It's no secret, especially among Western Washington University faculty, that access to academic resources is critical to the university's ongoing excellence. In a time when budgets are tight and costs are increasing, it's especially important to find other ways to ensure academic work can continue unabated.
That's one reason that Western Libraries recently hired Mike Olson to be director of Scholarly Resources and Collection Services.
In the new position, Olson oversees scholarly communications and leads and administers collection development and services at Western Libraries. Providing leadership for the selection and management of collections, he also coordinates the development and promotion of sustainable models of scholarly communication by working closely with library leadership, staff and external stakeholders to advance other digital initiatives.
History Professor Amanda Eurich, who served on the search committee that recommended Olson’s hire, said she was struck by his experience and his qualifications.
"Mike was on the top of my list when I received the applicant files because of the years of experience he had in collection development," she said. "But even more importantly, he is a committed scholar, engaged in the process of research and writing. Because of this, I felt that he would truly understand faculty investment in library resources."
As an academic librarian at a number of institutions, including both Harvard University and UCLA, Olson has been actively involved with scholarly communication and resource access for more than 25 years. Additionally, because he is also an accomplished scholar, he personally understands the importance of securing access to materials that support writing and research needs.
"I know firsthand the user’s joy and exhilaration when academic libraries get it right, and the pain and frustration when they don’t," Olson said. "I think Western Libraries does so many things right, and we want to improve whenever we can."
The cost of journal and database subscriptions rise about 4 to 6 percent each year, and the budget allocated to pay for them can't keep up.
But by negotiating better subscription terms, favoring open access models of scholarly communication and regularly reviewing and adjusting current subscriptions lists, there are things the Libraries can do institutionally to strengthen purchasing power and provide greater access to resources, Olson said.
“The acquisitions budget has always been a big problem, especially for people in fields like history, who rely heavily on the library for their research," said History Professor Peter Diehl. "There are journals that are needed, especially those in other languages, which get cut because of a lack of funds. The cost of academic monographs keeps going up but the budget to acquire them does not.”
Eurich agreed. While being a member of a consortium such as the Orbis Cascade Alliance has many benefits, she said, sometimes faculty and students just need to grab a book right away.
“You could say the library is our lab,” she said. “It is still important to have works on the shelf. We consider ourselves a writing-intensive discipline. Our students are conversant with Summit, but they still sometimes need immediate access to books and other resources.”
In addition to his experience and expertise, Olson’s personality and open communication style lend themselves well to facing the challenges that lie ahead. Diehl, who has a friendship with Olson dating back to when they first met as graduate students at UCLA over 30 years ago, spoke highly of Olson’s excellent interpersonal skills.
“He works so well with other people, and that’s a real asset. He has successful experience, both with collection development and with people,” Diehl said. “And, on a personal note, he gives me someone to watch football games with!”
Olson explained that he has a personal interest in sports, movies, and music.
“I’m curious about many other things as well, so that has been useful in my career as a collection development librarian, and when talking with people in higher education. As a native Seattleite and an alum of the University of Washington, I really feel right at home here at Western,” said Olson.
Olson emphasized that he is always pleased to meet with faculty to discuss the Libraries’ scholarly resources, and that he wants to encourage anyone interested in these issues to contact him. He intends to spend the upcoming year meeting with faculty independently and in small groups to learn more about how they currently use the Libraries’ resources, and their needs and priorities for the future. These meetings will feed directly into the creation of a “Resource Access Plan,” which will be fully developed this time next year. In looking forward, Olson spoke about the importance of increasing access to information by finding ways to remove barriers to content and scholarship.
“I want to enable Western’s students, faculty, staff, and administrators to work more effectively. Also, I want to ensure that our library resources are highly useful and highly-used. I really have one goal, and everything else fits within it: to collaborate campus-wide on rational and transparent ways to provide access to scholarly resources for the Western community,” said Olson.
Mike Olson can be contacted by phone (360) 650-4320 or via email Mike.Olson@wwu.edu.