From microfiche readers to online searches and snail mail to email, technology has vastly transformed how people do research. But alumna Miki Goral, who’s been a librarian on campus for 52 years, says her role hasn’t really changed all that much.
“The work of a reference librarian is to help people find the information they are seeking,” said Goral, the longest-serving librarian at UCLA. “That is the same today as it was 50 years ago — only we have vastly more resources via the Internet available today.”
As one of the first librarians to use computers at the UCLA Library in the mid-70s, Goral learned how to apply the new technology for public service. Early computer searching was done on a cost-recovery basis; researchers would make appointments with a librarian to discuss their research needs and the librarian would then do the search.
“You would do the search and give the command,” she said. “The computer that we were dialing up, which was up in Palo Alto, would print out the results and mail it to us in snail mail and the person would come and pay for it and pick it up.”
Helping fellow Bruins search for information today may seem easier and much faster. Yet in some ways it can be more complex, given the new technology and alternate search methods that are now available. Over the years, Goral has scheduled consultations with thousands of students, faculty and researchers to help them develop research questions, share search strategies or recommend the most appropriate databases.
A young start
The double Bruin’s library ties started early. A lifelong Angeleno, she remembers going with her mother to the local library to sign up for her first library card at the age of four. As she got older, Goral attended classes at Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library in downtown Los Angeles to learn how to conduct research, which helped her prepare for her future career.
As a political science major at UCLA in the 1960s, Goral witnessed significant historical moments on campus, from student-led civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, and the struggle of Black students to sports championships. A basketball fan, she would rarely miss the chance to see her friend and dormmate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar play.
After earning her bachelor’s degree, Goral decided to stay on campus to pursue a master’s in library science from the UCLA School of Library Service, which is now part of the UCLA School of Education & Information Studies. The extra bonus? “I could stay at UCLA and watch the basketball team continue its winning streak and prepare for a career that would be very rewarding,” she said.
Her first librarian job was with the Library of Congress’ Legislative Reference Service, where she provided information to members of Congress and their constituents. After honing her skills there, she returned to campus as a reference librarian in 1970 — and has never left.
“National Librarian Day is a wonderful time to recognize Miki and all librarians for the work they do to advance UCLA’s teaching and learning mission,” said Ginny Steel, Norman and Armena Powell University Librarian. “When students, faculty and scholars of all disciplines need access to materials, research and data science expertise, UCLA librarians are there for them.”
Helping on — and off — campus
Goral has even been recognized off campus. Outside of UCLA, she has used her expertise for the last 32 years as the research director and filmmaker liaison for the Pan African Film & Arts Festival. PAFF, one of the most important and significant film festivals in the U.S., has promoted Black stories and images through the exhibition of film, visual art and other creative expression since 1992.
At one screening, a man walked up to her and said, “You worked at UCLA and helped me when I was a student. Now I’m a doctor — a medical doctor.” Some graduate students she worked with at University Research Library, now Charles E. Young Research Library, have acknowledged her assistance in their dissertations.
Even after five decades and staying on top of ever-evolving technology as a UCLA reference librarian, Goral truly enjoys working with students and other researchers.
To this day, it makes her proud “seeing the light bulb go on in a student, especially when they come in and say they spent three hours researching and couldn’t find anything,” she said. “I look and together, we find something right away. That is the kind of thing that I really like.”