Menu Close

Month: January 2021

An Interview with Kasia Gonnerman

Early last year, Kasia Gonnerman joined us as the new Dean of UAB Libraries. Here in Huntsville, I have gotten to know Kasia through Zoom meetings and I know I am not the only UAB librarian who is excited about the far-reaching vision and plans that she has for our library system. Her arrival has been described to me as a “breath of fresh air.” The depth of interest that she has shown in not only the overarching mission of the libraries but also the daily minutiae of our work makes it apparent that we are in good hands.

As the new editor of the ALHeLA blog, I thought an interview with her would be a good way to start my tenure, as well as an opportunity for all of the members of our conference to see what our plans are at UAB. Initially I was going to select quotes from the interview and place them in a column-style post. However, the interview that we had proved to be enlightening to the extent that I thought posting it verbatim would be the best way to give her answers justice.

What is your background?

Prior to becoming an academic librarian, I taught linguistics for five years, first at a college in the city of Poznan, Poland, then at a university in Olsztyn, Poland. (My original graduate degree, which I earned in 1990, is in Linguistics and American Literature.) 

What drew you to librarianship?

In my teaching days, I always assumed that I would continue serving in that role until the day I retire. I loved working with students and deeply enjoyed the positive energy and stimulation of the classroom environment. And yet, moving to the US in the mid-1990s made me curious about other professional paths, especially those that would allow me to continue to teach and to work closely with students. 

The more I learned about the work of academic librarians, the more appealing it seemed. I liked the fact that it offered a prospect of working with a broader diversity of students and a wider variation of topics as opposed to a narrower focus of the discipline of linguistics.

What are your favorite aspects of the profession?

Mentoring and encouraging early-career library faculty and staff to pursue their dreams and develop professionally. I find it extremely rewarding to support them as they strive to accomplish their goals and to help them succeed. And I feel that I learn as much from them as they learn from me.

Has your experience at UAB so far been different from ones you have had at previous libraries?

Each institution comes with its own culture, climate, and priorities, creating a unique microcosm of human interactions and work environment, so the experience tends to be unique, too. One significant difference is that all my previous library career occurred in private institutions of higher ed, and UAB is a public university, which means I’ve had to learn a lot about different funding structures and budget models. Overall, my experience so far has been unequivocally positive. I love the optimistic, can-do attitude of library employees and the wider campus community. UAB thrums with good energy that has been palpable even during the demanding times of the pandemic. 

What is your vision for UAB libraries and librarians and our role within the greater UAB academic community?

I have myriad ideas, but will confine myself to just a few for the sake of brevity. My short- and mid-range vision comprises several goals, enumerated below, and all of them impact our UAB academic community.

  1. Expand scholarly communication services

My vision is to offer robust scholarly communication services to our constituents. We have just formed a Scholarly Communication Office at the UAB Libraries, which is charged with assisting with data management plans and manuscript deposits, and working with other units such as the UAB Office of Research to offer workshops relating to federal compliance, exploring data storage and management options, supporting faculty and staff in all areas of the copyright management process, and supporting the development and teaching of online or hybrid classes by partnering with the Center of Teaching and Learning, UAB eLearning, UAB course designers, and individual faculty and staff, and advancing awareness and use of Open Education Resources and Affordable Instructional Materials (AIM) through workshops and individual consultations.

2.  Strengthen collections in the areas of weaknesses and work toward data-driven collection development decisions

Just like any academic library out there, we’re facing challenges of providing resources in support of a wide spectrum of needs in terms of disciplinary areas and a wide gamut of end users. In this very complex scenario, it’s critical that we apply a data-informed approach to collection development, work very closely with the disciplinary faculty to identify critical resources for teaching and research, and work collaboratively within the UA System to strategically redistribute subscriptions to large and expensive packages.

Another area where I envision moving forward with the collections is entering into transformational agreements with publishers to facilitate Open Access (OA) publishing for authors affiliated with UAB. We have just signed a “Read & Publish” agreement with Cambridge University Press, which removes the Article Processing Charges (APC) to publish their work — at no charge — in Cambridge OA and hybrid journals. 

                3. Grow instructional program

We are very fortunate to have a team of talented, highly skilled, and dedicated librarians who run a strong library instruction program. That said, our instructional reach is uneven and our teaching engagement could be much stronger in some disciplines, especially in the humanities. Another area of focus is working more deliberately with vulnerable student populations, such as transfer students or those struggling academically. I hope we can develop a plan to capture and support those student populations to help them succeed academically. 

4. Build and strengthen collaborations with our constituents and external partners

There’s probably not an entity on campus that doesn’t have some natural intersection with the libraries, and there’s always room to grow. We’ve been working with multiple partners on campus in order to serve the campus community better. Some of the key players include the Office of Research, Center for Teaching and Learning, e-learning, University Writing Center, UAB National Alumni Society, and the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. It’s also important for us to be part of the larger professional scene, such as ASERL, NAAL, MLA, AAHSL, and our partner libraries at the UA System.

5. Cultivate and promote special collections and digitization

I envision expanding and strengthening the pool of our supporters for historical collections (Reynolds-Finley Historical Library, Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences, and University Archives) and producing more virtual interactive exhibits to showcase our collections and honor our donors. I’m also committed to championing large-scale digitization and preservation projects, such as the UAB COVID Stories project we’re currently developing to document UAB’s experience at the time of pandemic for historical and research purposes.

6. Develop innovative programs with emerging technologies

I’d like to see us develop more programming on digital humanities projects for teaching and research and expanding teaching and collaborative opportunities with emerging technologies, such as AI, VR and 3D printing. I think that the possibilities in this area are vast and exciting.

In addition to these outward-facing goals, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to me to encourage and reward professional development across the board and to work on promoting and implementing principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. With the newly formed DEI Library Task Force, I envision that we’ll be able to make great strides in this area.

Any plans regarding new services/workshops/resources/partnerships or updates to current ones?

We’re constantly looking for new ways to enhance our services and offerings. Recently, we have launched the UAB Libraries Office of Scholarly Communication, whose mission is to support UAB faculty, staff, and students in navigating and understanding scholarly communication principles, including copyright, long-term preservation of digital assets, data management, research dissemination, scholarly impact, and public access. We plan to partner closely with the UAB Center for Teaching and Learning, UAB eLearning, UAB course designers, the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, the Office of Research, and individual faculty and staff regarding scholarly communication needs and issues.

We are currently offering a number of workshops in tandem with the UAB National Alumni Society, such as AI and Libraries, Health Literacy: Finding Information You Can Trust., and UAB’s Oral History Collection​. 

We were also selected by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine (NNLM) to host a series of Library Carpentry workshops to support the development of data science and computational skills. The Carpentry workshops are offered this spring in a fully virtual format.

Recently, we held an exciting virtual introduction to a digital exhibit, “Narrations of ENT,” showcasing unique and rare donations from Dr. Pappas, a long-standing supporter of the Reynolds-Finley Historical Library and the Alabama Museum of the Health Sciences. Presently, in collaboration with The University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association and the UAB School of Medicine, we’re gearing up for the annual Reynolds-Finley Historical Lecture scheduled for February 26. The guest speaker this year is Jeanne Marrazzo, MD, MPH, FACP, C. Glenn Cobbs Professor in Infectious Diseases and Director of the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases. Dr. Marrazzo’s lecture is titled “The COVID Pandemic in 2021: Where Have We Been, and What Can We Expect?”

What would you like to say to medical librarians who are striving to make a tangible difference for the School of Medicine faculty and students?

First and foremost: Thank you! Your hard work and dedication are making a real difference. 

Organizing a Virtual Meeting

When Alan asked if I would be willing to write about organizing our virtual annual meeting last November, I was concerned that I didn’t know enough about the arcane best practices of virtual meeting craft to be useful. Additionally, in spite of its success, I sincerely hope that it will be our last one online for some time. (This year’s meeting is far enough away that we can still hope to be all vaccinated and operating under some semblance of normalcy by then…right?) Yet agreeing to write this column did give me the opportunity to address the one thing I do want to get off my chest: my profound appreciation for the generosity of spirit that each member showed as we planned and shared that time together. I want to thank everyone who attended and learned and contributed and asked questions and voted. It means so much to feel like part of a community, and never more so than when we are as separated as we are today. 

I’ve served on Program Committees and Local Arrangements Committees for MLA and SCMLA, and it turns out that whether you are meeting in person or online, many of the concerns are the same. Members want the programming to be fresh and relevant. They want there to be ample time to visit and rest. They want the technology to work so well that it is invisible. And you want to wear comfortable pants the day of the meeting. 

In this case, since the meeting was abbreviated, I was concerned about having enough content for it to feel like a special event, instead of another online quarterly business meeting for the officers. Even with a CE presentation and a speaker, I felt like including a social session in the program was important to making the day feel like we had connected as a group. My Powerpoint Party may have been a bit of a flop thematically. (There’s a real tip! Make sure you have buy-in for your strange online social events!) Still, it was anything but a disappointment when it came to real connections. We told stories, took video tours of crafts and sewing rooms, shared pet pictures, and learned about our lives outside of the library in the same way you do when you share a taxi to the airport or walk to a local diner in a new city with your frolleagues.1 Better yet, we didn’t suffer the feeling of loss when you end up too far down the long dining table to catch up with someone you really wanted to see.

One of the advantages of having the meeting online was that we were joined by some cherished retired members who probably wouldn’t have traveled out of town for a meeting. Current professionals experiencing tightening travel budgets surely also benefited. Additionally, we found ourselves free from the tyranny of the frigid conference center, and many of us could replace our layering conference cardigans with fluffy house shoes. On the other hand, in a normal format I wouldn’t have had to worry about hordes of nude trolls invading the meeting rooms, a real concern in the Zoom setting (See Tips to Avoid Zoom Bombing). We knew to use password protected links and only send the meeting links privately to those who registered instead of using a public page, but I was also on the fence about whether to use the same room all day or to have fresh rooms ready for every event, which would be helpful in case we had to abandon one. In the end, I hope the choice to stay in a single room was more convenient and fostered conversation between sessions. 

We are a small, close knit group in which it’s easy to feel like you already know everyone and their needs, and as a result I overlooked some important areas of responsibility that should be considered in the future. Our libraries and public meetings spaces are required to be physically accessible, and it’s important that technologically-mediated meetings are, too. It would be better practice to include information about who to contact about accommodations in the registration materials and be prepared to provide meeting captioning or other services. ALHeLA also doesn’t have a code of conduct for meetings, and while I hope we’ll never need to refer to one, it’s much better to have an existing process in place if someone feels threatened than to scramble to figure out what to do when and if the time arrives.

Thank you all again for being such excellent advisors, supporters, and participants for the meeting. Thanks especially to Becca Billings, who arranged for the CE course and to Errica Evans, who capped off her presidency with an excellent business meeting! I’m very excited about this year and hope to “see” you all (in whatever medium I’m able) soon.

1Frolleague– noun, a friend who is a colleagues (all of the MLA Presidents use this portmanteau in their annual speeches, but no one ever has to spell it)

ALHeLA Executive Committee Joins Library Associations in Condemning Violence, Calling for Advocacy


The Executive Committee of the Alabama Health Libraries Association (ALHeLA) affirms the values expressed in statements by the Medical Library Association and American Library Association as they condemn the recent attacks on government employees and elected officials carrying out essential democratic functions. Free expression and information access are foundational components of the professional ethics of librarians, paired with a responsibility to support reasoned inquiry and evidence-based decision making. Acts of violence are irreconcilable with these ethics, as well as with the principles of democratic societies and efforts to build and sustain equitable, ideal living conditions in our communities. Violent actions, such as those we witnessed in the US Capitol on January 6th, are acts of terror, and not ever to be misconstrued as part of the free expression of a healthy society.

Libraries remain a crucial resource for trusted, reliable information in a time when the information landscape has become particularly difficult for many to navigate. Librarians excel in providing information and media literacy education to students and community members throughout the state of Alabama and beyond. We believe that a well-informed citizenry is crucial to democracy, civility, public health, and the overall quality of life. We hope that you will join us in advocating for libraries to receive the essential funding and support that makes it possible for librarians and library staff to connect the electorate with credible, accurate information. We invite anyone who seeks reliable, relevant information, regardless of topic, to contact and work with a librarian to find authoritative information resources.