Interview with Kevin Reynolds
Assistant University Librarian for Learning and Access Services
University of the South
Outreach Chair, UT-SIS Faculty Advisory Board
This marks the beginning of a series of alumni interviews conducted on behalf of the University of Tennessee’s School of Information Sciences Advisory Board.
Kevin Reynolds has long been a fixture at the University of the South, having started his academic library career there nearly twenty years ago. He left on a brief foray into public librarianship, but returned to the University of the South as head of the reference department in 2002 and has been there ever since. Kevin currently serves as the Assistant University Librarian for Learning and Access Services at the University of the South.
Kevin holds his MSIS from the University of Tennessee. He spends a great deal of time serving his profession, and while his activities are almost too numerous to mention, a few are must-know Kevin facts. For instance, he has served as president of the Tennessee Library Association (TLA), and currently co-chairs TLA’s strategic planning committee, working hard to develop programs that cultivate new members of the profession. He also serves on the American Library Association’s Executive Board. With so much on his plate, it’s a wonder Kevin has time to sleep! He remains happy with his chosen profession and if asked to do it all over again, he would do so in a heartbeat.
What aspect of the education received at UT-SIS has been most relevant to you, either in the workplace or in other parts of your life?
I can quickly say that every course I took has had relevance in the work I do. Additionally, since the principles of unfettered access to information are fundamental components of my worldview, I would say that my education in the School of Information Sciences has touched many aspects of my life. But you asked which aspect was the most relevant. The aspect that has perhaps been most relevant is effective communication. More specifically, the ability to adapt and to work effectively with groups and individuals through a variety of media and in a variety of situations has been crucial. That is what I draw upon every day in any job I have held. Further, each course gave an information science context in which to apply those skills.
Compare your career expectations from the time you entered library school to the path you’ve taken. Were your expectations on target? If not, what contributed to the change?
As I mentioned in my response to the previous question, I entered library school having worked in libraries for some time. I had a certain career trajectory in mind, and have largely stayed true to that path. I will add that some aspects of my involvement in professional organizations were surprises insofar as I did not expect them to happen as early as they did. I would offer as examples serving as TLA President and serving on ALA's Executive Board. Both opportunities have been extraordinarily rewarding.
Were you an on-campus student or a distance student? How do you think that influenced your experience as a graduate student?
I was a distance student. It influenced my experience in countless ways. First of all, it simply enabled me to have the experience, as I could continue to work and to pursue my degree simultaneously. I think there were two other ways in which it especially influenced my experience. First, as a distance student, I recognized right away that I could either be engaged and make the most of the experience, or I could probably quietly go along largely under the radar so to speak. Thus, I worked to try to make the most of each class and each experience. Second, I think the experience as a distance student heightened the need to learn how to be flexible and adaptable when it comes to communication, something I mentioned in response to the first question.
Do you find that technology knowledge creates barriers in the workplace between established librarians and new graduates? How wide is that gap?
That is a very intriguing question and one that could support -- and probably has -- some voluminous research. I have a couple of opinions about this topic. First, I think the degree to which librarians embrace technology varies from individual to individual. While there may be some trends that indicate new graduates are more fluent with technology, there are plenty of established librarians who are as well. Second, I think any barriers that do exist are largely due to communication. That is, I think we all approach things differently and in ways we think are best. We may not take the time to engage in dialogue with our colleagues about our practices, but make assumptions that our way is the best way, most efficient way, etc. This could set the stage for barriers as we use lingo that is unique to the tools or resources we use, and make assumptions about the level of skill or interest our coworkers have about any given resource or practice. Thus, I think if we take some time to think about how we communicate with our colleagues, any barriers, either real or perceived, could be overcome or avoided altogether.
What motivated you to pursue this field?
I have a two-fold response to this question. First, I have always enjoyed helping people, and librarianship offers countless ways to fulfill that desire. Second, when I was in graduate school at Vanderbilt, I worked for Larry Romans in the government information department at the library. This was a life altering experience as everything just "clicked." I saw both in Larry's example and in the work I was doing there, that librarianship was an exciting field that offered countless opportunities for personal and professional growth. Larry continues to be a mentor, friend, and one to whom we can all aspire.
What do you like best about working in an academic library?
I have worked in both academic and public libraries. Both are extraordinarily rewarding. What I like best about working in an academic library is the variety of research with which I have been able to assist students and faculty, celebrating the achievements and growth of the students we work with, and seeing how resources we provide are used creatively across the academic enterprise.
What’s the most challenging aspect of librarianship for you these days?
The most challenging aspect of librarianship for me right now is finding the best pace to introduce change both to library users and library staff in a way that is not threatening, all the while being budget conscious. There is a delicate balance between, on the one hand, the evolving needs of library users and staying technologically relevant, and, on the other hand, remaining fiscally sound.