When Regina Mays and Rachel Fleming-May get together, it’s a close camaraderie. They joke about which one of them is “the best” (each claiming it’s the other, and not themselves), and their interactions have that underlying trust and ease that takes years to build. In fact, it’s been about a decade since the two began their professional collaboration.
Mays is the University of Tennessee’s first-ever assessment librarian, and a 2009 graduate of the School of Information Sciences. Fleming-May is an associate professor for SIS, as well as its director of graduate studies. The two never crossed paths as student and teacher, with Mays graduating just before Fleming-May came on board with the SIS faculty. But it wasn’t long after Mays graduated that they started
working together on a project.
“We first met working on the Value, Outcomes, and Return on Investment of Academic Libraries project funded by IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services). I was the program manager on that project, even before I started working at the library,” Mays said. She was hired for the project by SIS Professor Carol Tenopir, who was the principal investigator for it.
About 18 months into the project, the first assessment librarian position at UT Libraries was created. Mays applied for the position and got it. She said her research uniquely positioned her to have a strong grounding for the work of an assessment librarian.
“I got to apply some of the principles and theory I had learned through research and see how it worked in the real world,” she said.
The relationship between research and actual implementation was so beneficial that, when opportunities continued to arise for Mays to work with Fleming-May, they took it. Their collaboration has resulted in papers, articles, workshops, conference presentations and even a webinar.
They also worked closely on the “Experience Assessment” (UX-A) cohort funded by IMLS, that specifically brought 12 students to UTK to earn the MSIS with a specialization in user experience and assessment. The program plan included creating and teaching a class about planning and assessment, which Fleming-May and Mays created and co-taught in the fall of 2017.
While their relationship has benefited research, its impact has reached beyond that. When Mays needs student workers, she knows she can ask Fleming-May for references who will be knowledgeable about library practices.
“It creates a win-win for us to do practicums and to hire (SIS students) as student workers. It helps us to get more done, and it gives students real-world experience,” she said. “I’ve lost track of how many reference letters I’ve written and reference calls I’ve made…a student just getting into the game, it makes a big difference for them to get that experience. We can hire students from anywhere on campus, but the SIS students who are really interested in it, they’re really high caliber.”
Fleming-May, in her position as SIS director of graduate studies, speaks to many potential students who see the relationship between the school and university library as an added attraction to the program.
“You don’t have a lot of partnerships like this between LIS or IS programs and their libraries,” she said. “I really appreciate the relationship we have with the library.”
Fleming-May worked as an academic librarian herself at the University of Alabama, where she subsequently earned her doctoral degree in communication and information sciences. This segue from practitioner to researcher allowed her to address a lot of questions she had while she was working in the library.
“I’m still very interested in academic libraries, and how they fit into the larger institution,” she said.
Mays said Fleming-May doesn’t just use their relationship to stay in step with the library, but that she also continuously shows up to library events and forges new connections with others who are involved with the library.
“She tirelessly puts herself out there,” Mays said. ●