All posts by Lisa German

Spring Reflections

I grew up before the internet was widespread. My sources of information were the morning and afternoon newspapers, along with my Saturday morning weekly trip to the Arlington Heights Memorial Library with my dad. We’d go there and he’d head over to the adult nonfiction section to see what new books came in that week. Then he’d head to his favorite area – the art and architecture books. He could spend hours there if he wouldn’t have had a list of things he wanted to get accomplished. Need to wire the basement? Go find a book in the library. Building a patio? Off to the library, he’d go. I would head to the children’s section. Sometimes I would ask questions of the librarians and often, I’d just sit on a stool in the middle of the rows of books, looking for the most recent Nancy Drew mystery, or looking for a biography of a woman such as Clara Barton or Harriet Tubman.

The Arlington Heights Memorial Library transformed my life. It brought a world of knowledge to me that I could have never imagined. Though I can’t say that I knew right then and there that I wanted to be a librarian, I have always felt proud of my career choice because I know the work that we do can transform the lives of our students, our faculty, and ourselves.

This week, we held a successful Dean’s Cabinet kickoff meeting. We have a wonderful array of advocates from all walks of life that have pledged to help me to raise funds so that we can continue to keep this library on an upward trajectory. As I’ve been thinking about why libraries are transformative, I’d like to share with you some of the important activities on which our library staff are collaborating with our faculty to help students have a successful experience here at the University of Houston. These are just a few of the many ongoing initiatives:

We create opportunities in support of the Houston community by hosting various events such as LinkedIn @ the Library, which paired librarians and career services staff with students to improve their LinkedIn profiles and learn best practices for networking while they’re job hunting; and a workshop for grad students and post docs that featured publishers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, along with senior faculty, who gave guidance about best practices in publishing. Our Music Library teamed up with the UH Office of Sustainability to host a meetup on upcycle crafting.  Students created their own repurposed book bag using recycled plastic bags, unusable music scores, and recycled clothing.

The innovation that our librarians and staff bring to creating community activities blows me away. The work they do every day – teaching our students, acquiring, cataloging, circulating, and digitizing resources, and developing archives and creating new services – is so meaningful and worthwhile to the more than two million annual visitors to our libraries, and to those who met with our librarians for 33,439 reference consultations last year.

We truly are a community nurtured by curiosity and creativity that drives lifelong learning and scholarship. Our library employees truly embody this vision each and every day.

The Crucial Need for Information Literacy and Critical Thinking

Lately, I’ve been considering the ways in which we at the University of Houston Libraries help shape our students into information-literate, critical thinkers. Now, more than ever, the competencies of information literacy and evaluative thinking are essential for the advancement of a democratic and educated society, and librarians are partners with faculty creating learning opportunities that encourage the development of these competencies.

Information literacy is interdisciplinary, transferable, and evolving.
Information literacy is interdisciplinary, transferable, and evolving.

I asked two of our librarians to share their perspectives on the importance of information literacy and critical thinking in higher education and beyond. Christina Gola, head of Liaison Services for instruction and outreach, and Kerry Creelman, coordinator of undergraduate instruction and outreach, both stated that information literacy is interdisciplinary, transferable, and evolving. And the development of information literacy doesn’t end when our students leave the classroom.

A robust and flexible set of concepts that are central to information literacy comes to us from the Association for College and Research Libraries (ACRL), which has provided the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. The framework defines information literacy as “the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities.”

The framework is transformative in that it recognizes the ongoing, lifelong learning and development of information-literate citizens. Information literacy is never the endpoint, but a journey that allows for the acquisition of competencies that help us navigate the vast information landscape. The framework takes into account emerging forms of information, and acknowledges the future evolution of information. “It gives us concepts to understand how information operates, how it’s produced, and how it’s consumed in any format,” Gola states.

As denizens of the vast digital information landscape, we hold dual roles: as both producers and consumers of information. As such, we’re all held to higher standards of accountability in this realm. The ease and speed of the transfer of data holds far-reaching implications and necessitates a deliberative and prudent approach. Implementation of the information literacy framework takes many forms at UH Libraries, where we empower students to consider issues surrounding the sharing of information online and how others may potentially consume that data. For example, one of our popular student-success events, LinkedIn at the Library, pairs librarians and career service professionals with students to maximize their LinkedIn profiles for the best chance at finding career opportunities. We equip our students with foundational competencies that are necessary for them to build upon and apply not only in their coursework but also in their personal and professional lives. “As we provide the strategies, tools, and framework of information literacy concepts, we’re also creating learning opportunities where students are encouraged to reflect and engage in critical thinking around these concepts,” Creelman notes. “Our students make breakthroughs and connections when they’re encouraged to do so within authentic learning situations.”

Creelman and Gola characterize a critical thinker as someone who is “evaluative at multiple levels, self-aware, reflective, inquisitive, and takes a deeper dive into learning for the sake of discovering more, a persistence and flexibility in their thinking that develops from freshman to senior level.” Our librarians and faculty encourage students to challenge assumptions and approach questions from multiple viewpoints.

On the opposite side of the coin, we are all consumers of information as well. We have an abundance of information at our fingertips. How do we manage, organize, and locate the information that we seek when we need it? Gola and Creelman, along with their colleagues, advance the concepts of information literacy that address how we sift through all available information and identify credible sources, most significantly, not simply the sources that fit within the scope of our own schemas. “With more and more information that is being produced in the world, we want to try and find easier methods to consume that information while at the same time realizing that we’re not always seeing the whole view,” Gola states.

It’s about taking the creative and critical approach to finding credible and reliable sources of information. It’s about knowing there are alternative places to conduct a search if at first you don’t find what you’re seeking. It’s about persistence in finding solutions. It’s about being cognizant of the unseen or marginalized voices that exist in our world.

Awareness of information literacy will continue to grow and develop, as well as awareness of its importance. Our ability to inspire critical thought within the information age is priceless. Information literacy is the bedrock of a free and democratic and educated society. Nurturing our students’ ability to navigate through the mechanisms of information delivery, identify credible and authoritative sources, and to recognize the potential for bias is at the heart of the Libraries’ mission, vision, and values. I am so proud of all our librarians who are teaching students to be critical thinkers and information-literate citizens.


From Planning to Action

As another great semester at the University of Houston Libraries winds down, we are looking ahead to the new year and a new phase in our organization. We have recently announced team rosters to accomplish the first wave of projects for our Strategic Plan, and I am so pleased that our librarians and staff members enthusiastically volunteered to work on activities outside of their core duties. It will take the entire library to ensure that we achieve our goals for the benefit of our students, faculty, and researchers.

The Strategic Plan Implementation Executive Team has been steadily working behind the scenes to propel our initiatives. This group has accomplished much since its inception in July by establishing a new modality in strategic planning and organization. The group comprises leaders within the Libraries, many of whom also served on the Strategic Planning Team, who are charged with identifying priorities, balancing opportunities, and serving as an advisory entity for the various project and planning teams that will be activated at various points over the next five years. The Implementation Team is an innovation driver that complements our enduring organizational structure, bringing agile and smart transformation without disruption to the essential services and resources we provide for UH and the scholarly community.

There is so much energy and excitement on campus. Our students remain the focus of all of our efforts, and I am so pleased to see our library positively buzzing with excitement. We recently hosted the fabulous Finals Mania, our twice-yearly tradition of serving a late-night pancake breakfast to those who are diligently studying for exams, as well as Paws and Relax, the popular stress-free event that brings therapy dogs into the library for a fun break from studies.

Paws and Relax December 2016
Paws and Relax December 2016

Our vision is a community nurtured by curiosity and creativity that drives lifelong learning and scholarship. I am incredibly excited that we are all moving forward as one to achieve this vision.

On behalf of all of my colleagues at UH Libraries, we wish you a joyous holiday season and a happy new year!

Forging Ahead

It’s been a wonderful and busy summer, and we at the University of Houston look forward to the start of the fall semester when the campus will be bustling with energy and excitement. In the whirlwind of activity that has been my first year at UH Libraries, I’ve taken a few moments to reflect on all that we’ve accomplished, in anticipation of even greater things on the horizon.

Participating in the UH Center for Diversity and Inclusion's #IAMUH campaign.
Participating in the UH Center for Diversity and Inclusion’s #IAMUH campaign.

Our Strategic Planning Implementation Executive Team has been working to establish standards and provide guidance on the very complex process of realizing the bold and ambitious Strategic Plan goals. Our vision is a community nurtured by curiosity and creativity that drives lifelong learning and scholarship, and we are proud and honored to enact initiatives in partnership with our colleagues on campus and in the community that serve the research and educational needs of our students and faculty.

With Mike Furlough of HathiTrust at the first Libraries Rising: Enriching Conversations event.
With Mike Furlough of HathiTrust at the first Libraries Rising: Enriching Conversations event.

I was very pleased to learn that the UH Libraries has advanced to number 65 in the recently released rankings from the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and to 34th among US public university libraries. This move is a testament to the incredible support that we’ve received from the University, particularly from the Office of the Provost, and with this advocacy, we are able to deliver top-tier resources and services to the UH community and scholars worldwide.

Reading at the first UH African American Read-In.
Reading at the first UH African American Read-In.

A new UH tradition, the Promotion and Tenure Recognition Program, has been created to honor faculty and librarians who have recently been promoted or achieved tenure. The Libraries, in partnership with the Office of Provost, celebrates the accomplishments of these individuals by placing a special book of their choice in our catalog, serving as an enduring tribute to excellence in scholarship. A spin-off program, the UH READ Campaign, features newly promoted and/or tenured faculty and librarians with their book selections, and is prominently displayed in the MD Anderson Library.

With UH NSM Dean Dan Wells at a Downton Abbey-themed event.
With UH NSM Dean Dan Wells at a Downton Abbey-themed event.

Two of our core values are ‘partnerships and collaboration’ and ‘curiosity and experimentation.’ We are thrilled to announce the development of a new makerspace in the MD Anderson Library with our campus partners in the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, an initiative that embodies those key values. Plans are underway for the centrally located, highly accessible, and specially equipped area that will bring low-power electronics, embedded computing, signal processing, sensors and low-power actuators to students in every discipline across campus. ­­

With the Outstanding Group Award recipients at the Staff Awards ceremony.
With the Outstanding Group Award recipients at the Staff Awards ceremony.

And that’s only the beginning! We’re gaining momentum as we approach a fresh academic year, full of vibrant opportunity. Stay tuned as we move onward, forward, and upward! Thank you for your support and partnership!

Planning, Paws, and Pancakes

As the semester comes to a close, I’ve spent some time reflecting on my first semester at the University of Houston. I am so thrilled at all we have accomplished in a few short months, and excited to think about what lies ahead. We are moving forward and onward, and the librarians, staff, and I are doing it together in support of the goals of this great university.

We are embracing strategic planning in the University Libraries with energy and excitement. We are meeting with people – students, faculty, research deans and other groups from across the campus so that we can get wide input from a cross section of our university. We have received input from our librarians and staff, and we collected over a thousand comments that we’re coding and analyzing. Our plan will be completed this spring. It will be both visionary and bold, and it will propel this library toward 2020 and beyond. I am so proud of everyone who is contributing to our plan and its goals. Our libraries are a tremendous resource for the UH community, and we’re proud of our collaborations with colleagues and other campus units to further the educational mission of our students.

We have added several wonderful collections to our Special Collections this fall. One I’d like to highlight is the Emilio R. Ypiñia Journal collection that is a manuscript collection consisting of five distinct journals authored by Emilio R. Ypiñia (1905-1936). A self-educated Mexican national born in Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes, Mexico, Ypiñia immigrated to Houston, Texas, following the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Each volume contains approximately 100 pages and 10-20 poems, essays, and journal entries authored throughout the 1930s, the bulk in 1933. We’re digitizing his journals so that they can be used by scholars worldwide.

This fall was “fun filled and action packed” in the words of associate dean John Lehner. We taught classes, hosted programs, and helped people get to the resources they need. We hosted Finals Mania which was attended by more students than ever, a wonderful night featuring the UH band, cheerleaders, and mascots Sasha and Shasta. And of course, we can’t forget the thousands of pancakes we served.

I got a chance to visit with our students who loved having stress relief from their finals. Students also got a chance to pet therapy dogs who help people relax, and to take a selfie with President Khator. It was wonderful to see so many units on campus volunteering during Finals Mania – it’s a great example of the UH community.

On behalf of all my colleagues at the University Libraries, we say “happy holidays and a happy new year.”

A Vision for the Libraries

One of the things that leaders get asked time and time again is “What’s your vision?” I’ve been here just two months, and I’ve spoken about my vision a lot in discussions with my fellow deans. Below is a flavor of what I am thinking, and in the next few months, I’ll talk more about research services and collaboration with faculty and our strategic planning process.


I believe that the University of Houston Libraries and its librarians and staff transform lives and enrich the academic experience of the students and faculty at our University through our services, collections, and spaces.

I believe that every student has the potential to be successful, and that interaction with librarians will aid in that student success. In my vision, our librarians are embedded in the curriculum in every college. We are teaching information literacy and critical thinking skills to all our students.

In a study that discusses the impact of library usage on retention of first-time, first-year students, Soria, Fransen, and Nackerud, our colleagues at the University of Minnesota, suggest that students who use the library have a higher GPA for their first semester and higher retention from fall to spring than non-library users (portal: Libraries and the Academy, vol. 13:2 (2013) pp. 147-164). Here at the University of Houston, Christina Gola, head of Liaison Services for instruction and outreach, is the UH principal investigator on a large consortial study with almost two dozen other academic libraries that is examining the Libraries’ impact on student learning.

I believe, through our library collections, services, and spaces, we provide opportunities to discover, preserve, create, and share knowledge. We provide access to scholarship and preserve the scholarly record. Scholarly communications is our mission and we believe passionately in freedom of speech and the freedom to read.

My vision for the Libraries is that we will have a robust repository in which to preserve the scholarship of UH faculty and students.

I have a vision that the physical space of our libraries will facilitate learning, full of technology that will enhance student learning and prepare them well for the 21st century. Spaces for quiet contemplation, collaboration, and for creating presentations will be available on every floor with new furniture and modern technology.

Our library is the heart of the university, and I believe every great university deserves and needs a great library. I believe we can work together to go even further.

An Inspiring First Month

This first month as the Dean of Libraries at UH has been a month filled with many new experiences. My welcome breakfast was terrific and the excitement carried through for the entire month. My first goals are to meet my new colleagues and to start building foundations for new relationships. Toward that end, I have met with Provost Short, many of the deans across the colleges, our award winning Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. Richard Walker and Associate Vice President Dan Maxwell, as well as several members of the staff of University Advancement. All value the partnership of the University Libraries as we build on the success of the past in order to forge a bright future.


My second week here, I co-hosted a thank you reception with Dean of the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture Patricia Oliver for Sir Mark Fehrs Haukohl, who donated a large gift of art and architecture books, and surprised me at the reception with a promise of more. Director of Advancement Todd Marrs and I will be working very hard in the next several weeks and months to call on current and future supporters whose passion for our Libraries is only surpassed by our own.

Inside the Libraries, I have been working very closely with the associate deans to learn about the budget and the services we offer. I have met with almost all of the department heads and will continue meeting with more people and with departments. Already, I was fortunate enough to meet with Liaison Services during their retreat and more departmental meetings will follow. I’ve received several reports from task forces who have been working hard on reports on a wide variety of topics, such as digital asset management, digital preservation, digital initiatives policies and guidelines, and digital scholarship services. The directions that many of our colleagues are suggesting are exactly where a university library of our caliber should be heading. In the next week or so, the Provost will be sending out guidelines for a strategic planning process that will commence this fall and conclude next spring. We will create a strategic plan together that will carry us to 2020. What a terrific time to be joining the Libraries!

During the next month, I will be meeting new colleagues at the Texas Digital Library and the Greater Western Library Alliance, organizations in which the UH Libraries plays a very important role.

Thank you so much for this hearty Texas welcome and I look forward to the months and years ahead with you.