Pat Noreau Reflects on Changing Industry
By Sarah McAdams Corbett
Longtime UMass Lowell librarian Pat Noreau says that although much in her industry changed during her four decades at the University, one thing remains the same:
“I’ve always felt that the most important thing for a reference librarian is to be good at customer service,” she says.
Noreau would know. She joined the University in April 1970, when it was the Lowell Technological Institute. After the merger of Lowell State and Lowell Tech, she became the head of the unified serials department and subsequently she was appointed head of technical services.
For all of those years — and while in her latest position as director – Noreau focused on addressing the needs of her customers: students.
But how she and her co-workers addressed those needs changed drastically over the years.
For the first half of her tenure, the emphasis was on “how large your physical collection is — how many books and journals you have,” she says.
That changed, however, with the advent of the digital world.
“In 1995, the way we do business started to change,” Noreau says. “We started digitalizing our collections — moving from paper to CD. Among the UMass campuses, we were in the forefront of making this move.”
Over the next decade, the library staff began building an online collection, with, for instance, the buying of robust, sophisticated databases.
“Under Pat’s direction, the library developed one of the nation’s first online digital collections with the journal collection growing from 2,000 paper titles to more than 40,000 online titles,” says librarian Rosanna Kowalewski, who was appointed by the provost to serve as interim director, while the University conducts a national search for a new director.
Libraries Compete With Google
Moving aggressively online is just good business, Noreau says, and one that aligns well with the University’s widespread effort to become a “campus on the move” over the past few years.
“These days, we’re in competition with Google,” she says. “We have to be able to provide users with the fastest way to find the information they need — and teach them how to get there — or we become obsolete.”
Librarians have always been in the business of helping users find something — and that hasn’t changed, Noreau says:
“It used to be about pointing them to the right book. Now, we’re more likely to help them navigate different platforms of databases. It’s more about access than ownership.”
It’s also about being adaptable, something Noreau is particularly good at.
“I like change — especially when it brings convenience and efficiency,” she says.
Learning Commons: Jewel in Noreau’s Crown
One the projects she’s most proud of is the creation of library learning commons, whose quiet study areas and spaces for collaboration will bring quite a bit of convenience to students’ lives.
Noreau agreed to stay on part-time, to oversee the library overhauls until completion. After that, who knows?
“I have mixed emotions,” she says. “I’m excited to travel and spend more time with my family — but I’ve always enjoyed my job, and the last few years have been very exciting here.”
Her contributions won’t soon be forgotten.
“It is impossible to enumerate all the contributions that she has made over the years that she has been at Lowell, but her influence will be felt whenever a faculty member or student uses online resources or comes to the library to use the upgraded facilities,” Kowalewski says.
Chancellor Marty Meehan agrees: “Pat will be hard to replace,” he says. “She has been a visionary leader, anticipating changes in library practice and guiding the library systems into the 21st century. We thank her for everything she’s done for the University.”