Student Catherine Stahl Applies Maker Space Ideas to Needs of Medical Library Patrons
Catherine Stahl

Student Catherine Stahl gained tools to creatively meet patron needs in her medical library during a new elective offered by the SJSU School of Information.

The LIBR 287 seminar titled Production of Knowledge and Content in Libraries covers topics from social media behaviors to participatory educational trends such as DIY and maker spaces. Taught by Monica Harris, who curated the Idea Box at Oak Park Public Library in Illinois, the elective introduces Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) students to how libraries can provide space and technology for patrons to innovate and create content.

The course was offered for the first time in spring 2014, and Stahl said she was drawn to it by the mention of maker spaces in the course description. Fascinated for years by the DIY concept, she had already tried her hand at cross stitch, growing pumpkins, baking sourdough bread, and building a computer. “I was really curious about how that DIY spirit could transfer to a library setting,” she said.

Before taking the course, Stahl wasn’t sure if any of the ideas could be applied in the medical library where she works. “When you mention maker spaces, most people think of electronics and soldering and building robots, or perhaps woodworking and machine shops,” she said. “LIBR 287 showed me how many other activities can be a part of participatory learning.”

For their final project, students had to develop a proposal for their own maker space or participatory learning program. That gave Stahl, who has worked for 11 years as a library assistant at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati, a chance to explore how the concepts learned in the course might be applied in her workplace.

“The project helped me to analyze our patrons’ needs, and to get creative about the ways we could address those problems,” Stahl said. “This class opened my eyes to the many possibilities of participatory learning and the way they can be applied in any setting.”

After assessing her library patrons’ research interests, wish lists and complaints, and the ways they currently use the library, “I found plenty of ideas that would work for us,” she said. These included a space dedicated to new computer equipment with better software, with more workstations to ease crowding; a small space exclusively for video and audio recording; and a 3D printer -- the technology being used for many medical innovations.

Stahl said the library staff members she has talked with about these ideas have been receptive to them, and she is hopeful that some of them may be implemented in the future.

In her job, Stahl does “a little bit of everything,” from reference to shelving and circulation. Mostly, though, she fills intra- and interlibrary loan requests for journal articles. The medical library’s patrons include physicians, nurses, administrators, allied health professionals, nursing students, and other hospital employees. “They are involved in some incredible research, and I really enjoy helping them find what they need,” she said.

Stahl worked in libraries for 12 years before becoming interested in a career in information science. With fiction writing as her first love and a bachelor’s in English from Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, she’d always envisioned pursuing an MFA in creative writing. That changed in 2011, when she attended her first genealogy conference, presented by the Ohio Genealogical Society.

As she read through the syllabus, Stahl noticed how many of the speakers had degrees in library and information science. “That completely transformed the way I thought about the information professions,” she said. “It really showed me the infinite possibilities that this kind of knowledge and experience could offer.

“Of course, there were other practical reasons to pursue an MLIS,” Stahl added. “I knew that having those letters after my name would help me stay competitive in any future job search.”

Stahl entered the iSchool’s MLIS program in fall 2012, and graduated in May 2014. Given her passion for research in history and genealogy, she centered her coursework around archival studies and preservation to help expand her knowledge in those areas.

While Stahl would love to work in a museum or historical center, “special libraries in general are wonderful,” she said. She enjoys working with people who are passionate and excited about their chosen areas of research.

“I hope to become more involved in providing reference services and perhaps planning programs to bring in new patrons and allow existing patrons to become more engaged,” she said. “To build a community of learning, instead of just a building where we keep some books.”

Favorite Things about the MLIS Program

“I compared SJSU’s program to two other schools closer to home. All three offered the option of an online-only degree, but only SJSU offered all courses online. The coursework that seemed most interesting to me – particularly archives- and preservation-related classes – were not among the online options at the other schools. When I realized SJSU’s tuition was right between the cost of the other two options, my decision was a no-brainer.”

Influential Classes & Instructors

“I fully expected to enjoy anything history-related, and absolutely did: Dr. Timothy Dickey’s LIBR 285 Historical Research Methods; Victoria McCargar’s LIBR 259 Preservation Management; Erin Lawrimore’s LIBR 256 Archives and Manuscripts; Nancy MacKay’s LIBR 284 Oral History; and Gawain Weaver’s LIBR 284 Photographic Preservation. I was totally surprised that I enjoyed LIBR 248 Beginning Cataloging and Classification; I had always thought the topic would be boring and dry, but Dr. Mary Bolin made it a lot of fun.

“The one class I would recommend to every student is Patty Wong’s LIBR 282 Grant Writing course. That’s such an important skill to have – for libraries, museums, archives, schools, researchers, artists, writers, hospitals, social services. The principles can even be applied to any kind of report writing or marketing. This was hands-down the most valuable class I took at SJSU.”

Career Tips

“Nothing beats hands-on experience -- except maybe knowing the right people. I am a true introvert and have found networking to be one of my biggest challenges, but it’s absolutely vital to make those connections. At my boss’ recent retirement party, I got some great advice from other library professionals who stopped by. As nerve-wracking as all that conversation was, I left feeling pretty encouraged about my future.”

Tech Tip

“Learn everything you can -- period. Even if technology isn’t your main focus, it’s important to know as much as you can in order to help instruct patrons, to troubleshoot equipment, and to make yourself more valuable and marketable as an employee. And don’t ignore technology just because your focus is traditional or historical research, or vice versa. You never know which skills will be handy, or when.”

Professional Affiliations

“My longest memberships aren’t entirely library-related: the National Genealogical Society, Ohio Genealogical Society, and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.”

Favorite Blog

“I have found hiringlibrarians.com to be incredibly interesting and – hopefully -- helpful, since it offers the perspectives of both job hunters and those who make hiring decisions.”