Librarians do so much more than find books for patrons — especially at an academic library. Librarians help students develop research topics for projects, teach classes to first-time library users, guide the scholarship of Ph.D. candidates and locate rare publications in foreign countries for faculty members.
Being a librarian is about being a champion for students, faculty and causes close to the heart. While all our librarians are champions, we’d like you to meet three who embraced a special cause and ran with it.
Elizabeth West, University Archivist
The Great Biscuit Rebellion of 1852 isn’t something you’ll learn about in class. But it is a funny anecdote about the food of days past at USC that you’ll hear during University Archivist Elizabeth West’s historic USC Horseshoe tour.
On the first Thursday of most months, people gather at noon around West outside the South Caroliniana Library for a walk around the Horseshoe, which is at the heart of, and is the oldest part of the university campus. From skeletal remains to streakers in the 1970s, she shares some of the lesser-known, unbelievable, mischievous and downright strange tales about life on the more than 200-year-old campus.
While West’s position as university archivist at the Caroliniana doesn’t require her to conduct Horseshoe tours, it’s one of many projects the historian has taken on.
As the official university archivist, she oversees the official records of the university. These permanent records include correspondence of the president, provost and Board of Trustees, meeting minutes, photographs, publications and other items that document the operation of the university.
Throughout her years at USC, West has taken on increasing responsibilities, all in the name of championing the history of the university and sharing it with campus and community.
“My work at the university began to evolve naturally, particularly as we worked on the university’s bicentennial celebration in 2001,” West says.
“There were lots of big events going on. There were exhibits, lots of articles, people were writing books, and I was involved in so much of it. The Caroliniana and its collections got a lot of good publicity, and it just opened so many doors for me,” she says.
Six years later, when USC celebrated the bicentennial of the first commencement in 2007, West served on a subcommittee of the Board of Trustees to help envision and manage it, where she made even more connections. At the time, she was also giving presentations and tours for classes and groups, which ultimately led to her offering public Horseshoe tours.
Today, West serves on the Historic Horseshoe Committee, which manages and approves permanent and temporary changes to the Horseshoe, and the Campus Art Advisory Committee, which oversees public art including statues and monuments. West also co-chaired the Presidential Commission on University History.
She also spent a significant amount of her time leading the development of new permanent exhibits as part of the restoration of the Caroliniana, which first opened in 1840, and is the nation’s oldest freestanding academic library. After a multi-year restoration, the library is set to reopen in early 2023 with a grand celebration, public events and tours.
Public Horseshoe tours will resume in the spring, but West is still conducting tours for students.
“I enjoy doing it because it's an opportunity for students to learn some humorous and some very serious things about the university,” West says.
“And history shouldn't be boring! It should be shocking, wonderful, horrifying and inspirational, because that's what people are — people are all those things. And the university history reflects that.”
Timothy Simmons, First-Year Experience Librarian
It’s the first day of fall classes at USC, and a sweltering 95 degrees outside. First-Year Experience Librarian Timothy Simmons is stationed outside Thomas Cooper Library, while Snow-Cones are handed to students who have successfully completed a tour through the building.
This is not a typical day for Simmons, who usually interacts with students in a traditional capacity, working with them one-on-one, teaching library instruction classes and answering lots of questions that come in through email and the Libraries’ online chat.
But Simmons also has a not-so-traditional role as chair of the Libraries’ Outreach Committee, which is charged with engaging students with library resources and services in new and imaginative ways.
“One of the goals of the Outreach Committee has been to have student artwork hanging in the library. The walls on the fifth floor had been bare for so long, and we thought it was a perfect space for a student art gallery,” Simmons says.
The committee reached out to Jess Peri, a photography instructor in the School of Visual Art and Design, to ask if his students could produce a photo installation for the library. Peri assigned his students a project — photograph the library, its collections and spaces — and create an installation using the photos. Later that semester, his students put the installation up on the walls. It depicts all aspects of the Libraries, from rare items, like medieval music scores, to staged, ghostly images of “spirits” perusing the stacks.
The collaboration between the Libraries and Peri’s class was so successful that the Outreach Committee invited Peri to bring two more classes to create installations for the fifth floor. Today, the walls are nearly covered in artwork created by students who made the space their own.
More student art fills the large study area outside the Center for Teaching Excellence in Thomas Cooper Library. The study area, which once housed several print reproductions of famous wildlife artworks, now showcases a colorful exhibit of posters designed by students in professors Meena Khalili and Stephanie Nance’s Typographic Design II class.
“We’re just trying to build relationships on campus with students and faculty,” Simmons says. “And it means a lot to students to have something of theirs in the library, to know we’re celebrating them, welcoming them. We want the library to be an appealing space and place that students feel is their own.”
The Outreach Committee is frequently found hosting events at, or outside, the library. Students are invited into the library with games and tours, and are sometimes reward with Snow-Cones, tacos, tumblers, koozies, buttons, bags and more. The committee has hosted “Finals Eve” events at the library, which provided a dedicated study space, coffee, pizza and snacks to hundreds of students. And they host information tables for new student orientation, Family Weekend and other campus-wide events that experience heavy foot traffic.
“We just want to make sure everybody knows we're here to help them,” Simmons says.
In fact, at this past summer's orientation, Simmons got some confirmation.
“A student walked right up to me at our table and said, ‘I heard I need to talk to you,’ and that made me feel great, knowing that students know I really am here for them,” he says.
Amie Freeman, Scholarly Communication and Open Initiatives Librarian
Everyone knows college is expensive, and that it’s not just the tuition.
Amie Freeman, Scholarly Communication and Open Initiatives Librarian at Thomas Cooper Library, has been spearheading a solution to combat the high cost of textbooks for the past eight years, and its popularity has taken off at USC with both students and faculty.
“Back in 2015 I was the Assistant Interlibrary Loan Librarian, so promoting the use of Open Educational Resources (OER) really wasn’t part of my job at all,” Freeman says. “But I became more and more passionate about OER as I saw how instructors were enjoying using these resources, and how the students responded to it.”
OER are educational course materials that are free and available to students, instructors and anyone, essentially, to use. The materials are typically found online through repositories and databases. The Libraries also license hundreds of databases, journals and publications that USC students and instructors can use in their research and instruction. By finding and combining OER, many faculty can effectively replace expensive textbooks.
In addition to touting OER, Freeman also works with faculty one-on-one, helping them learn to use OER and incorporate it into their curriculum.
“Not only is OER freely available, but it can be revised, remixed and reused in all sorts of different ways,” Freeman says.
Freeman’s journey to champion OER started in 2015 when she and two student government representatives went to a conference at Texas A&M to learn how to formulate an OER initiative for the university.
“The conference made for wonderful brainstorming. We went to a session and discussed how the high cost of course materials was affecting students negatively and how faculty were constricted by textbooks because they couldn’t customize the contents, or they were hampered by copyright restrictions,” Freeman says.
“We came back, and before the end of the semester, we launched the very first South Carolina Open Educational Resources (SCoer) awards on campus, which offered faculty the opportunity to learn about OER by attending an in-depth workshop and creating a syllabus using only OER, saving their students the cost of a textbook,” Freeman says.
To date, 33 USC faculty have won SCoer awards and saved their students more than $550,000.
Faculty campuswide who want to learn how to use OER frequently reach out to Freeman.
“I regularly have people who email me and say, ‘I’m planning on teaching this class next semester and I'd love to look at lower-cost alternatives for the textbook I use,’” Freeman says.