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University librarian Johan Oberg guides students through the information age

Libraries are dusty old places with nothing but books.

By Jen Keavy

Quite the contrary, says Johan Oberg, the University's librarian for journalism and mass communication. Since 2006, Oberg has worked tirelessly to introduce students and faculty to the realm of possibilities available in a 21st century library.

Students need the skills to find, evaluate and use information--even if that information isn't packaged in a book. Oberg says, "With the overwhelming amount of information now available, we have moved from what one could call in comparison almost an information dark age to an age that is so rich with information that researchers instead are overwhelmed by the amount of information available, and all of this in a little over a decade." Teaching students how to be researchers isn't an easy task. "It is always a bit of a balancing act," says Oberg, "because I want students to find what they need, but I also want them to learn how to find what they need on their own, and to learn to think critically about information sources and where to look for them."

During his tenure, Oberg has gone to great lengths not only to expand the number of digital resources available to students and faculty, but also to increase awareness of those resources. Several subscription-based digital resources, including databases, electronic journals, and electronic newspaper archives, have been added to the collection--including Communication & Mass Media Complete, the top research database for journalism and mass communication scholarship.

University Libraries has a very comprehensive collection of both print and digital resources. For example, in terms of news and newspaper resources, the Libraries has both LexisNexis and Factiva. Many academic libraries are forced to have one or the other. SJMC students and faculty now have access to the Television News Archive, which provides, among other things, online NBC news clips back to 1968, and PressDisplay, a database that lets one view and compare facsimile editions of daily newspapers from across the world. Oberg also has worked to convert more subscriptions to electronic-only versions. Within the University Libraries system, the number of digital newspaper archives has increased substantially in recent years, with archives dating back to the 17th century.

But Oberg hasn't tackled this mission on his own. The SJMC faculty have jumped onboard to help with the initiative, inviting Oberg into the classroom as a regular guest lecturer. "A library-faculty partnership is a great way to point students in the right direction, and it gives students a chance to broaden their research skills and become better information seekers," says Oberg.

"I sometimes hear grumblings at the beginning of a course where students are wondering why they need to see a librarian, but later in the course students often come up to me or contact me to tell me how the library made a difference." Since 2006, Oberg has visited 43 classes and talked to approximately 2,000 SJMC students. With an office in the West Bank's Wilson Library, he crosses the river once a week to provide a mobile librarian service in Murphy Hall's Sevareid Library. Oberg says this is a great way to provide personal research assistance and help students discover what University Libraries has to offer.

But his interaction with students isn't just face to face. With a firm understanding of his youthful target audience, Oberg developed a journalism library Web site where he presents resources tailored to the specific interests and needs of the students. During the 2007-08 academic year alone, the pages he created received approximately 11,000 visits and links were clicked more than 35,000 times.
The University Libraries journalism portal, which is available to the general public and not just University students and faculty, may be accessed at


Editor's note: During preparation of the Murphy Reporter, Johan Oberg accepted a position at Macalester College. The SJMC and University Libraries will work together to continue his work on these initiatives.

Library stats at a glance

  • Books in the SJMC collection: about 9,000
  • SJMC circulations last year: 6,787
  • Number of online databases with a news focus: more than 35
  • Total number of research databases available to SJMC faculty and students: more than 500
  • Number of newspaper archives available online: more than 600 newswires, more than 3,300 newspapers and 300 magazines, and more than 5,500 business and industry publications
  • Number of volumes in all campus libraries: 6,200,669
  • Number of serial subscriptions in all campus libraries: 36,900
  • Number of visitors to all University Libraries last year: 2,049,377
  • Number of annual user visits, Wilson Library last year: 663,348
  • Number of annual reference questions answered, all campus libraries last year: 186,000
  • Total circulation, all campus libraries, last year: 673,634