The Facilitator: Hugh Burkhart

It’s not like Hugh Burkhart is trying to annoy the taciturn colonyof students clustered in the “Silent Zone” of the Copley Library … but it’s clear from the icy glares aimed his way that he won’t be winning any popularity contests in the foreseeable future. “They want to shush me, I know, but I look official, so they’re letting it go,” he chuckles.

As an associate professor and Copley’s resident reference librarian for the subject specialties of English, French, Theatre Arts and Communication Studies, Burkhart’s usually the one putting Chatty Cathys in their place, but today he’s leading a dozen English Language Academy students on a tour of the library and its facilities; a task that requires him to speak. Loudly.

A major renovation project isn’t helping matters much, and Burkhart is forced to raise his voice to a level that pierces the bang-and-clatter of the workers installing new flooring. “Normally, this is where you would be able to check out books and consult with people like me about research tools available to you, but as you can see, we’re in the middle of a construction zone,” he offers.

Polite and attentive, Burkhart is the last person who would purposefully disrupt the process of learning; especially in a place that is so much more than just his workspace. Since his arrival at USD more than seven years ago, Burkhart and his Copley colleagues have endeavored to make the library a nexus of print and digital resources that support student success. Staying abreast of the constant technological advancements in library sciences keeps Burkhart on his toes — “Just when you thing you’ve caught up with everything available, something else comes along that changes the game,” he muses — but it’s the interaction with students that puts the spring in his step.

In this instance, he’s educating a group struggling with the nuances of locating research information in a language they’re only somewhat familiar with. Theirs in not an uncommon problem, and to help, Burkhart has developed a simple, two-step process: First, he takes the students on a 30-40 minute tour of Copley’s ample reference materials, study spaces and research databases. He’ll follow up with them via an in-class discussion on how they might apply that knowledge to the projects they are working on.

While this particular group may not be entirely familiar with local language and culture, Burkhart marvels at their ability to research and gather information digitally.

“Regardless of where they might come from, college students today are digital natives,” he says. “Their knowledge of researching information is almost intuitive, so we want to tap into that, and, in the process, expand their knowledge on how to access academic-based research and information through the library.” — Mike Sauer