The world of library science has changed dramatically since Robert Miller entered it more than 30 years ago—and nowhere is that change more evident than at UMUC. Today, a trip to the library doesn't mean perusing towering shelves of dusty volumes. Instead, an online portal offers access to more than 75,000 electronic journals and 20,000 e-books, all via the World Wide Web.
As the media changes, the role of the librarian changes, too—but it has become no less important.
"I think for some of our students, especially those who are returning to school for the first time in years, the online library is something brand new, probably unfamiliar, and a little bit intimidating," said Miller, a reference and instruction librarian at UMUC. "I love taking calls from students when I can tell they're a little bit lost...and I have a chance to talk them through it, get them started...finding a few things, and I can hear their relief and sense that they're starting to develop some confidence."
He also enjoys the opportunity to teach, and points out that UMUC librarians emphasize that the library today is much more than just a warehouse of information.
"We actively partner with faculty and staff to help teach students information literacy skills and help them become smart users of information," said Miller.
That multifaceted role—as teacher, assistant, and guide—is one that drew Miller to library science and kept him passionate about the field for more than 30 years.
"I began as a page in the public library in my hometown, shelving books, and I really enjoyed the atmosphere. I liked being surrounded by books and magazines, but I also liked the people there and the sense that I was serving the community."
He enjoyed it so much, in fact, that after first earning a bachelor's degree in English from Rutgers University, he returned to complete a master's degree in library science. He worked in several public libraries and, for a time, worked in the art library at Princeton University. He admits that it was something of a culture shock to come to UMUC, but he was relieved to learn that many of the facets of the job that he loved were still the same.
"It was certainly different, coming to UMUC's virtual library from a brick-and-mortar library, but some things were still the same.... The service ethic that I valued so much was really no different in an online environment."
Perhaps most exciting, Miller noted, is the increased scope of influence afforded by the virtual world. Working in a small public library, he had served only a very localized community. At UMUC, he is able to reach students and faculty around the world.
"That's a huge leap for libraries in the Digital Age," Miller said. "Even though information is much more easily attainable now, I think that librarians will always have a role, because it is becoming increasingly important to organize the information and educate people about how to access it, how to evaluate it, and how to become smart consumers of information."