Jan Summers: How the librarian stays ahead of the technology curve | boomtown

Jan Summers remembers when she had to clip newspapers with a pair of scissors for the Columbia Daily Tribune reference files in 1984.

She also remembers spending 20 minutes every afternoon in 1992 to back up the library system at Hickman High School. It required 12 floppy disks.

Her first memory of a computer lab for students was in the late 1990s when a few dozen desktop models were introduced in the Harrisburg School District.

For 50 years, Summers has worked as a library media specialist with a front-row seat to watch the explosion of the internet. Through it all, she has learned to adapt and grow with the technology.

“I think it’s true that the more things change, the more they still stay the same,” she said.

Summers, 71, now works part-time at Hickman High School, entering new book titles into the online Destiny catalog system. Although she officially retired in 2011, she said she can’t leave the library quite yet.

“My husband says I just work over there to talk,” she said. “I keep so busy over there, and I have so much fun doing things. I’m working part-time for fun.”

As a media specialist, Summers has learned all sorts of ways to find, organize and present information. Her former “clientele” de ella has included reporters rushing to find an old article before deadline, high school students working on class projects and elementary school students who need training on online safety.

One aspect of a librarian’s job is to discover new and innovative ways to encourage people to read, she said. The information remains the same, but the apparatus is always evolving.

One example is audiobooks. While “talking books” have been around since the 1930s, the emergence of cassette tapes, then compact discs, then downloadable files expanded the audiobook market.

Yet, despite the popularity of audiobooks and e-books, actual books have not gone out of style, she said.

“Before 2000 came around, people were saying (books) were going to all be online; they’re all going to be audiobooks; they’re all going to be e-books,” Summers said. “We’ve got kids — the younger generation — who still love to have that book in their hand.”

A career in library sciences wasn’t always the plan for Summers. She initially earned a degree in Spanish education but decided to earn an additional library sciences degree after working as a clerk at the University Library at the University of Illinois in Urbana.

The head of the library catalog department encouraged her and other young women to go back to school to become librarians.

“It seemed like an endless supply of people were interested,” Summers said. “They had a waiting list for people doing clerical jobs.”

After graduating in 1975, Summers worked at a junior high school in Urbana for three years. She moved to Columbia when her husband, Gerald, was offered a teaching position at MU, and she took a clerical job at Rock Bridge High School.

“I was there for three years,” she said. “Then, I’ll never know exactly why I did this — but I’m glad I did — I left that job to go become the news librarian at the Columbia Tribune.”

From 1984 to 1992, Summers worked in the archives at the Tribune, curiously located in the sports department.

“It was wild,” she said. “I loved those guys, they were just a hoot.”

While a newsroom seems like another planet compared to a school library, Summers said they’re actually not so different.

“Reporters on deadline, wanting some information right now, are just like junior high school students who haven’t prepared far enough in advance,” she said.

After the Tribune, Summers moved back to public school libraries in a paraprofessional position at Hickman.

“I was frustrated because, at that point, they weren’t quite ready to spend the big chunk of money it would take to automate,” Summers said. “The head of the library encouraged me to get involved with online resources for the kids to use and the teachers to use with their kids,” at Hickman.

At the time, Listserv and the VERONICA search engine, an acronym for the Very Easy, Rodent-Oriented, Net-wide Index to Computerized Archives were used to conduct research and find information.

“The World Wide Web changed everything,” she said. “All the ways we use the internet. There were things people would do, for example going through email, you would be able to communicate with another teacher and that teacher’s class for some project. It was fun, and it was exciting.”

While the method of finding information has changed since 1975, helping children with their research has not. Summers not only cataloged books, but she also taught children how to conduct research effectively and safely. These skills will prove useful for the rest of their lives, she said.

Eleven years since her retirement in 2011, Summers is willing to let others take the reins for finding new and innovating information systems. She’s happy to be in the room where it happens, and she offers sage wisdom when necessary.

Julie Ryan, Hickman High School’s library media center clerk, said Summers’ advice has been invaluable.

“I think what’s so neat about Jan is that she always wants to learn about new trends and new technologies, but she also understands what her knowledge contributes to what we need to know now, too,” Ryan said.

Ryan is working toward a master’s degree in library science and often asks Summers about the vast organizational and institutional knowledge she possesses.

“Jan has been such a wealth of knowledge and information to put some context into the things we do as librarians, and things that have changed or shifted as time has gone on,” Ryan said.

When she’s not at the library, Summers provides piano accompaniment for the school choirs and serves as president of the Missouri Gymnastics Booster Club. The club coordinates events and raises funds for Tiger gymnasts in competition.

Summers and her husband have followed MU gymnastics for 34 years and go to all of their meets.

“It’s very true — old dogs, new tricks — it’s really hard,” Summers said. “And if you have to change your whole perspective on (technology), give yourself some grace. Don’t be afraid of it, ask for help.”


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