Success Stories

From the Library Director: “We try to make students feel like they are in their own living room here”.

Mgr. Taťána Škarková

Central Library

For more than thirteen years, Taťána Škarková has been running the Faculty of Science’s Central Library on Kotlářské Street. Before that, she also worked for thirteen years at the Municipal Library in Moravsky Krumlov, where she originally comes from. After thirteen years she is definitely not thinking of another change, despite commuting over two hours a day to work. Working in the library still keeps her fulfilled and amused, and she happy to have a great team of colleagues to work with.

Foto: Irina Matusevich

What makes work in the Faculty of Science’s Central Library so special?

We are very fortunate that the library building was designed and built, almost 20 years ago, close to the Botanic Gardens, allowing greenery to permeate the glass-enclosed study rooms used by students and library visitors. I think this is a great feature, especially for new users who are starting to use the library services. This initial impression can be a calming factor in the face of all the information technology and other responsibilities associated with information and digital literacy they will acquire and improve during their studies. Also, we are a ‘hybrid’ library, in that we offer both printed and electronic books and, most importantly, access to electronic information resources.

Do you think the environment in the library itself influences whether visitors will return?

I believe so, and for this reason, we try to make all changes to the interior spaces in this spirit, with greenery always playing an important role. We all spend a significant amount of our time here, so we want the library spaces to be pleasant. In short, we try to make our users feel at home here, preferably like being in their own living room.

What specific steps can you take as Director?

During renovation of the ground floor premises in 2016, we set up a new relaxation area, a kitchen and two new seminar rooms where students could meet, work on joint projects and discuss things without disturbing others. It is very important to offer such spaces, especially in a university environment. We also equipped the library with comfortable seating and magnetic whiteboards, which, unlike the old bulletin boards, allow greater interaction between students and library staff. Everywhere was decorated with flowers and, where needed, we added carpets to improve the acoustics. But that is far from all that needs improvement. We also developed a project to revitalise the entire outdoor area of ​​the atrium, which now allows users to study, or spend their free time, in a pleasant natural area. We are presently working on a new project that aims to improve the quality of two study and seminar rooms, particularly as regards soundproofing and creating an attractive place to study and relax.

Have the changes also affected the services provided?

The range of information resources that students and academic staff need has certainly changed; it is no longer just a printed book they need but different kinds of electronic resource. During the two years when the library operated under the various anti-COVID measures, access to electronic information resources increased significantly - and that’s good.

Can current students work with the electronic information resources?

The library has taken several steps to ensure this. During each semester, for example, we organise industry-focused training sessions, seminars and information sessions for Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral students. The faculty also provides special subjects focused on working with e-resources as part of the study courses offered, and we offer credit-rated subjects such as ‘Information Education’ and ‘Multimedia I & II’. Thanks to this, e-resources have become more popular and more widely used. During the COVID pandemic, this was also helped by the E-loan project, which made it possible to produce scans of requested books and make them available to students online, to study in the comfort of their homes. While the E-loan project has officially finished, we are continuing to scan other key titles that are not physically available in sufficient numbers.

Did students ‘forget the way’ to the library due to the anti-COVID measures?

Fortunately, not. Libraries have shown that, during COVID, they were able to react very quickly and provide the requested content in time, clearly and in a virtual form. Indeed, the COVID experience has accelerated several issues related to remote access. And we have no reason to worry about library attendance after COVID; students still come to us and have actually learnt to use the library more.

During COVID, young people had more time to read; has this continued?

I would not say that young people didn’t read. Recent polls have shown that people who read before COVID continued to read afterwards. Book production, which began to decline slightly after the outbreak of the pandemic, has now returned to its original level, with books now selling at the same rate as before COVID. People who were used to reading simply kept reading; but even those who didn’t read before began using audiobooks, for example, and that’s good. Even listening to audiobooks gives us something; just like reading, it educates and entertains.

What form do you prefer?

Definitely, a printed book. I need the smell of books; I’m a bibliophile and no device, even one that perfectly imitates a book, can replace that.

Photo: Irina Matusevich

Do you have a favourite book? For example, from childhood...

I have; It’s the only book I can read repeatedly and keep coming back to, something I don't usually do. It’s by John Kennedy Toole and it’s called ‘Society of Fools’. It’s a satire set in 1960s America and is about a thirty-something man who lives with his mother. I’d never had so much fun as I did when I read that book for the first time. I now have it in three editions. From my childhood, ‘Mammoth Hunters’ probably stuck with me the most. As a child, I often had angina and had to take penicillin. To this day, when I smell penicillin, I remember the whole prehistoric story.

Was becoming a librarian a childhood dream?

It wasn’t really a childhood dream; though I have loved books all my life. Though books are my joy, librarianship was only a second choice.

What was the first choice?

We had a farm where my parents raised foxes, nutria and mink, so I studied to become a furrier. I was a bit of a rebel in my youth and took a somewhat ‘winding’ path to education. I still don’t regret the years I spent studying to be a furrier; I had a lot of fun and met many interesting people with whom I’m still friends today. Once I started the practical courses, however, I knew I didn’t want to do this anymore.

I always had a great desire for knowledge, so I signed up for distance learning at the Secondary Library School in Brno. That particular year, the first year did not open, so I took the differential exams and, after successfully passing, I went straight to the second year. They recognised part of my former studies, and I completed English, economic geography and a subject called scientific information and librarianship. After that, I decided to apply for a history-archaeology course at the Faculty of Arts, though this didn’t work out for me. I was betrayed by my handwriting, which looks good but is hard to read. During the oral interview, the commission told me that most of the text was unreadable and that this was reflected in the classification of the written test, so I was not accepted. It was a huge disappointment, but I later returned to study at the Faculty of Arts.

After graduating from the Secondary Library School, I worked in the Moravian Provincial Library and, after maternity leave, I joined the Municipal Library in Moravsky Krumlov, where I originally come from. I worked there for 13 years and, while working, I studied combined studies at the Faculty of Arts, majoring in Information Studies and Librarianship.

Why did you decide to continue your studies at university?

The motivation for me was that librarianship is a very dynamic field based on teamwork, which gave me great satisfaction. During my employment, I completed various professional training courses, one of which was led by Hana Vochozková (now my colleague and head of the MU Library and Information Centre), and she alerted me to the possibility of further librarianship studies. I started my studies in 2001 and graduated first with a Bachelor’s degree and then a subsequent Master’s degree.

You joined the library at the Faculty of Science 13 years ago. Has the job changed in that time?

Yes, it has changed, and quite fundamentally. Today’s libraries have a totally different outlook, offering many new and expanded activities and services other than just lending documents. For example, the university library now requires lecturers for information education, experts in document description, metadata management and support personnel for science and research and other library activities. It is also important to be able to present yourself well on social networks and work with different presentation programs. While the library profession is becoming increasingly visible, thanks to its interesting projects and personalities, the profession as a whole is still underappreciated and does not have the prestige it deserves. But I think the ball is in the court of us librarians.

Where do you get your strength and new inspiration?

I have a beautiful family and great friends and I am very happy when we are together. I love traveling and getting to know interesting places, both here and abroad. I relax best in nature with a book. I spend three hours commuting every day and I use this time in any way other than with a book in my hand! In recent years, I have begun to live up to the newer designation of a librarian as an information specialist by studying English with a mobile phone in my hand.

Thank you for the interview.
Tereza Fojtová

Translation: Kevin Roche

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