Alum Marsha Schnirring Heads New Center for Digital Learning and Research

Schnirring is the founding director of the CDLR, which focuses on enabling student and faculty success in the rapidly changing world of digital scholarship. Occidental College, based in Los Angeles, launched the center in 2009, assembling a group of technology, library science, and media experts who could help the faculty use technology in their teaching – whether learning how to podcast, publish on a digital scholarship platform, or master the intricacies of Moodle, an open source learning management system.

“We’re in the midst of a very significant transformation in the way library buildings and services are thought about,” Schnirring said. “We’re creating new organizational structures that aren’t just a library and aren’t just an IT organization.”

To reach out to Occidental’s 170 or so faculty members, the CDLR began hosting a monthly “High-Tech Happy Hour” to allow faculty to informally ask questions ranging from how to set up a Twitter account to learning more about the school’s OxyScholar digital publishing platform. The Center also recently was awarded a grant from the Mellon Foundation, which will, among other things, fund a weeklong digital scholarship institute for faculty for the next three years.

Schnirring is no stranger to reaching out to new audiences. She was hired by Occidental College as an instructional services librarian upon graduating from SLIS in Fall 2005. Soon after starting that position, she began offering reference services in the lobby of a residential hall in an effort to connect with students and experiment with embedded librarianship.

“I didn’t get a lot of reference questions,” Schnirring said, “but it created relationships with students and helped them understand that you don’t just go to the library, but the library can come to you.”

Librarianship is a mid-career move for Schnirring, who decided to earn her MLIS after her daughter started college. She’d previously worked in IT, as well as early childhood education, and she’d managed a bookstore. “I also volunteered at a public library, but that’s not what moved me to become a librarian,” she said. “While still in IT, I became interested in information literacy and teaching.

As a member of the Information Resources (IR) leadership team, Schnirring is involved in Occidental’s endeavor to transform its library into an academic commons. As she works on ways to reframe libraries to meet 21st century needs, Schnirring often thinks back to her culminating project at SLIS. Schnirring delved into the history of libraries and explored how libraries have always met the challenge of new inventions and innovations.

“Libraries have always evolved through these transitions,” she said. “We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. The question is whether we are willing to give up our old idea of ourselves and embrace the new.”