New faces in University Library are all about service

The University of Lethbridge Library continues to be an innovative campus leader, and it's reflected in the new personalities they bring into the fold.

A year ago, new University Librarian Alison Nussbaumer was introduced, bringing a fresh approach to the highest post in the library's administration. This fall, two more new faces have been added to the mix in associate university librarians Brenda Mathenia and Wendy Merkley. And while their responsibilities may be unique to their positions, their philosophies are remarkably similar.

"One of my goals is to make sure our public service is at the top, that we're putting our users first," Mathenia says.

As the Associate University Librarian for Client Services and Facilities, Mathenia's group is often the first contact for people using the library. As such, customer service is at the forefront of her efforts.

A Michigan native, Mathenia has a wide and varied background, having worked in primarily academic settings throughout her career. A cartography and geography undergrad, she earned her first master's degree in urban geography.

After working in that field however, she soon found that the information aspects of her job, finding information, helping others find it and use it appropriately, led her back to library school.

"I've always been very inquisitive and liked to know a lot about a lot of things," Mathenia says, calling herself a jack-of-all-trades.

"Librarianship is the perfect discipline to go into because you can dabble in all manner of subject areas."

She was given that latitude in her last job, at the University of Nevada-Reno. For four years she worked primarily in the sciences but also managed a branch library and dabbled in major collection development.

"I've had my fingers in a lot of different things in the library and it's served me really well and been very good experience," she says.

"I like to help people navigate the world of information. It's always been easy for me, so I like to share those skills and make it easier for other people."

Merkley, a Manitoba native who worked previously in the Lethbridge public system, is all about simplifying the search for information. The difference is that her work is done behind the scenes as the Associate University Librarian for Information Systems and Technical Services.

"There have been major changes in how technology is being used in the library world, and this is a really good time with two new AULs and a relatively new University Librarian, we're looking at how do we integrate some of these new things into what we're doing," Merkley says.

Her journey to librarianship was also non-direct. An English undergrad at the University of Manitoba, she worked in the faculty library while completing her degree.

"I would love to say it was a great passion and I always knew what I wanted to do, but it really came from that experience," Merkley says. "I really enjoyed the atmosphere of a library and the people I worked with and it just seemed like a logical thing to do."

From there she moved to Alberta and completed her master's degree at the University of Alberta before coming to Lethbridge and entering the public library system. Positions in Lethbridge and then later in Calgary set up a three-year stint in the United Arab Emirates (2005-2008).

"I call it my running away period," she laughs, noting that the pull of her daughter, a third-year kinesiology-psychology double major at the U of L, was a major influence in her return.

"It was tremendous. You learn an awful lot about yourself when you go in and have to adjust to being a stranger in a strange land."

Her route to the U of L was delayed by a one-year stint implementing video conferencing services for rural Alberta libraries but saw this role as too good to pass up.

"In the end, it's about facilitating that process of helping people find information," she says. "We strive to find a happy medium between simplicity and still allowing people to do the kinds of research they need to do that sometimes requires a more elaborate search strategy."

She's enthused about the new technology being implemented and how it can reshape the way the library helps its clients.

"It's really exciting and I'm really looking forward to it. That's one of the reasons I've stayed in library so long, because it's such a changing environment."