By Allison Campbell-Jensen
Separated by language and location, librarians Brian Vetruba and Sarah G. Wenzel nonetheless join as partners in an unusual librarian exchange between the University of Minnesota and the University of Chicago.
“Cooperation is really the way to go” as librarians face budgetary constraints, collaborate on research, and share materials with patrons from other institutions, says David Wellbery, who is chair of the University of Chicago’s Germanic Studies Department and also a member of the library committee. “In this way, our relationship with Brian and Minnesota is a miniature of what we need to have.”
In this librarian exchange, Vetruba, European Studies and Digital Scholarship Librarian at the U of M, covers collection development, research consultations, and instruction for Germanic Literature and Scandinavian Studies for the U of Chicago. Wenzel, Bibliographer for Literatures of Europe & the Americas at the U of Chicago, covers these responsibilities for Francophone Studies and Italian Studies at the U of M.
Each of them not only works with the scholarly community on their home campus, but each also actively engages with students and faculty on the other campus.
“The language thing makes it super-clear,” Wenzel says. “We are lucky to have this collaboration.”
Describing Vetruba as “proactive,” Wellbery adds that “Brian brings to this work a level of intimacy for the fields of study — German and Scandinavian languages — and library expertise.”
This spring, with the library search environment complicated by closings due to COVID-19, a U of Chicago graduate student visiting Austria contacted Vetruba with a query about essays in German he hoped to find while in Europe. Vetruba looked beyond the specific query about certain authors.
“It wasn’t just ‘Give me the title and I’ll find it,’ he says. “It was more: ‘What exactly are you after?’” After a discussion, Vetruba’s detective work turned up the desired essays in accessible online locations, as well as other works that the student might find helpful to their research.
The student responded: “It’s much appreciated. Vielen, vielen Dank [many, many thanks].” And, as a follow-up, Vetruba will send the student information on some newly published books about the authors in whom he is interested.
In addition to responding to research puzzles and instructing graduate students in how to do literature searches, Vetruba joined a research team with Wellbery and a doctoral student, now at Harvard, to research German literature and thought in the United States. “Those possibilities were not there before,” Wellbery says. “. . . It [the exchange] has really turned out to be an enhancement.”
Remote but not distant
Communication, via email, phone, and Zoom, facilitates these relationships. “The distance means absolutely nothing,” says Juliette Cherbuliez, Professor in the U of M’s Department of French and Italian, “because Sarah is such a good communicator.”
Wenzel’s not only very knowledgeable, Cherbuliez says, but she also offers her opinions and interpretations. “Sarah will say: ‘This is going to be a better source for you and here’s why,’” which Cherbuliez appreciates.
Wenzel’s assistance has ranged from advising an undergraduate on research to helping Cherbuliez to finish a book.
Moving beyond assistance to exchange
Vetruba joined the U of M Libraries about a year ago, but it was nearly seven years ago that his predecessor and Wenzel moved beyond helping each other with library work to an actual librarian exchange. While their exchange is not unique, Wenzel says, it is unusual in that there is no shared collection development between U of M and U of Chicago. Vetruba and Wenzel are looking at ways to leverage the strengths of the two universities’ collections so that each library is not collecting the same material.
The exchange does have a high level of trust, between the librarians, who have accompanied each other on their campus visits twice a year, and, Wenzel says, between the librarians and the universities, who trust them with their budgets and their students.
“Minnesota is extremely invested in teamwork,” Wenzel says, “It’s one of the things I value about working with the University of Minnesota.”
And this valuable exchange opens up possibilities for the future. Cherbuliez says she is “getting over the idea that the librarian should be in a library. I actually find that irrelevant right now.”