Daunted by a research project and don’t know where to start? Looking for an obscure fact and don’t know where to find it? Then Steven Vest is the man to see. As the Alma College Library’s Head of Reference and Instruction, Vest takes a certain pleasure in finding information, and is eager to help others do the same.
Entering his sixth year at Alma, Vest is responsible for developing the electronic and print reference collection. He also is in charge of library instruction, which involves working closely with faculty and teaching their classes how to use the library’s many resources. When it comes to research, Vest finds that “often, students are looking in the wrong place,” tending to get locked into one mindset and searching only one database. He enjoys helping them hone their reference skills in groups and on a one-to-one basis. In addition to teaching students and other patrons how to find materials in the library, Vest tries to ensure that they use resources in a responsible, productive manner. He stresses the importance of “helping people understand and avoid plagiarism”—an epidemic that haunts academics everywhere.
Vest’s passion for library reference may stem from the fact that his mind works differently than most. Instead of simply analyzing facts, he tends to think about how information is organized. As he explains, “there are layers of information: most people can skim off the top to find something, but to go deeper, you have to know where to look.” This is Vest’s specialty, the reason he can save students so much time, often cutting their research from hours to mere minutes. “The biggest thing I do for people is help them think outside the box and find new ways of looking for information,” says Vest. Whether assisting students, faculty, staff, or community members, “I help them think about research in a new way.”
While Vest’s duties as a librarian certainly keep him busy, this is only half of his job. Vest also serves as Assistant Professor of Library Sciences and Adjunct Professor of English and Creative Writing at Alma. Working with students in the classroom is rewarding in a very different way than in the library, explains Vest. “I love being in the classroom and teaching people how to take information and digest it, analyze it, manipulate it, and use it to gain new insights,” he says. Instead of teaching facts, Vest sees the role of a professor as “teaching people how to think”—a challenge he enjoys to the fullest.
Vest’s career path began not with education or library science, but creative writing. The librarian earned his undergraduate degree in creative writing at Bowling Green State University before pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing from Indiana University of Birmingham. He then earned a second master’s degree in library science from Clarion University (PA). Vest’s unique education allows him to serve the Alma campus community as both librarian and professor. “I love being part of multiple steps of the educational experience,” says Vest, adding that “no two days are ever alike.”
One of four dedicated librarians at the College, Vest notes that while most Alma students are no strangers to the library, few take full advantage of its resources. Vest wishes students knew “how much time they can save talking to a librarian” who could save them both hours and effort on research. So before you get frustrated or overwhelmed by a seemingly impossible research paper or project, remember that help is just a question away.