As an academic librarian, Mary Jo Fayoyin, dean of library services at Savannah State University (GA), knows how important it is to listen to her students. Her attention to their needs is why a current student and a former student nominated her for the 2017 I Love My Librarian Award.
Nominator LaTasha Denard said she is a “student centered” leader who attends to their needs not only by deciding what services to provide, but also serving them on the most basic level, Denard said, “She is not above working the Circulation Desk, the Reference Desk or anywhere else she is needed.”
The mission and vision of Savannah State University is focused on “engaged learning” and “personal growth.” It is a student-centered environment that aims at maximizing the student’s potential in a nurturing environment. Fayoyin carries out that vision at the library, which has the slogan “Friendly, Focused, Fast.”
She has encouraged student input by making available to them a comment board. On one occasion, students commented that it would help them complete their work if the library’s study room computers had advanced software packages because the library is open after the university’s computer labs are closed. As a result, all the software on the library’s computers mirror the software that the computer labs have.
On another occasion, graduate students brought up the need for a place to eat before attending evening classes. Fayoyin responded to their need by providing a cafe area for them with vending machines, a change machine, a microwave and cafe-style tables and chairs.
But Fayoyin doesn’t just rely on student input in attending to their needs. Direct observation plays a major role, as when she noticed students were constantly asking employees for paper clips, Scotch tape, rulers, staplers and hole punches. Fayoyin made sure there was a student workstation, a feature that has proved very popular with the students. Also, seeing the need for an area where students could practice their class presentations, she designed a Practice and Collaboration for them, with a 42-inch HD monitor and a multimedia podium.
Her involvement with the students is not limited to providing library materials and spaces for collaboration. She also gets involved directly with the students.
Denard said she is one of many students who view Fayoyin as a mentor. She said one of Fayoyin’s nominators provided her with an internship that encouraged her love of the library profession. She said the internship was the first class Denard had taken after a three-year hiatus and she was very nervous about returning to school and worried about her ability to meet the university’s academic standards. She said Fayoyin refused to coddle her with “busy work,” expecting her to perform at the top of her abilities. She wound up learning about all the library’s resources and how to access them for research. Her “A” served as the springboard for future academic achievement. Afterward, Fayoyin monitored her progress and talked to her about continuing her education in graduate school.
Denard said, “She truly wants to help others succeed and see them reach their full potential.”
Fayoyin’s efforts are constantly focused on making the school a better place. One way is by constantly evaluating the services offered by the library. She has established hourly patron counts to make sure the library is fully staffed at times of peak demand. When she noticed that an increasing number of students were engaged in study at closing time on Fridays, she extended the library’s hours. When the students said they would benefit from extended hours during the week leading up to exams, library hours were extended for not only that week but an additional week prior to that as well.
Viewing the library as a “one-stop shop,” she collaborated with a bookstore to provide vending machines for study supplies so students would be served when the bookstore is closed. She also purchased charging stations for the students.
She has also provided them with library programming that would nurture student growth, such as when the library hosted accountants who gave the students one-on-one advice about managing their money and establishing good credit.
Fayoyin facilitated Savannah State University’s first Scholar-In-Residence program, with the scholar in question being a former mayor of Savannah, Otis Johnson, who offered the students valuable insights into politics and government.
Her attention is not limited to students, but extends to faculty as well. She holds sessions for faculty to introduce them to new databases and software and to assist them in incorporating information literacy into their curriculum. She also created a New Faculty Orientation to guide them through library services and resources. A “Faculty Guide to Library Services” is also available to them online and in hard copy.
The library is also involved in accreditation efforts, with Fayoyin serving on several accreditation committees. Her leadership abilities have been recognized by students, faculty and the university administration. Her title was recently changed from Director to Dean.
Denard said, “I think this speaks to the high regard that the administration has for her.” Fayoyin is deeply involved with the Dean’s Council, the Faculty Senate and the President’s Forum, in the latter addressing issues the students have with the library.
Her commitment to her students earned her an award from the 100 Black Men of Savannah State University, a student organization.
She has also received recognition off campus, being elected chairperson of the University System of Georgia Regents Academic Committee on Libraries and chairperson of the HBCU Library Alliance, a consortium that represents libraries serving Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States.
In an interview conducted upon her receipt of a 2017 I Love My Librarian Award, she said, “To be awarded, to win an award for something that you love doing is just awesome. I think librarians go to work every day, and we don’t think that what we do will win awards. We’re not there to win awards. We’re there to make a difference in the lives of our students and the public. And so to win this award is just fabulous.”
She said, “When I started out years ago as a freshman, I didn’t know what my career path would be. But I began working in the library as a student assistant. And I just felt immediately that that was the place for me. And I haven’t been disappointed. I feel comfortable there. I feel like I can make a difference there.”
At Savannah State, a school that serves a predominantly black population, she said, “We have students that run the range of coming from affluent households and those who do not. Many of our students are first-generation students. Sometimes they don’t know how to negotiate or navigate research. I think we can make a difference in their life, and by making a difference in their life, we’re making a difference in their family’s life, particularly if they’re first generation. What we want to do in the library is to make sure that we do everything to get those students out, to help them to pursue a career and to help their families.”
As for what libraries mean to her, she said, “You often hear that, at least on our campus and when I talk to fellow librarians, they say that the library is the heart of the campus. And I do think that the library is indeed the heart of the campus. I don’t know anywhere you can go where you feel unthreatened. When you come to the library, you can do a lot of things or you can do nothing. And we’re there to help you. So I think that libraries are important because libraries can be everything to everyone.”