Saturday, January 16, 2010

Zoological Society of San Diego Library Tour

by Holly Langdon and Kate Vigderson

A group of approximately 30 SJSU-SLIS students had the opportunity to tour the Zoological Society of San Diego Library in Escondido, CA, on Monday, November 16, 2009. A notice about the tour was posted on the “SoCal SJSU MLIS” Facebook page and also sent out on the SLISadmin listserv. The response was so overwhelming that Linda Coates, the Director of Library Services, agreed to accommodate more students, so the many students on the waiting list could attend.

On the day of the event, Ms. Coates gave a wonderfully organized and informative tour and presentation of this very unique library. The morning began with a tour of the Zoo’s Beckman Center for Conservation Research, which is located next to the Wild Animal Park. Ms. Coates pointed out many of the components, including the use of recycled materials in the construction, which earned the center a Silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. She explained that everyone who works in the building has a similar philosophy and a common purpose regarding conservation. Another highlight of the center tour included seeing the “Frozen Zoo,” a collection of frozen DNA samples from various endangered species. The "Frozen Zoo" provided the DNA used to map the elephant genome and the rare opportunity to see the California Mountain Yellow Legged Frog, an endangered species the center has been working to save.

Following the building tour, Ms. Coates gave an excellent PowerPoint presentation about what it’s like to be a special librarian. She regaled the group with stories of the unusual requests for information she has received in her time at the library and the extraordinary lengths she goes to fill them. Describing the vets that care for the animals as not particularly “techie," she finds her help is invaluable to them. One example she gave was of a researcher looking for a book about the Goliath frog. She was surprised that there had been almost no information written about this mammoth animal that weighs up to 8 pounds and stretches up to 13 inches long. Animals such as this frog are not classified as charismatic mega organisms like lions and giraffes, so there was a dearth of information. Since there were no articles available in any databases, she called a colleague at a library across the country who was able to track down an article that had been published in a book, scan and send the PDF to her; she was then able to give that information to the researcher who used it in her paper.

As Library Director, Ms. Coates realizes that it’s the strong network of friends and colleagues she has developed that helps her find the information she’s after. One of the topics she touched on was that people in the library community tend to say things like “Everything’s online now anyway, so we’ll be able to find everything we need on the Internet.” This is not the case for her, as much of the information she and the vets at the Zoo and Wild Animal Park refer to is published in hard copy books and newsletters. It would take months, if not years, to convert it to a medium that could be posted online, and in the meantime people need her help finding information immediately, such as the researcher looking for the coloration of the Goliath frog. Ms. Coates also discussed her work in compiling and distributing a digest called "Latest Zoo and Conservation News". Although this task takes up about 50% of her time, she considers it to be well worth it because staff appreciates having the information and the digest helps demonstrate the value of the library. Ms. Coates' presentation illustrated the joys and challenges that come with being a special librarian, a dream to which many of us aspire.

After the presentation, Ms. Coates gave a tour of the library’s collection which is made up of over 11,000 books, and over 400 print journal titles. The group got a chance to browse the shelves and see that in addition to current literature, rare and out-of-print books are what makes this collection so unique.

A short survey was sent out via email after the tour to get participants' thoughts about what they enjoyed about the tour and what they took away from the experience. Of the sixteen responses received, many commented that they appreciated the opportunity to get a “behind the scenes” look at what a special librarian really does and the constant vigilance and effort needed to keep the parent organization aware of the value and relevance of the library. Many also appreciated learning about all of the great resources the library website has to offer as well as the many resources Ms. Coates uses to answer the variety of reference questions she gets. One participant via SurveyMonkey summed it up this way, “Understand your users. Satisfy their information needs even if you have to search the globe.” Some students commented that seeing how much Ms. Coates enjoys her job opened up new career possibilities to them.

There are several internship opportunities available at the Library for Spring and Fall 2010, including both library and archival projects, so consult the SLIS Internship Database and/or contact Linda Coates if you’re interested!

Holly Langdon is currently a student in her third term at SJSU-SLIS; she plans to graduate in Spring, 2011.

Kate Vigderson, a LISSTEN member-at-large, organized the Zoo Library tour. She is currently in her final year of the SJSU-SLIS program and she plans to graduate in May 2010.

Photos taken by Kate Vigderson.

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