graduated, I would have applied to serve for a third year. It is a good feeling to sit on a committee as a student and know that your comments, suggestions, and concerns are not falling upon deaf ears. This committee is really about action and I appreciate that.“

Chang added, “Get to know the library staff. They are very resourceful! It would be useful if the committee came up with a list of resources that would be useful for each respective school. Then the members of the committee can post the guide for students on their class pages.”

Sutton and Chang also extended their appreciation to Stephen Barkley, Operations Librarian and Advisor to the committee, and Emily Hurst, Head of Research and Education at Tompkins-McCaw.

“Stephen Barkley and Emily Hurst are very passionate about hearing the concerns of the students and acting upon them, when feasible,” said Sutton.

“Thanks to Steve for being a wonderful and supportive leader of the committee. We wouldn't be what we are without him,” said Chang.

The committee serves as a powerful channel for student voices to be heard. Students are encouraged to join the conversation. “A big part of our mission is to support health sciences students in their academic and professional endeavors,” said Barkley. “This committee allows students to have a direct impact on the services and technologies we offer and enhances our ability to communicate with users we might not normally reach. My advice to new members is to consider what you might need or what is missing in your academic life and communicate that to us. It can't hurt to ask."

For more information on the Graduate Advisory Committee. To be considered for membership on the 2017-2018 Graduate Advisory Committee, apply online.

This article was written by Kristoffer J Ricasata, VCU Libraries PR Intern. 

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