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Beyond Books

Lisa Norberg“There has never been a more exciting time to be a librarian,” says Lisa Norberg. She should know. Norberg is a librarian who started in the profession during what might be called the “paper age”—before Google, iPad, and the incessant chorus of pundits declaring the death of print. The digital age has upped the ante. To be sure, it’s easier for the average person to find information, but the amount of information can seem endless, and it can be difficult to determine which sources are trustworthy. Norberg and her colleagues are there to do what they have always done: help people wade through the morass and find the facts. “Books are a huge and important part of our work but in reality our work is much broader than that,” she says. “We are there to collect, organize, distribute, and preserve cultural heritage in whatever form it takes. as the primary vessel for our culture moves into the digital realm, we’re right there providing electronic access and finding ways to organize and preserve our digital heritage.” As Barnard’s new dean of library and academic information services, Norberg brings the skill, experience, and ideas that will help the school renovate and innovate the ways in which it organizes and preserves its heritage. and she may make the library a more exciting place.

“Librarians today work in an incredibly dynamic field,” Norberg says. The editors of U.S. News & World Report agree. Last year, the magazine named the “underrated” librarian among its list of best careers. But it wasn’t necessarily Norberg’s first choice. The self-proclaimed “accidental librarian,” fell into the profession by complete chance. With a bachelor’s degree in political science from the university of Wyoming, Norberg headed to Indiana University, in Bloomington, to get a graduate degree in public affairs. once there, she asked a faculty adviser to recommend a computer class to hone her technical skills. “He inadvertently enrolled me in a library science class that had ‘computer’ in the title,” she says. Despite the mistake, Norberg was hooked. “I didn’t know that such a thing existed but I really loved it and have ever since,” she says.

With a slight shift in focus, Norberg aimed for a dual degree in public affairs and library science. But once she completed the library science degree, she received a job offer she could not resist, as public-affairs librarian at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. The job required her to specialize in the subjects of public and international affairs, an ideal match for her academic skill-set.

Norberg headed to Penn state Harrisburg for her next job, specializing even further with a combined position as public affairs librarian and head of government documents. One of her favorite aspects of the new job was teaching students and faculty how to find and use information. She so enjoyed the work, she wanted to do more of it and went on to a position as coordinator of instructional services at university of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Norberg worked with the library staff to develop a variety of instructional and outreach projects for students and faculty, and was eventually promoted to serve as UNC’s director of public services, overseeing half a dozen different departments— including circulation, interlibrary loans, instruction, and research.

One of the projects she oversaw was the Knowledge Commons, a project that involved a major reorganization of the public-service staff and a renovation of the library. The renovation included space for a faculty center, a teaching lab, a café, and spaces for individual and group study. She also helped establish a program where librarians would provide individual support to specific academic departments.

The achievements by Norberg at UNC stood out to the hiring committee at Barnard. “We all felt Lisa demonstrated vast experience, particularly in terms of the library support for faculty and students,” says Angela Haddad, assistant provost at Barnard, who chaired the selection committee. “And she was very interested in what users thought about products and services—seeking input on how the library can be more beneficial to them.”

For Norberg, the attraction to Barnard was mutual. “I can’t even fathom a better job,” she avers. The school offered the culture of the small liberal arts college, but unlike most small colleges, Barnard is affiliated with the library at Columbia, one of the largest and best research libraries in the country. “That appealed to the librarian in me. It was really ideal.”

Since joining the Barnard staff in mid- February, Norberg has developed plans for big initiatives similar to those she oversaw at UNC. First up is tackling the physical library space in Lehman hall, which she says presents “the ultimate usability challenge. It’s got ‘good bones,’ as they say, but the arrangement of our stacks and circulation desk are a complete mystery to me,” she says. She is excited to be working with the administration on plans for a renovation of the first three floors of Lehman.

Also on her list is more outreach to students and faculty through what is being called the Personal Librarian initiative— assigning librarians to specific groups of students to provide more personal assistance, as well as to each academic department. A partnership with Columbia’s library system on a number of its initiatives will, she hopes, make the collaboration and navigation of the two schools’ systems smoother for both students and faculty.

Norberg and her staff will pilot an e-Portfolio program. an e-Portfolio is a type of online showcase that allows students to document their college experience and achievements in a personal way. “In an e-Portfolio students can post artifacts, detail what they’ve learned, and post things they want to show their potential employers,” she says. “It’s also a tool faculty can use to guide students while they are here at Barnard, and it’s a potential way for students to network with alumnae.”

Norberg is also excited to share her favorite elements of Barnard’s archive. “The institution has such an important legacy and amazing alumnae, that the archive is definitely high on my list of favorite things,” she says. The library staff is working on making the archive’s “incredible treasures” more visible to students, alumnae, and the public at large. The library has a facebook page, for example, which includes many charming photos of alumnae throughout the twentieth century. (There’s also a twitter presence, for those who want to keep up with library news and events.)

One of her favorite aspects of the Barnard library is its large collection of zines—those small-circulation publications born out of the DIY punk movement. The collection, which was begun in 2003, holds more than 3,000 copies of zines with an emphasis on women’s studies, gender identity, and feminism—1,000 of which are in circulation in the stacks on the library’s second floor. “The zines just rock,” says Norberg. “It’s always those things that seem kind of ephemeral at the time that tend to be the most important research finds 100 years from now. When [people] look back on our culture, I think zines will offer incredible insight into a group of women, a generation.”

After just six months on the job, Norberg is earning kudos for her innovation and her attitude. “She has lived up to her reputation as someone who can be a calming influence as changes come forth,” says Haddad. “It’s been fantastic to work with her.” Provost and Dean of the faculty Elizabeth Boylan agrees, “it’s already clear that we will be benefiting from Lisa’s prior experience with space planning and user services, as well as her vision for how our collections and services should develop to serve the changing needs of our community.”

Norberg credits her coworkers for abig part of her job satisfaction. “One of the things that I like most is the people here. the service ethic that is so deeply engrained in our staff really impresses me at every level: everyone is committed to providing the best,” she says.

And, she feels right at home in “fabulous” New York City. Norberg has seen her fair share of cities and towns, and after 10 years spent in lovely, laid-back Chapel Hill, her yen to relocate to the big apple was one of the things that drew her to Barnard. She finds a lot of similarities between big-city living and her own small- town roots. “I grew up in a small town in Wyoming where everybody knew me and I knew everybody, she says. “I feel like I’ve come full circle—on the upper West side, everyone knows me and I know everybody.” She laughs, “at least at the bagel shop where I get my coffee.”

For more information, go to Barnard.edu/library/aboutinf.html

-by Melissa Phipps, photograph by Dorothy Hong