Meet Michael Shires

Meet Michael Shires, Col­lec­tion Devel­op­ment and Sub­ject Librar­i­an at the Dr. Archer Library & Archives

The following post is based on excerpts of an interview conducted by Ellen Paulley, Communications Officer for URFA, and it is published with permission.  The original interview is available at

What is a Col­lec­tion Devel­op­ment and Sub­ject Librarian?

First, I’ll men­tion that all librar­i­ans and archivists at Archer Library hold fac­ul­ty sta­tus, so there are 14 in-scope librar­i­ans. Regard­ing col­lec­tions, I coor­di­nate review­ing some fac­ul­ty requests for new phys­i­cal and e‑book pur­chas­es. Deci­sions are based on var­i­ous cri­te­ria: price, if it sup­ports teach­ing, research and cur­ricu­lum development. 

I also over­see phys­i­cal book dona­tions, but we do get the odd dona­tion of music records and items that might be suit­able for place­ment in spe­cial col­lec­tions, like old­er mate­ri­als. We can often be gift­ed with unique titles, or at times we’re rely­ing on fac­ul­ty requests for new items to sup­port cur­ricu­lum and research. When fac­ul­ty retire, they often will think of the library and donate their mate­ri­als. I love dona­tions work. It’s real­ly inter­est­ing — it’s kind of like get­ting gifts, so it’s fun. 

Regard­ing being a sub­ject librar­i­an, I pro­vide library sup­ports, which include instruc­tion and show­ing how to use our online resources and ser­vices, pro­vid­ing research and ref­er­ence assis­tance to stu­dents and fac­ul­ty in dif­fer­ent depart­ments and fac­ul­ties. Part of that library sup­port involves, espe­cial­ly with stu­dents, instill­ing a knowl­edge of infor­ma­tion lit­er­a­cy which involves devel­op­ing crit­i­cal think­ing skills and eval­u­at­ing sources used in the library’s many databases. 

Part of your work is explor­ing and ful­fill­ing requests for new resources. Do you also seek out new resources or materials?

For col­lec­tions, we have a com­mit­tee called CAT, or the Col­lec­tions Assess­ment Team. CAT includes the Head of Tech­ni­cal Ser­vices and Col­lec­tions, myself, and oth­er sub­ject librar­i­ans. We meet reg­u­lar­ly through­out the year and assess data­base license renewals. Deci­sion-mak­ing is based on var­i­ous cri­te­ria includ­ing usage sta­tis­tics, cost per down­load and how resources sup­port teach­ing, research, and cur­ricu­lum devel­op­ment. When funds are avail­able, offers for one-time pur­chas­es of spe­cial­ized online his­tor­i­cal col­lec­tions are discussed. 

How has your work as a librar­i­an been impact­ed by COVID-19 and what adap­ta­tions have you made?

Like every­body else, we quick­ly and fair­ly suc­cess­ful­ly piv­ot­ed to serv­ing the uni­ver­si­ty com­mu­ni­ty online last March. But it was­n’t much of an issue for the more than 50 librar­i­ans and library staff. One of the main rea­sons is that many of our resources have been online for decades; you can access them from any­where. One chal­lenge was how peo­ple could request to loan mate­ri­als in our phys­i­cal col­lec­tions when those areas in the library build­ing were closed.

For the most part, the library’s main floor has been open by appoint­ment where peo­ple can book a time and come in for books that we can­not pro­vide as an e‑book. We have a dig­i­ti­za­tion ser­vice where we can scan, based on copy­right laws, a cer­tain per­cent­age of a book and then it can be uploaded onto an instructor’s read­ing list in UR Cours­es. This ser­vice was in place before COVID, but knowl­edge of that, and demand, has increased tremendously. 

The library has pro­vid­ed access to many more e‑books tem­porar­i­ly that oth­er libraries have scanned. It’s kind of a con­sor­tium of libraries shar­ing their resources.

In my case, with dona­tions, that’s crawled to a halt. I’ve reviewed one major dona­tion but there are many box­es I need to go through, some­thing I can­not do at home. A lot of my meet­ings with col­leagues and some library instruc­tion ses­sions, I have done online, which has advan­tages and dis­ad­van­tages, but it works. Like oth­ers, I miss the hall­way con­ver­sa­tions, the face-to-face.

The com­mon mis­con­cep­tion is that the library closed. We phys­i­cal­ly were closed for a while, but we’re avail­able through Zoom, chat and email every day, sev­en days a week.

Is there a unique or obscure book or item in the col­lec­tion you can highlight?

Our old­est book is in spe­cial col­lec­tions. It’s in Latin and I’ve got the Google trans­la­tion: In the Hebra­ic Ques­tions on Gen­e­sis as well as over the twelve to take the expla­na­tion of the Divine Jerome the younger and the four prophets, by his par­ents, with the priv­i­lege of the new­ly impresse Com­men­taria in the Bible by heart. It was pub­lished around the year 1497 CE. The binding’s been redone but the pages are orig­i­nal so it’s a mas­sive book. There’s only one copy in the world and we own that copy.

Next thing unique to Archer is we have a great col­lec­tion of dif­fer­ent edi­tions of the nov­el Robin­son Cru­soe. The book turned 300 years old in 2019. We have one of the biggest col­lec­tions of Robin­son Cru­soe nov­els in Cana­da, get­ting back to like the 6th edi­tion up to copies in dif­fer­ent lan­guages; we have a copy in Pit­man shorthand. 

There are so many books. How does a library decide which nov­el to collect?

That’s real­ly part of col­lec­tion devel­op­ment and donat­ing. When I was giv­en this assign­ment of spe­cial col­lec­tions, it was deter­mined that Dr. John Archer, who was the head of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Regi­na Library at the time back in the ear­ly 70s, pur­chased many old books on dif­fer­ent sub­jects. He pur­chased this col­lec­tion from a book­seller in Mon­tréal in the ear­ly 70s and it includ­ed all of these Robin­son Cru­soe titles.

What do you find the best part of being a librarian?

I real­ly enjoy the one-on-one ses­sions with stu­dents — you can real­ly spend a lot of time and answer the ques­tions and do some search­ing with them. And then there is that moment where they begin to under­stand, it’s a cycli­cal process of defin­ing your research top­ic, nar­row­ing it down, choos­ing a data­base, devel­op­ing a search strat­e­gy, find­ing rel­e­vant arti­cles, maybe going back and revis­ing. It’s a cir­cu­lar, cycli­cal process. And if stu­dents can under­stand that, then I’ve been successful.

I want to try and instill in stu­dents that we have lots of infor­ma­tion to help you. I’m here to help you nav­i­gate a path­way through using those mate­ri­als and it’s a chal­lenge, but I enjoy it.

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