I Love My Librarian Award Winner Elissa Checov: Re-Imagining the Library

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By Steve Zalusky

Elissa Checov’s vision extends beyond her library at Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville, Georgia.  That vision is the reason she received one of the 2016 I Love My Librarian awards.

Her nominator for the award, Brian Wren, said Checov rejects the notion that the library is merely “a repository for old books and ideas struggling to keep up with the accessibility of information on the internet.”  She makes sure her library is a magnet for students – a place where they can engage with each other and develop their skills with the latest technology.

One sees the difference when one enters the library. She redesigned the entrance to give the space more of a lounge feel. Students are welcomed into a commons area with comfortable seating and themed displays that encourage them to interact socially and collaborate on projects.

Surveying the library, one is struck by the sight of students diligently working on library computers and laptops and occupying carrels and conference rooms.  Headcounts reveal anywhere from 45 to 75 people occupying the library throughout the day, with the library often filled by 9 a.m.

Wren calls Checov, manager of library services, Gwinnett Technical College/Gwinnett County Public Library, a “powerhouse of positivity and purpose” who seeks ways to turn on its head commonplace notions of college libraries.

Checov and her staff have developed personal relationships with the students and assist them on a one-on-one basis. Their dedication pays off in academic success and personal growth, with students returning to the library to report on how the help they received led to an ‘A.”

Wren, director of an adult education program for at-risk youth, said she has reached out to him regularly to suggest ideas for engaging his youths as they prepare to transition to college. She has also spoken with youths who are excited to be in the program.

“Importantly,” he said, “she has extended borrowing privileges to Adult Education students and encourages them to use the library, believing that if they have a good experience with library staff and resources, they may one day decide to enroll in credit programs.”

Checov is constantly exploring ways to pump life into the library.

Wren said, “Her vision to continually re-imagine every aspect--from the ways students access information to how the library should act as an instructional arm of the college to the very layout and physical amenities of the space--keep the library experience fresh for our students, faculty, staff, and visitors.”

He explained, “Ours is a commuter campus, but Elissa is strong in her belief that our students deserve university-level access and creative outlets. Aside from keeping our library services at the fore-front of innovation for the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG), she has continually encouraged her staff to develop creative outlets and engage students to enhance their college experience and allow them feel part of the college community.”

Checov helps foster a sense of community by having the library offer such events as Poetry Night in April and Story Night in November. Each event features about 20 performers and attracts nearly 100 people.

In addition, two library staff members are Multicultural Club advisors.  On Mondays, the library hosts a movie matinee to advertise the titles available for checkout.

In 2015, she met with the college communications department to add library content to the college’s Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest pages. The library was also granted permission to create its own Pinterest Board to promote events, as well as content relevant to student needs.

Checov established a Library Advisory Board and also reconfigured the campus library to create a one-stop circulation and reference desk.

Checov’s influence is felt throughout the college. She provided input on the design for college’s new Alpharetta-North Fulton campus, assessing, along with her staff student activity, use of technology and furnishings. The outcome was an idea, some of which has been adopted, for a learning commons that would merge such resources as the library, the Learning Success Center, classrooms and faculty into a single space.

She has met extensively with the college’s director of distance education to discuss how best to deliver online training to faculty and staff. She has also served on a number of college strategic planning committees and was selected to chair the committee for the college’s first year of implementing a campus-wide academic program review system.

Her leadership also led to the college’s being the first in the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) to offer LibGuides, a knowledge base to serve students and staff alike with materials and services 24 hours a day.

Her impact extends to the county’s public library system, for which she has acted as chair of its Web Management Team and a member of the Technology Plan team, winning two CARE awards (Committee for the Acknowledgment and Recognition of Employees) from the Gwinnett County Public Library System and nominated eight other times.

Library instruction is key for Checov, and she has re-purposed office and workrooms into hands-on learning spaces for library instruction/information literacy workshops. She is an essential resource for instructors, collaborating with the English, Speech, Nursing, Veterinary, Surgical Tech, Sonography, Cardiovascular, and Culinary departments.

In 2015, she delivered 276 workshops to more than 4,600 students.  “Elissa is nothing short of a force here, and our students are able to perform academically at the level they do because of her performance as a leader,” Wren said.

During an interview conducted when she received her award, she said the most rewarding part of her job is “the thrill that I can from people using the space and making it theirs.”  She said libraries are “the center of the universe. They are a true signifier of higher learning.”

“The notion that they are just books certainly has gone away, and people are recognizing that they are much more, and I am a part of realizing that vision,” she said.

The I Love My Librarian Award is sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York, The New York Times, and the New York Public Library. The award is administered by the American Library Association.

Read more about the award and other 2016 winners at www.ilovelibraries.org/lovemylibrarian.

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