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Winter Edition
Volume 100, Number 3

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Jonathan Lauer, opening the portal to all human knowledge

A few facts about the director of Murray Library

Jonathan Lauer has directed Murray Library since October 16, 1989.  He has taught general education courses since 1994, and holds a master's of theology in addition to his master's in library science and a bachelor's degree in German.  He oversees 5 other librarians and 10 support staff, manages the library's budget, and serves on various committees on campus and off — in addition to chairing Messiah's library committee, he serves on the Academic Counsel, the Provost's Cabinet, with the Associated College Libraries of Central Pennsylvania, on accreditation teams for the Middle States Association (visiting colleges as far away as Puerto Rico), and is on the membership committee for the Association of College and Research Libraries.  This Bob Dylan enthusiast, avid fiction reader, professor, and librarian sat down to talk to The Bridge about his nearly twenty years at Murray Library. 

Jonathan Lauer in his office

Mackenzie Martin '08

What's changed since you first came to Messiah as library director?

It goes without saying that libraries and librarianship have changed a lot.  I came here when the College was in the middle of the process to choose its first automated library system.  I came and was involved in the final selection and then oversaw the implementation.  It was in 1990 that we had our first online catalog.  That's only 18 years ago.  Since then, of course it's hard to imagine a library without the world wide web and all kinds of databases.  It's remarkable to realize how recent some of those developments are. 

What one thing would you like people to know about Murray Library above all others?

What I would like everyone to know about the library is that we are an up-to-date information resource of staggering format, variety, and depth, staffed by competent and welcoming individuals who enjoy their work and pursue it as a calling.  Murray Library is a destination in itself and a gateway to the entire universe of human knowledge.  We serve and educate our readers. 

What one or two top resources does the library offer that give students access to the "vast universe of knowledge"?  

The two databases that offer the broadest access are WorldCat and EBSCOHost.  WorldCat offers access to resources of all kinds (except periodical literature), more than 100 million items in 400+ languages from more than 50,000 libraries worldwide.  EBSCOHost lists articles in tens of thousands of magazines and journals, in many cases available online in full text, through scores of databases, including the ever versatile Academic Search Complete. 

What would you say to students about the necessity for information literacy?

Here's a definition from the American Library Association (1989) of an information literate person: "To be information literate, a person must be able to recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information." I would emphasize that at Messiah College, we seek to embed the information literacy instruction in the curriculum, beginning in First Year Seminar in the research paper and in the Library Competency Exam.  Information literacy instruction continues, to varying degrees, depending on the discipline, up through the majors. Again, at times when students need more advanced instruction to succeed in particular assignments. Ideally, these skills will become part of the lifelong learning skill set of Messiah alums. 

How did you become a librarian?

I went to Wheaton College.  When I went there it was very much a liberal arts institution in that it was made very clear to us that we were there for the intrinsic value of our education, not its instrumental value.  We were there to become better people, more aware of the world and of the human endeavor.  That was more important than any particular career we might be preparing for.  I loved that environment. The downside of all of that is that I didn't really think much about what I would be doing when I graduated.  So. . . when you don't know what to do, you become a missionary, right?  I got married just before I graduated and my wife and I became missionary teachers at Black Forest Academy in Germany. 

At some point I remembered an off-handed comment that one of my professors made. I was a German major and I took some other foreign languages, and this French teachers just one day off-the-cuff said, "you know, library science is a pretty good profession to go into if you like foreign languages because at major universities they always need people who can read foreign languages to catalog books and help people use foreign language materials." While we were there in Germany I applied to the University of Chicago graduate library school, which was a very good school and close to home. 

Not a path that people in career development would necessarily be proud of. The other thing was I had this romantic notion about liking books and being around books and I liked the academic environment — my dad was a professor at Wheaton. And librarianship has been very good to me.  It's been a good life. 

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