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Laurie Alvandian Appointed Director of AGBU Papazian Library

6 min read

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Laurie Alvandian as the new director of the AGBU Papazian Library of the American University of Armenia (AUA). Her passion for libraries and long-standing connection with AUA create new opportunities for the growth of library resources and use by the University and the larger community it serves.

What excites you the most about being the library’s new director, and what do you hope to accomplish during your tenure?

I’m very excited to join the AUA team as the library’s new director for several reasons. Nine years ago, I came to Armenia as a Birthright Armenia volunteer, and my work placement was in the AUA AGBU Papazian Library. It was my first exposure to libraries in Armenia. That’s when I met Satenik (Bella) Avakian, the director at the time, and over the course of the next nine years, I maintained my relationship with her, as well as with the library staff and AUA in general. So, coming back to take on the role of library director has been a wonderful and exciting opportunity for me. I’ve had the opportunity to observe the evolution of the library from afar and always wondered what I would do if I were the library director. It truly feels like coming back home.

Now, I’m eager to build upon the robust foundation that Bella and her team have created and move the library forward in purposeful increments. My main goal is to broaden the scope of the library’s services and resources, with a strong focus on supporting and promoting research and building a strong academic collection that is community-centered. AUA’s AGBU Papazian Library serves various communities — students, faculty, staff, the public, and the community of librarians in Armenia — all with different information needs for learning, education, and research. This type of expansion should not just reflect the University’s existing state but also support and help carve out a clear path for its future direction.

How does your vision align with the University’s mission and goals?

For sure, one of our primary objectives is to fully support our students’ academic pursuits. To achieve this, the library must work closely with both faculty and students to comprehend their specific information needs. By identifying and understanding their requirements, we can facilitate a smoother process for them to access the necessary resources and enhance their advancement in academia. With respect to faculty members, we aim to assist them by providing innovative educational tools and knowledge that they can use in the classroom and by providing valuable resources to support their research endeavors.

Naturally, the University is keen on seeing faculty engage in impactful research. Therefore, our team at the library will be doing everything it can to also help faculty promote their published works on a broader scale. By doing so, we will contribute to showcasing not only the work faculty produces but also promoting AUA and Armenia as a whole. By putting forth our vision, we hope to create an environment that fosters academic excellence, facilitates research, and promotes the visibility of AUA’s scholarly contributions to a broader audience.

What strategies do you plan to implement to increase community engagement and involvement with the library?

I think to do this, it’s necessary to redefine the concept of libraries in Armenia as inclusive spaces. There, unfortunately, is a stereotype that libraries are merely warehouses for storing books, which is very far from the truth. Libraries are community hubs, places that foster a sense of participation and democratic values.

I firmly believe that the skills one acquires when using a library align with the skills required for active participation in a democratic society. Libraries should be spaces where individuals can share resources, feel connected to a larger whole, and engage in lifelong learning. In a healthy democracy, an informed public is vital, and to achieve that, we must ensure that students have access to a wide array of resources available in various formats.

Nowadays, learning has become more collaborative, and people are utilizing diverse tools and resources beyond physical books. By offering a broad selection of materials, including electronic resources, databases, e-learning tools, and more, we can change the narrative about what a library is and what role it plays in the community. Embracing this diversity will help us open up the library to a wider range of people and create a space that truly caters to the needs of a diverse community.

In essence, these strategies embrace redefining the library as a dynamic and inclusive environment where people come not just for books but to connect, learn, and actively participate in their self-development and the growth of our community as a whole.

Given your prior connections with AUA, how do you feel about returning to the institution in this new leadership role?

I feel thrilled returning to AUA in my new role. My prior experience at AUA was a great introduction to the University and its environment. I always loved the energy here, especially the dynamic and ever-changing student body, their interests, and their search for knowledge. There’s a constant buzz of activity at AUA, and that’s what makes it such an exciting place to be.

During those years when I wasn’t directly part of the University, I remained in Armenia and had the chance to work in other libraries, interact with fellow librarians, and learn from their perspectives. This experience provided me with a unique and valuable viewpoint, which I now bring to AUA in my new leadership role.

Growing up in the United States (U.S.) and being familiar with the U.S. library system has contributed significantly to my approach. I understand firsthand how impactful it is to have access to a library system that empowers individuals to take charge of their own personal development. Having a library card and knowing that one can shape one’s educational journey is a powerful feeling that I want to instill in the AUA community.

Bringing together experiences from both the American and Armenian contexts, I envision developing a library environment that fosters individual empowerment, promotes lifelong learning, and enriches the lives of all members of the AUA community.

In the 21st century, with the rapid advancement of technology and information accessibility, what do you think the roles of libraries are in academia and society?

In the 21st century, the role of libraries, whether in academia or in society, have evolved significantly. Libraries are no longer just passive repositories of books but have transformed into dynamic spaces and centers of community development.

As librarians, our role has become more active and engaged in that development process. We must establish and maintain close relationships with our communities to fully understand their needs. By curating the information we provide, we can help address the specific issues and interests of our users, helping them develop and grow individually and collectively.

Regarding the digital aspect, embracing technology is essential in the modern library landscape. Digital materials and tools offer valuable resources for learning and research. Even AI platforms like ChatGPT can be positive tools as long as people understand the personal responsibility that comes with using them. As librarians, we can educate users on how to leverage these resources effectively, understanding their potential pitfalls and using them in a safe and informed manner.

While I personally appreciate the value of physical books, I recognize that embracing digital resources enhances learning opportunities. The way research is conducted and data is analyzed has changed significantly in the 21st century. There are so many more tools available now, which the library needs to take into consideration when it provides academic support.

What are the most significant challenges currently facing libraries, and how do you plan to address them?

One major challenge that all academic libraries face is the soaring costs of digital resources, particularly database subscriptions. However, this helped give birth to the Open Access movement, which libraries around the world, including AUA Library, have embraced in an effort to democratize the access and distribution of scholarly materials. As technology transforms the educational landscape, the role of libraries is also expanding commensurately. Students and faculty have various educational needs, and learning methods have diversified, making it challenging for librarians to keep pace. They must familiarize themselves with the various technologies and tools students use, ensuring they can guide and support their learning effectively. Creating opportunities for professional development and innovative learning for our library staff is vital for ensuring we are supporting our community in the best way.

Lastly, what message would you like to convey to the AUA community as you embark on your new role as the director of the AUA AGBU Papazian Library?

I want the AUA community to know that the library is for everyone. It’s a space where everyone is welcomed and supported, and we are committed to helping you on your academic journey in any way we can. Your opinions and insights are valuable to us, and we welcome your input on how we can make your academic or research journey smoother, easier, and more enriching.