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Author: Alan Backer

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.