WORDS BY NAOMI WOOD, PHOTOS BY WESLEY KIRK
If you’ve been on the University of North Texas’ campus lately, you might have seen signs with a caricature of UNT’s Librarian Doug Campbell around the Library Mall. It simply reads “Ask Doug!" which is the perfect segue into this month's People of Denton post. So we did it. We asked Doug all the questions, and what he had to say was insightful and of course, oh-so Denton.
WDDI: How long have you been in Denton, and why did you move here?
DOUG CAMPBELL: I’ve lived here two different times in my life. I lived here from 2002-2004, and now I’ve lived here since 2008. I’ve been working at Willis Library as an assistant Librarian since 2010. I love my job so much, and I love helping people, whether it be students or faculty. I also love Denton because it is the perfect place to be right now. Not too big and not too small, Denton is the baby bear in the goldilocks story. I love that we are a smart town, with a mix of academics and Texas small town neighborliness.
WDDI: When we walk around campus, we see signs of a bearded man and it reads: “Ask Doug!.” Where did this campaign come from and what started it?
I don’t have a beard anymore, but back in 2012 when I was a faculty-in-residence at Kerr Hall, I would set up a table in the lobby on Sunday nights, with a sign that said “Homework Help.” I would invite students to come to me for research help. A lot of it was neighborly conversation, and because I didn’t look like them, it would turn into a whole introduction. It would go something like this: “Hi I’m Doug, and I’m a librarian. I’m here to help you do your assignments so you can eventually graduate.” I would bring buttons and candy, and often it was just outreach and me referring them to other resources on campus like financial aid, or the legal department. After a while, I started doing this in a bunch of residency halls. Eventually housing noticed what I was up to, and they made a marketing campaign with my face plastered on posters around campus, and it was simply “Ask Doug.”
WDDI: Why did you continue to do this when people have access to all kinds of information and help these days?
The main reason why I keep at this, and why I think it really resonated with people, is because not everything is on google. Being told “just go to the library” isn’t always that helpful to students. There’s this thing called library anxiety that is similar to test anxiety, where people don’t know where to start and they don’t know how to sort through information. A lot of students come into college feeling overwhelmed and stupid when they need help, and they often feel like they should already know how to do something. They are afraid of revealing their ignorance, and while none of that is true, it’s an irrational fear that is valid. Instead of telling people “go to the library” I want people to start saying “Ask Doug” or “Ask Julie” because when you put a human behind information, it makes it much less scary. I feel like students will be more likely to reach out to someone that they see regularly, and if it’s a real person. I often can’t answer their questions, but I can put them in touch with the people who can.
WDDI: With the evolution of libraries in the digital age, what do you hope to see in the future as far as libraries are concerned?
Obviously libraries have changed with digital content, but I do get tired of the either/or mentality to information. We have to start saying “both/and” in regards to digital media and print. Information is information in whatever container it comes from. There was some fear 15-20 years ago about what would happen to librarians with the introduction of digital content. Well now there is more information than ever before and it can be overwhelming. I feel like a tugboat captain, or the coastguard. I am here to rescue people from too much information, and really more like navigate them to get them to their desired location. Librarians are needed more now than ever because there is so much more stuff to navigate through.
WDDI: We see you bicycling around campus too. As a bicyclist, and a safety task force member, what do you think needs to happen in Denton as far as bikes go?
In the early 2000’s I started working in Waco at a community college only two miles from my house, so I decided to get a bike. I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was a kid, and I was really loving it. Then after I moved to Denton I stopped riding for a while, and up until 2011 when I realized parking was an issue. After biking for a few months to work and around the square, I learned that it was so much easier to get around! It’s also really fun and it feels good. It wakes me up in the morning, and is a de-stressor at the end of the day. I now cycle almost everywhere I go, and I only drive my car about once a week.
My goal is to see moms and kids riding bikes everywhere. My ultimate dream would be a traffic jam of moms and cargo bikes with three-year-olds on Carroll Blvd. We all know that increasing mobility is economically good. Every study that’s ever been done shows that when you provide infrastructure for cyclist and pedestrians, people want to move there. People want walkable/livable communities. Studies have shown that women don’t cycle when they don’t feel safe, and I want to change that in our city. The solution is protected bike lanes with barriers. I am advocating for this, and encourage the city to move forward on creating more infrastructure. I want a family to bike from idiots hill to the square, and feel 100% safe.
WDDI: What does Doug do in his spare time when he’s not being a cycling librarian?
I read or I meet friends downtown for a beer. I have 3 cats and a dog. I’m a homeowner, so that takes some time and work. I visit my family in Sherman and McKinney. But more than anything I love biking around because I really feel more connected to the community that way.
This column as part of a new ongoing partnership with Wesley Kirk's People of Denton project. Check out People of Denton for more.