The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News February 24, 2006

Librarian Ray English Wins National Award
English Contributes to Library Science in Oberlin and Beyond
The power of reading: Ray English, national honoree, poses with the famous Reading Girl sculpture.

The seemingly omniscient voice behind the message board in Mudd Library, Azariah Smith Root Director of Libraries Ray English, has received the 2006 National Academic/Research Librarian of the Year award for his continued commitment to the field of library science.

English was presented with the award by the Association of College and Research Libraries in recognition of his endeavors to offer open access to scholarship.

“I’ve been involved in working a lot on issues related to how scholarship and research gets communicated through publications,” said English. “There are very serious issues with[in] the traditional system of scholarly publishing. Many scientific journals are extraordinarily expensive. There’s been a history of very rapid price increases, primarily on the part of big commercial publishers. That’s produced a lot of problems in the system in terms of access to scholarship.”

Before coming to Oberlin in 1979, English worked at both Duke University and the University of Virginia. He has been the Director of Libraries at Oberlin since 1990.

“Most of my career has been here, and I’ve been very happy being here,” said English. “It’s been just really gratifying to get the award. I’ve received phone calls and messages from many friends and colleagues and Oberlin alumni, including many people I haven’t been in touch with for a long time.”

English’s career has been a comprehensive one that has helped Oberlin College’s library system enormously.

“There are a lot things that I’ve worked on that I’ve really enjoyed,” said English. “The Library joined OhioLINK, and that’s been very good for Oberlin faculty and students. Our community can borrow materials from other OhioLINK libraries very rapidly and we get wonderful access to electronic journals and databases.

“[Oberlin College] belong[s] to a consortium of liberal arts college libraries called the Oberlin Group,” English said. “It’s called that because the group first met here in Oberlin back in 1986. The group, which functions mostly through the library directors, is made up of 75 selective liberal arts college libraries from around the country.”

English’s sphere of influence has also widely affected the field of librarianship beyond Oberlin, at both the state and national levels.

“I’ve also been involved with the Five Colleges of Ohio, which received a Mellon Foundation grant to work on the information literacy question,” said English. “That’s been a really good group to work with as well.

“At more of a national level I’ve been active in the Association of College and Research Libraries and also in an organization called SPARC [Scholarship Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition],” he said. “It’s an alliance of libraries that has been working very hard on issues related to this system of scholarly communication.”

English has especially worked to broaden the scope of Oberlin Library’s resources independent of other institutions.

“The library has also worked a lot on collaboration with the faculty to incorporate research skills into the curriculum,” said English. “We have librarians who work with pretty much every first-year seminar to help Oberlin students develop good research skills, and that’s something I’m very pleased with.

“Most of our staff have been here a long time and we’ve worked very hard on building a cohesive organization — a staff that’s very service oriented and very attuned to the needs of students,” said English.

English’s commitment to the message board where students can post questions, concerns and suggestions about the library has been a part of his attempt to directly benefit the library and its users.

The message board was created by William A. Moffett, English’s predecessor. English created the “Questions that Never Die” board as an extension of the message board so that responses to commonly received queries do not have to be repeated.

“I try to demonstrate in concrete ways that the library is responsive to student needs and concerns,” said English. “It also helps us run an effective library because students point out things that need to be corrected, and that enables us to take steps to get things right.”

English and his contributions have not gone unnoticed by students and faculty in the library.

“He’s approachable,” said Lisa Brias, library circulation supervisor. “I think he cares about the building. Over the years he’s been involved in protecting our moon chairs and the collection. The last few semesters we’ve worked to cut down thefts.”

“From the time I met him I knew he was really dedicated to his library and to the profession of librarianship,” said Megan Kinney, Mellon librarian recruitment program coordinator. “A big part of being dedicated to the Oberlin College Library is his focus on students.

“I’m most familiar with his contribution to recruitment to the library profession, to put librarianship on the radar screen of undergraduates, particularly of undergraduates from diverse backgrounds,” said Kinney.

“The profession needs new talent, and Oberlin students make great librarians,” said English.

The Librarian of the Year award seems to have been a long time coming for English, who continues to be an integral part of the Oberlin Library.


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