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Striking Gold: getting to know librarian Helene Gold

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With areas of expertise in web design and development, information literacy instruction and assessment and student engagement, Helene Gold brings an important perspective to the Jane Bancroft Cook Library and the New College community. Her passion for learning is infectious and she brings a positive and calming energy to the often-stressful academic atmosphere. 

Gold grew up in Lee, Ma. and is a proud community college graduate. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the State University of New York’s University at Albany. Before working at New College, she worked at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. as the Electronic and Instructional Services Librarian. She most recently served as a faculty librarian at Tallahassee Community College for over five years, where she provided guidance for the information literacy program and organized many student-centered library events and programs. 

What made you decide to work at New College?

“I’ve always wanted to work here,” Gold began. “It goes way back. I started my career as a librarian in 1997 at Eckerd College, just over in St. Pete, which is a private liberal arts college. There was a woman who was an adjunct at Eckerd who went to school here and whose husband was a professor here. I became personal friends with her, so I used to hang out with her and her professor-husband and other faculty from New College back in the late 90s. It just seemed like such an extraordinarily anti-establishment kind of alternative, a creative place. Eckerd was amazing but I always had this feeling that New College was a better fit for me in that way, so 23 years later, through all of the different turns and shifts in my career, I finally came here. New College has been on my radar for a very long time and the timing was right and here I am, I’m so thrilled to be here. I feel very much at home.”

Out of all your areas of expertise, which are you most passionate about?

“My professional passions have shifted over my career. I first started at Eckerd as a web design developer and programmer so my title was Electronic Services Librarian. I was in charge of designing and developing their webpage and also programming the public access catalog. I had programming skills, I had web design skills, but it became really clear to me that my real passion was teaching and teaching information literacy and working directly with students. So over the years I moved further away from doing programming—although I still love technology and I’m pretty nerdy in that way—but the more I get to work with students and teach and do outreach, the happier I am and now I focus on that exclusively here. The more teaching, the more outreach, the more work I do with students, the better.” 

Are you currently planning any events or resources that students can look forward to?

“The next actual event we’re doing for students is final exams stress week, so during final exams we’re going to bring in the therapy dogs again. We had therapy dogs here last year, that was hugely successful and well-attended. We’ll probably also offer a yoga or relaxation opportunity and the usual sort of crafts and other kinds of fun downtime de-stressors. So look out for those.” 

Gold explained that although it is not yet definite, the library staff is thinking of holding another event over the Independent Study Period (ISP) called resource and research café, which is geared toward first-year students. At this event, students will be encouraged to learn about the different departments in the library. 

“When I set it up last year—I’m a hobbyist baker—I baked eight different types of cookies and had them available at each of the tables so students went around and ate all the cookies,” Gold said with a laugh. “It was really successful and awesome, but I’m not sure if I’m gonna do all that baking again.”  

What are your favorite things about New College?

         “Hands down, my favorite thing about New College is the students. You guys are the most interesting, brilliant, quirky students I have ever worked with in my life. I, as a quirky kind of student myself, am infinitely amazed by all of the work that you do, all of the social justice that you do, all of the things that you’re interested in and all of your hobbies. I have never met such interesting students in my life. I am just in awe of you all. I also admire that this college has stayed true to its mission for over sixty years in spite of being a public state institution, we have been able to stay true to our experimental nature despite increasingly bureaucratic overreach into public colleges and universities in the state of Florida. I am so amazed that we have been able to hold on to that tradition, I am just in awe of that.”

Least favorite part of New College?

Gold had trouble trying to think of something that she does not like about the college.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to navigate all of the different acronyms and like the weird language we use to describe things here, I still—up until maybe even yesterday—am not clear about what a slash AOC is, I think now I’m pretty clear but we had a meeting about this yesterday. There’s a lot of language that is very specific to our academic program. I feel like if it’s difficult for me as a new faculty librarian to navigate, it has to be tricky for students to navigate. I’ve been here a year and a month and there are still things that I’m uncertain about what they mean.” 

How is New College different from the other colleges you’ve worked at?

“It’s different from any college I’ve ever attended or worked at in almost every way. The level of freedom and creativity that students have to identify their own academic interests and then create their own academic path is so unique. 

“For me, it’s different from the other colleges I’ve worked at because I have an opportunity to create an information literacy program that matches the academic work that’s being done and that aligns with conversations that happen here that I find don’t happen at many other colleges. For example, there is an area in my field called “critical information literacy studies” and this refers to the socioeconomic factors that affect people’s access to information, how we define authority and how a scholarly conversation happens with the corporate publishing model, or ‘who can be part of our community and who can’t.’ These are the conversations that I think students and faculty really want to have here.” 

         Gold continued to explain that at the last college she worked at, she worked on providing students with more foundational skills required for them to become a part of these scholarly conversations. 

How is New College different from the other colleges you’ve attended?

Gold explains that at New College, there are social justice issues that impact how the community engages in research that is relevant and how to move forward with those conversations. 

“I’m interested in having [these conversations] with you. It informs more of what I do, and I enjoy it very much. It’s one of the reasons that I came here, is so I could be a part of that conversation in a more effective way.” 

What do you like to do in your free time?

         “I’m a hobbyist baker. I am also a birder, I like to spend a lot of time outside. I’m originally from western Massachusetts and I grew up in a very rural area: two-thirds of the county that I’m from is state forest. And my backyard was basically state forest, so I spent a lot of time in nature and I grew up in a time when there wasn’t a lot of parental supervision. Kids could kind of wander off and do whatever they wanted so I was always in the woods alone or with my friends looking at porcupines, or bears, and all sorts of crazy things.” 

         Gold hates the cold of winter, which is why she loves Florida so much. She loves to look at migratory birds during this time. She also loves theater.

What would you say is your greatest achievement?

“My entire career has kind of been this continuous work in progress where I very much want to make sure that I’m providing support for what students really need,” Gold said. “There has been a rift in my field where there are librarians who approach what I do with ‘students need to know how to do this’ and ‘students should know this’ and there are all these ‘shoulds’ and prescriptive ideas, I don’t approach it that way at all. 

“I want you to tell me what you need in how to be a better researcher and how to use the library in a more meaningful way that meets your needs rather than what I think you need to do. I want you to tell me what you need and then I can kind of respond to that, so I think in terms of my greatest achievements it is being  that librarian who’s adaptive and works collaboratively with the other librarians. That’s always been true to my career so we can create a library program that is responsive to students’ needs and not prescriptive to student needs. I keep getting older and older and you guys are always 18 to 22 and so as needs change we need to be adaptive to that. I’ve always felt very strongly about being an adaptive, flexible librarian in that way.” 

What do you want students to know about you?

“I’m really glad that you’re here. I’m glad that you’re at New College and I’m really glad that you’re in the library. I want to know who you are and what you need. I don’t want to tell you what to do, I don’t want to tell you how to do your research. I really enjoy doing this and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, anywhere else. I genuinely love what I do and I really love that you’re all here. I’m here to respond to what you need. I don’t want students to be intimidated by the library because the other librarians here are very similar in our mindset, we’re all very responsive and very approachable. This is not a place to be judged on what you do or do not know, or the skills you do or do not have, but just being comfortable with being like ‘this is what I need’ and for me being able to guide you through the process.” 

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