New library director

New Durick Library director Laura Crain hits ground running

September 5, 2019
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer
Image of Laura Crain in her office

Directly above, Laura Crain in her new office at Durick. Below, Crain stands by a display on the new Common Text for first-year students, located in the library’s entrance area. (photos by Mark Tarnacki, file exterior by Brian MacDonald))

Libraries and librarians “introduce students to the concept that scholarship is a conversation,” says Laura Crain, who became Saint Michael’s College’s new director of library and information services in Durick Library starting August 1 with the departure of longtime director John Payne.

Crain feels confident at the Durick helm given her close familiarity with all its operations and employees. She was the College’s Collection Manager since 1996 until her recent promotion. “I see myself as a bridge builder,” says Crain. “I’m building bridges by connecting faculty, students, staff and administrators to the Library.” The “conversation of scholarship” to her mind amounts to “sustained discourse within a community of scholars, researchers or professionals,” and the library is dedicated to “the education of the whole person, fostering information and communication literacy for academic and career success.”

Crain’s life and work history have made her adaptable with a broad and inclusive outlook. She lived all over the South growing up in a military family before landing for undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia, where she majored in English. After that she earned her master’s in library science at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. From there she worked at large urban public libraries in Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis before helping build an archive of African American music and culture at Indiana University on a grant from the Ford Foundation. Frequent visits to good friends in Vermont introduced her to the state’s natural beauty and outdoor fitness culture, both important to her, and she made the move to the Green Mountains when Saint Michael’s hired her.

Crain sees her leadership strengths as “collaboration, inclusivity, communication and managing change,” and she is committed to developing “an inclusive, collaborative vision that sets a clear direction for the library dovetailing with President Sterritt’s vision statement for the College.”

John Payne was the third and most recent Durick director that Crain worked with since 1996. He had the job for the past 13 years, in which time, both say, they built a most productive working relationship with Crain still feeling free to ask any questions of Payne from his new job directing the library at Saint Lawrence University in upstate New York.

“John was a great director and really built on everyone’s strengths and I think encouraged us all to sit on committees and be part of the campus — and that’s really true about all of us now,” Crain said. Payne speaks with deep admiration for his successor. “Laura has a real vision for what constitutes a great library in the 21st Century. Her thinking is both creative and strategic,” he said. “She is also one of the most ethical and caring people I have ever known.”

Crain feels her connection to Saint Michael’s at a deep personal level. “I know everyone says this, but it is the community that makes Saint Michael’s College special,” she said. “The roots of social justice and hospitality were planted by the Edmundite founders and that ethos continues to flourish.” She feels students receive an outstanding education at the College with its emphasis on educating the whole person.

But the library is “much more than books and a place to study,” Crain said, noting that other offices residing in Durick with natural symbiosis with her staff and its mission include Academic Support Services, Accessibility Services, Peer Tutoring and the Writing Center, along with a newly dedicated meditation room for this year. The building also has a Knight Card machine, exhibits, a snack room with vending machines, “and most importantly, librarians and library staff who support students in their research and study.”

Technology Brings Change

Libraries have changed a lot since she started, Crain said, from being primarily a physical space housing physical materials 20-plus years ago, to now when “so much of what we have is online and students can access that from anywhere on campus.” Popular with today’s students are streaming services for audio and videos — large DVD collection for films and books on tape are primarily checked out by faculty and staff now, she said. The library also has an Instagram account for social media outreach.

Laura Crain next to display case Highly important to Crain is a commitment from her and the library to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in programming, services, collections, “and in our support of students, faculty and staff.” These find expression in exhibits, artwork, books and databases, such as recently added database of African-American newspapers through U.S. history. “We provide diversity training for all of our student employees and professional development for staff that includes diversity training,” she said. Crain is an adviser for the campus group Common Ground that supports the LGBTQ community and awareness. She and her wife have an adult son and a teenager at home, along with their two elderly dogs.

With advancing technology, the Durick staff has been able to become smaller without being in any measurable degree less effective in recent years. Staff have taken the initiative to fill more roles and diversify their interests and skills while optimizing available technology, Crain said. ”Our librarians are a creative bunch. Steve Burks was our science librarian and we didn’t replace him when he retired, so Kristin Hindes and Beth Dietrich, and also Liz Scott in Archives have taken on the bulk of chemistry, biology, environmental sciences and physics. Beth took a chemistry class this summer. So people whose backgrounds isn’t in the sciences are really stepping up.” A new evening circulation supervisor, Jamie Slater, was hired this summer too.

“I think we have a really versatile staff now who can open and close the building, catalog a book, answer a reference question, and we all jump onto the floor when needed,” said Crain, who will continue teaching one or two information literacy sessions for classes of students as she has in the past. She finds useful peer support from the Vermont Consortium for Academic libraries and the Consortium with Middlebury and Champlain of recent years.

Crain served recently on President Sterritt’s Vision Team, “so I really got a good glimpse of her priorities. She’s very inspiring and I think just has a great handle on the direction we need to move in. They introduced her at one meeting as the ‘Inspirer-in-Chief’!’”

It’s about the students

Perhaps most important to Crain and her staff is “contributing to students’ learning outcomes” by advancing that concept of scholarship as conversation. “Students learn to notice sources of information – blogs, Twitter, Tublr, scholarly articles, popular magazines, government publications, and they learn to evaluate sources using a variety of criteria including subject expertise, accuracy, privilege and biases,” Crain said. Most of her time since 1996 has been dedicated to building the library collections, print and digital, “and I am proud of the depth and breadth of scholarly content that we offer our students. I have a reputation as a relentless price negotiator and over the years I have successfully stretched the College’s dollar.”

Major projects Crain also has been involved with, beyond diversity, the Vision Team and strategic planning, have been working on the NECHE reaccreditation, specifically the Assessment standards, and she was a member of the Staff Welfare Committee.

“The library staff is positive and hopeful for the future,” the new director said. “We look forward to collaborating with faculty and to our work with students this year. With students back now, they’re streaming in here and they appear really motivated these first couple weeks and our hope is that doesn’t dwindle off.”

“I know everyone says this, but it is the community that makes Saint Michael’s College special. The roots of social justice and hospitality were planted by the Edmundite founders and that ethos continues to flourish.”

Laura Crain

Follow us on social.