Magazine On-line [spring 2011]
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Alumni Profiles

Emily Prather Rodgers '04 / University librarian balances history, future

Emily Prather-Rodgers ’04 admittedly didn’t spend much time in Transylvania’s library.

“I was one of those dorm room studiers; I went to the library only when I had to,” she said.

But Transy’s library staff made enough of an impact on her studies that she names them as an inspiration in her current position as technical services coordinator at North Central College’s Oesterle Library in Chicago.

Prather-Rodgers’ job includes managing the library’s special collections, which have a special tie back to Kentucky. A bevy of “Lincoln-ania,” as she calls it, brings authors and scholars from around the country to study up on our 16th President. The collection includes books and information on Lincoln’s life and presidency.

“That gets a lot of attention from scholars; it’s unbelievable how many people are writing books about Lincoln still today,” she said.

In addition, one of the more unusual treasures is a collection of signatures from almost every U.S. President from George Washington through Richard Nixon. Washington’s is particularly rare. His signature is on a land survey he did when he was 16 years old.

Other pieces include a 1632 first edition of Galileo’s Dialogue and a jazz music library. Being the curator of the special collections is right up the alley for Prather-Rodgers, who was an art history major at Transylvania.

“That actually worked out really well,” she said. “I interned at the University of Kentucky art museum, and that steered me in the direction of, ‘OK, this is really interesting, but I don’t want to work at a museum.’ Then this sort of fell into my lap, because we’re similar in that we’re collecting things and offering them to the public. There’s no point in having the special collection if it’s not being used by people.”

Prather-Rodgers gets to wear a lot of hats at the small liberal arts institution. Another one of her main responsibilities is to manage the library’s catalog, which includes the traditional collection of physical books and a growing number of online texts that she says are changing the way higher-education students around the world study and research.

“Our goal is to go as paperless as we can with our journals and things like that because we know that students prefer to get their stuff from their dorm rooms at 3 o’clock in the morning,” she said. “In a lot of ways, it’s made the research process easier. It’s right there; everything’s online.”

North Central students executed more than half a million database searches in the 2010 fiscal year and used 265,000 online articles. The library has also begun purchasing e-books, which allow students to flip through entire books on their computers or electronic reading devices. Gone are the days of physical library buildings being the only places students can get their materials.

“They can use the e-books as mini-databases,” Prather-Rodgers said. “For the most part, people don’t read a whole book when they’re doing research. It used to be that you flipped to the index of a book, found the information you needed, and went from there. This is taking it a step further and making it much easier to get right to the piece you need without going to the rest of the book.”

Some traditionalists may scoff at the idea that being able to skip major parts of a book or journal is a good thing, and Prather-Rodgers understands the sentiment. She said there are challenges to giving students a sort of free online reign over the materials they use.

“You may miss out on that serendipitous discovery that you would get if you had a book in your hand,” she said. “And there’s so much (online) that’s not good. We have no problem with (online user-generated encyclopedia) Wikipedia, but we have to make sure students know not to use it as a source.”

Interaction with both students and the public in so many different venues is Prather-Rodgers’s favorite part of her position. She gets to have significant contact with students through in-person conversation and online presence.

“Even though I didn’t take a lot of time in Transy’s library, I knew who the librarians were and felt comfortable approaching them,” Prather-Rodgers said. “We had that one-on-one contact. I appreciated that as a student, and now I want to be able to do that for students. They may not step foot in the door. But I’m always surprised how many students, even on the first day of classes, are in the library studying. Despite the challenges of a small building, it’s really a popular place on campus.”

—Tyler Young

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