ACRL Member of the Week: Susanna M. Cowan

Susanna M. Cowan is Library Assessment Strategist at University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT. Susanna has been a member of ACRL for 15 years and is your ACRL Member of the Week for March 18, 2024.

Describe yourself in three words: Reflective, caring, inventive.

What are you reading (or listening to on your mobile device)? When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro, Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver, The Last Equation of Isaac Severy: A Novel in Clues by Nova Jacobs, and The Anomoly by Hervé Le Tellier.

Describe ACRL in three words: Expansive, earnest, methodical.

What do you value about ACRL? I value ACRL most for the community and communities it supports. There are many library organizations affiliated with or adjacent to higher ed, but ACRL is the biggest umbrella of all and contains within it many, many smaller communities – and the possibility of creating more. Through ACRL I have discovered groups and work that are meaningful to me — and also made colleague-friends that matter to me.

What do you as an academic librarian contribute to your campus? My work provides a point of connection around asking questions and seeking answers about students, faculty, and the services that support them and the broader university community. There are many “assessment people” at a large University, and when I interact with individuals and offices doing assessment work on campus, I bring not only the library perspective, but also show that librarians are very much on the same page and working towards the same ends: success for our students, our researchers & teachers, and our institution broadly. We are also united in caring about how what we do locally has an impact on the academic community regionally, nationally – and globally.

In your own words: I’ve inhabited several roles in higher ed at this point in my professional life: student/grad student/researcher, teacher, non-library administrator, and librarian. Moving in and out of these different campus identities has helped me see the degree to which our day-to-day worlds greatly overlap, but also the ways in which we move in parallel ways that don’t always connect neatly. The more silos we bust in higher ed (I believe), the greater the outcomes will be for our academic communities. But for historical and practical (only so much time in the day to get things done) reasons, we spend most of our professional time in our “lanes.” Especially in larger institutions, librarians often have minimal contact with the many offices in student affairs, enrollment management & planning, and academic affairs that do the work students (for example) interact with daily, from dorms and dining halls to financial aid and advising. At smaller institutions, silos are less prominent – and I think there’s something there we could all learn from. At small libraries, for example, librarians often wear many hats – at larger ones, specializations and unit/team functional territories often result in great output and accomplishment, but also (perhaps) get in our way sometimes. In my role as an assessment librarian, I’m always looking across those lines at “the library” and its impact – and also at “the library” as a culture/organization. We do amazing things, but more energy devoted to silo-busting at home might go a long way to taking us even further within our libraries, and it might also further empower us to minimize the barriers between our work and that of our natural partners outside the library.


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