Gonzaga librarian Pekala discusses the modernization of libraries

Shayna Pekela joined Gonzaga's library staff in August as the school's first scholarly communication librarian.  

When was the last time you visited Foley Library? It might’ve been to study, check out a book, meet for a group project or maybe even to find a quiet place to hide yourself away and nap.

That’s what many Zags might think of when they picture the library, but new Foley librarian Shayna Pekala wants you to know if you’re one of those people, you’re probably missing out on a lot.

“I might not be able to speak collectively on behalf of all librarians, but my greatest frustration is when people still think that all libraries do is check out books,” she said.

Pekala began at Foley in August as Gonzaga’s first scholarly communication librarian. Her job involves managing Foley’s research publication efforts, something she was initially drawn to because of its unique cross between working with research materials and the growing field of online publication. As purchasing access to publication databases such as JSTOR become more expensive and less practical, academic libraries like Foley have gotten into the business of publishing research journals themselves, so they are free for anyone, not just students, to access.

“We want to support researchers at Gonzaga who are engaged in scholarly publishing to make their publications a reality, and sort of support open access in that way,” Pekala said.

Gonzaga’s open access publication program was launched spring 2019, and is only home to one journal, the Journal of Hate Studies created by the Gonzaga Institute of Hate Studies. Despite there only being one currently, the library hopes to begin publishing more soon.

“Across higher education, open access publications is a trend,” said Brad Matthies, associate dean at Foley Library. “From the libraries perspective, we still have traditional physical materials and our spaces, but of equal importance is our digital presence. This is a component of that. For example, the short-term goals I know Shayna is working to start looking at what types of content we want to gather and put into some sort of open access repository. What she is looking at primarily on the first pass is student and faculty content.”

Pekala has previously done similar work at the libraries for Georgetown University and Indiana University, but she finds GU’s smaller size to present a unique challenge in terms of her work.

But the open access program is just one part of Pekala’s position at Foley. A major part of every librarian’s job is to be an available asset to students doing research-based projects.

“For every class, every course, every department, there is a liaison librarian who is specifically meant for [students] to use as a resource,” Pekala said. “They can make an appointment with them as many times as they want for their research.”

Additionally, Pekala and her colleagues teach Information Literacy lessons in classes upon a professor’s request, as well as to students in programs such as Building Relationships in Diverse Gonzaga Environments (BRIDGE).

“We don’t just provide resources, but we also provide services that teach you how to take advantage of [resources] and how to think critically about information and how to evaluate the deluge of information that is out there,” she said.

In fact, a librarian’s work revolves around being a well-rounded resource for library patrons. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to be hired as a librarian you need a master’s degree in library science. Many states, including the State of Washington, also require that librarians receive official governmental certification.

“Librarians are tenure-track faculty here. So, we do a lot more than just check out books, for sure,” Pekala said.

Another common misconception about libraries? That the digital age is making them obsolete.

“What she’s really trying to do is impose order on chaos because there is disparate groups talking about open access,” Matthies said. “She’s pulling the whole problem together, summarizing it and making sure it gets done right.”

The Association of Research Libraries, a nonprofit made up of more than 120 scholarly libraries in North America, emphasizes that the role of a research library has transformed in the digital age but has in no way diminished.

“Research libraries will be even more intimately engaged in supporting the full life cycle and activity range of knowledge discovery, use and preservation, as well as the curating and sharing of knowledge in diverse contexts of the university’s mission and of society more broadly,” they said in their 2013 vision statement.

Considering this, Pekala believes the internet is no impediment to her job whatsoever.

“Libraries are just all about connecting people with information,” she said. “What form that information takes makes no difference to a library.”

In addition to open access publication, information literacy instruction and research assistance, Foley provides many other services for students that Pekala believes often go under-utilized. Among them include access to the online versions of both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, a sizable board game collection in the library and a visit from therapy dogs every finals week.

“You can ask us questions, too, that are not necessarily research-based,” Pekala said. “Librarians are really great at connecting you to information, no matter what type of information that is.”

Next time you’re struggling with a research paper, can’t figure out how to get some information or just need a nice place for a break, Foley and its staff are there for you. According to Pekala, you don’t even have to bring your inside voice.

“That’s another common misconception,” she said. “You don’t have to be quiet on every floor of the library.”

Karenna Blomberg is a contributor.

Riley Utley contributed to the reporting of this story. She is the head news editor. Follow her on Twitter: @rileyutley.


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