The wind at our back

After a feverish peak of research and citation guidance most of the finals are done and the papers, projects, and presentations are due. The last port is behind us and convocation and graduation are here.

For the library we are performing the bittersweet tasks of retrieving all the outstanding library materials and preparing the library for the next semester. There are hundreds of items to check in and shelve and hundreds of items to pull and put aside for the next semester. As the library team prepares to disband and be replaced by the next group of librarians we wish all voyagers to have the wind at their back for their future adventures.



As we passed the halfway point in the spring 2014 voyage the changes in the library are subtle but noticable.  The library desk starts getting more in-depth reference and research assistance questions.  More students are taking out materials related to their classes in additional to taking out materials related to upcoming ports.  More faculty request in-class presentations from the library on research and citation skills.  Mid-terms have come and gone (as did the equator this morning) and many students are fully engaged in their principle class projects and papers.  On the library side we are engaged in the library’s annual complete collection inventory.  Over the next two weeks we will verify each collection item to ensure a patron can find everything in our collection so both patron and librarian are busily engaged.

Oceans 2

After leaving Singapore the ship swung around into the Indian Ocean.  One of the small services with large impact offered by the library is our You Are Here (YAH) computer.  Using the Global Positioning Satellite system YAH shows the ships location on a world map along with the ship’s speed, course, and track.  All the voyagers enjoy seeing our progress and location, especially as we enter areas of the Earth less well known by our voyagers.  As we pass into the Indian Ocean it is wonderful to see the voyagers zooming YAH in and out, locating our ship and learning our location in relation to the “known world” are voyagers are leaving.


One of the mantras of the Semester at Sea program is “flexibility.”  Today the entire program had the opportunity to be flexible when the harbor pilot, the person who steers the ship into harbor, was eight hours late.  The ship missed a day of Shanghai, China, and all the participants had an unexpected unscheduled day at sea.

Although the student workers had the day off Claire and I opened the library anyway on the assumption that some studying would go on.  Indeed many students used the day to catch up on assignments, write journal entries (both personal and for class), and especially to change travel plans and make alternative itineraries for China and Hong Kong.  Several professors also changed video loop choices since they had an extra day that students could use to watch the required motion pictures.

Although many plans were disrupted I was impressed by the flexibility and good spirits of the students.

A Rich, Full Day

Today we had several faculty request videos be added to the ship’s video loop schedule. A patron donated a copy of Robinson Crusoe which I added to the collection with the cataloging help of OCLC Connexion. Several patrons needed assistance finding print resources to use for papers and projects. We searched for missing books and found them all. We shelf read one range. We discovered which piers the ship will use in Shanghai and Hong Kong and then created port maps for distribution to interested patrons. We reset the printer which had not been working. We shelved the in-library use books and hand delivered overdue notices to half a dozen patrons. A professor loaned us a personal copy of a book to place on reserve for her class, which we cataloged with a brief record, labeled, and shelved with the other reserves. A patron asked if the Shanghai Grand Theatre is the same building as the famous Shanghai Opera House (it is). This was the first four hours of library service today. A steady stream of value add for the program.

Value add

The library circulates books, teaches sessions on research methods and citations, and answers all manner of reference questions (what is the Spanish equivalent of All Terrain Vehicle?).  The library also seeks ways to add value to our shipmates.

We put out travel guides for the next port and create port maps showing what is within walking distance of the ship at each port.  We assist faculty with keeping their academic folders current.  We assist the registrar with publicizing updated syllabi.  We help the dean of student life get the word out when schedules or events change.  We cheerfully direct computer questions across the passage to the IT Lab :-).

So what is the value of the library?  In my opinion the core operations of material management, delivery, and teaching are our value.  We do add quite a bit of other value, though, because we are a helping profession.  And it doesn’t hurt that we are staffed with overeager over-achievers

The new normal

ImageLife on board the Explorer quickly settles down to the new normalcy.  “Where is classroom 9?” questions were common the first class days and again after drop / add but now, only the fourth class day, all the students know the locations of their classrooms.  Now we spend most of our time circulating reserves, conveying information such as where the best quiet study areas may be found, and circulating books for the avid pleasure readers on board.  One student checked out a play by Shakespeare this morning not for class but “just because I was in the mood for it.”

As I opened the library before 8AM I happened to notice the blue sea rolling by outside the library’s windows.  It was several seconds before I remembered how wonderful it is to work in a library with a view.  In my opinion the view out the Semester at Sea library windows is the best library view in the world.  I hope the many students using our library space agree.

Semester at Sea Library Spring 2014

Semester at Sea ( is the learning experience of a lifetime for the tens of thousands of students engaging the world aboard the MV Explorer.  The spring 2014 voyage ( is departing for our world-wide trip January 9, 2014.  My colleague Claire and I are the librarians for the 600+ students and staff and we look forward to empowering all aboard this semester.