Evolving role has not changed librarian’s commitment to student success

Imagine Jackson State Community College’s library when Scott Cohen first started as a reference librarian in 1972 – five years after the college opened. From the card catalog, which contained the library’s book collection, to bound magazines on the shelves, everything was print-based.

In those days, if you needed a certain book, you would first look in the card catalog to see if the book was in the collection. If it was, you would search for it on the shelves. Computers were so primitive, they operated on keypunch cards.

“The library has changed so dramatically,” said Cohen, who was named Director of the Library in 1992. “It’s hard to even fathom.”

Today, Jackson State’s library has six times as many electronic books as it has printed books. Magazines and individual articles are part of its electronic databases. The library also has streaming media with about 17,000 movies, most of which are documentaries.

“Doing research is much easier,” Cohen said. “The number of electronic files is even creating a problem in some ways of having too much information.”

Though electronic materials have changed the face of the library, it’s purpose of helping students research has not. And, with the amount of misinformation on the internet, Cohen’s job is also to help students evaluate those resources.

“My job is to help people navigate to find the most credible and best resources,” he said.

He’s seen other changes, as well. Instead of physically going to meetings, there are more video conferences and webinars. Librarians at the college are embedded in online classes.

“Students can call on you through an online discussion forum to help them find sources for their papers,” Cohen said. “We also have chat and text-a-librarian services to assist students.”

Advances at Jackson State’s library through the years have been felt across Tennessee. Cohen, for example, is proud of an online program he created that provided instruction for public library support staff across the state from 2006 to 2011.

“I have been lucky to have a great library staff to assist me through the years,” he said. “I also owe a lot to my mentor, Van Veatch, who hired me in 1972 and whom I replaced in 1992.”

Cohen has spent his career at Jackson State. At home, he and his wife, Carmen, had three children and are now grandparents of four. The Cohens celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August.

Every day at work, he said, is a new challenge, and he plans to keep working as long as he can be productive.

“I find it stimulating. It’s gratifying to help people in their studies. I feel very attached to Jackson State. It’s a big part of my life.”