Donna Guerin, M.L.I.S.
Donna Guerin approaches her job as newly appointed director of library services with a twist on a familiar analogy.
“Everyone knows the philosophical question about whether a tree falling in the forest makes a sound if no one is around to hear it,” she said. “In the library I ask a different question: If a patron can’t find the resources they need, do they really exist?”
Guerin, who started her job at Gratz’s Tuttleman Library in February, wants to do more than connect library patrons with books. She believes her role as director is to guide patrons toward resources they might never have discovered on their own—plumbing the college’s stacks of books, historical collections and digital archives to open doors to new research.
“Libraries aren’t always what you think they are,” she said. “The idea that libraries are these hallowed, sacred, quiet towers of knowledge is not accurate. Libraries today are more about connection and communication and curiosity.”
Guerin, a Philadelphia native, came to Gratz with a bachelor’s degree in art history from Temple University and a master’s degree in information and library science from the University of Pittsburgh. She has 10 years of experience in academic libraries, including the libraries at Chatham and Point Park universities, both in Pittsburgh, and Manor College in suburban Philadelphia.
Guerin took the helm at the Tuttleman Library after Nancy Nitzberg stepped down in early 2019. She inherits a library still in the process of digitizing its resources and expanding access to students, most of whom study online and rely on remote access to the library.
“Donna brings enormous energy and talent to the library, expanding our digital profile and moving us forward in the changing world of on-line information,” said Gratz President Dr. Paul Finkelman. “She will build on Nancy Nitzberg’s professionalism and deep dedication to Gratz.”
Guerin’s first priority is to improve digital access, she said. Although much of her work with patrons will be done via phone or email, Guerin believes a librarian’s job is to serve as a guide—even if the trail is virtual.
“There’s so much information out there and it’s hard to wade through all of it,” she said. “To use another analogy, if we view all the available resources as Mount Kilimanjaro, the librarian’s role is to be the mountain guide. Students shouldn’t have to be left to their own devices to do this. They should have a companion who helps them navigate what’s out there.”
Yet Guerin’s own journey to academia—and academic libraries—was unguided and unconventional. A first-generation college student, Guerin experienced first-hand how books and resources opened doors to opportunity.
“I came from a working-class family, so I didn’t have a lot of role models,” she said. “My parents struggled, just working day in and day out, but they pressed on me the importance of education. I knew I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know what to study or how to navigate the system.”
Guerin started at the Community College of Philadelphia, where she took courses in art, writing and women’s studies. Then she was invited into the honors program, an event that changed her life.
“That was the first time I was exposed to classic literature and philosophy, the big thinkers of the world,” she said. “Then I discovered art history, which really gave me a lens into history and academia that I didn’t know existed. I learned how to write and think—skills that really weren’t part of my life before that. I learned ways of thinking about who I could be that were above and beyond anything I ever dreamed.”
Guerin finished her degree in art history, then, with help from an Internet search, discovered library science. She completed a master’s degree with a focus on reference work and academic libraries.
“I was never one of those people who loved the library, or who loved books,” she said. “But I found that I love working in education because it’s a game-changer. Education is something that can transform a person from one thing to something totally different, and then to something else again. Education means you never have to stop growing or changing.”
Now she wants to use her academic experiences and passions to propel Gratz forward.
“Gratz has a wealth of resources, but because we’re mostly online, students don’t always have access to all of that,” she said. “My goal is to expand what we have and expand the audience. We are 21st century learners, and the library should reflect that.”
– MAY 2019