Interview with Merrill Johnson, George Fox University

Continuing our interview series of reaching out to academic library leaders across the state to facilitate “getting to know” our colleagues:  the next interview in this series is with Merrill Johnson, University Librarian at George Fox University in Newberg.

Thanks for talking with us, Merrill!

1. Tell us a little bit about your work background.

Merrill Johnson
Merrill Johnson, University Librarian, George Fox University (personal photo provided)

I worked as a college student in a couple of different libraries before deciding to become a librarian. After receiving my M.L.S., I worked for six years at the Klamath County Library before coming to George Fox University to fill a reference position. After four years in reference, I became library director.

2. What has been the best thing that has happened to you since you started your position?

There really is not one thing that could be identified as THE best. Serving as director during a major addition/renovation project here at George Fox was a great opportunity, although it brought with it a number of unusual and difficult challenges. I have also been here long enough to see our building transformed through a major repurposing of space that reduced the size of the print collection, established a learning commons through which we added significant new technology and partnered with other departments, created new kinds of user spaces, purchased new furnishings, re-carpeted, and re-painted. It has been great to see the increased use of the building. We have also undergone some recent changes and improvements at our Portland Center library.

The move to digital resources has also been one of the best things that has happened. Not just databases and ejournals/ebooks, but the creation of Digital Commons@George Fox University (our institutional repository) and the positive impact it is having.

3. What would you like Oregon academic librarians to know about you?

I enjoy researching family history, as well as studying and understanding the context in which they lived their lives. I also enjoy reading, traveling (although we don’t do nearly enough!), music (as a listener, not a participant), observing wildlife and nature (including the birds, squirrels, and fish that are a part of our yard), and I am a big sports fan.

4. What is the biggest challenge facing your library in the upcoming year?

Although this is something of an ongoing need, adapting to changing research service and information literacy needs. For example, major changes will soon be implemented in the general education package, and while we feel confident about the library’s information literacy role relative to these changes, this will be a time of some adjustment and change. We are also seeing an increase in demand for research consultations from advanced students, particularly in some graduate programs. This is actually a good thing, but it does stretch our human resources.

5. What would you like Oregon academic librarians to know about your institution?

George Fox is a Christian university that has experienced remarkable growth and success over the past few decades. An undergraduate liberal arts college with about 550 students in 1986, it has grown to over 3,900 total students with more than forty majors, adult degree programs, six seminary degrees, and 12 master’s and doctoral degrees.

6. What does advocacy for academic libraries look like from your perspective as a library director?

Academic libraries need to be very aware of the campus climate and the evolving needs of our users. Anticipating and understanding these needs and proactively finding ways to meet them is very important. We also need to be sure that key administrators understand that who we are and what we do meshes well with the larger institutional goals and priorities, and that in fact, the library helps the university achieve these goals and priorities.

~ Stephanie Debner, ACRL-OR Vice President – President Elect (2015-2016)
Faculty Librarian
Mt. Hood Community College

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