UMSL librarian is ‘the IRL of IRL in real life’ – and a Harlem radio host

by | Nov 17, 2016

Lena Marvin has launched the university’s Institutional Repository Library, nicknamed IRL. It’s set to become a digital showcase of research by UMSL scholars.
Lena Marvin

Since joining the UMSL Libraries team earlier this year, Lena Marvin has launched the university’s Institutional Repository Library, nicknamed IRL. It’s set to become a digital showcase of research by UMSL scholars. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Only a few months old, fledgling “IRL” (pronounced “Earl”) is already beginning to pull in a worldwide readership for the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

California. Malaysia. Spain. Missouri. Those are just a few of the places where, thanks to IRL, people are accessing scholarly work by members of the UMSL campus community in a new way.

Shorthand for UMSL’s new Institutional Repository Library, IRL is in the care of its curator and crafter, Lena Marvin, who has a map with lots of gray dots pulled up on her computer screen inside the Thomas Jefferson Library.

“It gives you all these fun little points indicating where an item has been downloaded,” Marvin explains during a quick tour of the newly launched site. “And if you click on one, you can see what has been downloaded where. So this student newspaper issue, for instance, has just been looked at in Japan.”

Marvin, who began working at UMSL Libraries 10 months ago, fell in love with information and “finding things,” as she puts it, long ago. That’s what drew her into the field of library science to begin with – and seems to make her a great fit for her current task: helping people near and far find the great things that are being produced on campus.

“I’m the institutional repository librarian of the institutional repository library in real life – that’s the IRL of IRL I-R-L,” she quips. “And IRL is an online space to showcase what research is coming out of UMSL. It’s going to have the dissertations and theses in it as well as faculty works that can be shared, emphasizing what people have done.”

Worldwide audience through IRL

IRL ( includes a map outlining real-time readership of items hosted in the repository – presently just over 1,500, but that number’s soon to grow by leaps and bounds. (Screenshot from IRL@UMSL)

That’s something that will further build up the reputation of the institution and its scholars in all sorts of disciplines.

“It makes the school look better, it makes the professor look better – and it draws students who want to be doing similar research,” says the Kansas native. “So it improves the impact of the articles if they have greater accessibility.”

As Marvin works with campus partners to build and grow the new tool, she finds herself constantly navigating “the wild and crazy world of academic publishing and copyright.” An institutional repository, and the whole environment of 21st-century scholarly communications, is no simple matter.

“Knowing what can be shared and what can’t is an incredibly hairy situation,” she explains. “A fair amount of what will be in IRL will be paid links to journals, so if you’re on campus you can click that link, it’ll go through library resources and you’ll get it. Otherwise it may help you do an interlibrary loan to get it. But some materials are open access and shareable.”

And in the internet age, the trend is toward more and more open access – partly due to scholars, including Marvin, pushing for it as they publish their own work.

“I wrote a chapter in a book along with a colleague about library mentorship, and when I signed the contract, I got an addendum added that I can share this chapter in my institutional repository,” she says, adding that she’s happy to serve as a resource for UMSL graduate students and others eager to publish as well as make their work as freely accessible to the world as possible.

Marvin’s also a knowledgeable resource on all things technology. A fan of hacker culture and maker culture, she’s been using Linux since 2001. And for the past 10 years she’s also been a weekly presence on Harlem Community Radio in New York City. Even after moving back to the Midwest last year, Marvin has continued on as a co-host for the “Community and Technology” show that airs every Wednesday on WHCR 90.3 FM.

On this particular day, Marvin expects the afternoon’s discussion to focus on the Federal Communications Commission’s new privacy rules, fake shopping apps going into the iPhone store and how police are using social media and tools such as something called a Stingray.

“Coming from the point of view of a librarian, I will talk about metadata and just how much information is there,” she says. “So if the NSA isn’t keeping all of our calls but they are keeping all of our metadata, what does that mean? Should I be concerned that someone knows who I’m calling, where I’m calling from, when I’m calling and for how long that call is? Yes, that’s actually a lot of personal information.”

But for all her love of the digital world and for conversation about the dark web versus the deep web and the best approach to passwords and online security, libraries themselves – including both IRL and the physical Thomas Jefferson Library on UMSL’s North Campus – are at the heart of it all for Marvin.

“When I first did research in a library, I was so thrilled at how much easier it was to find stuff than just looking around online. I was shocked at how many tools are available in libraries to find the information I needed to do a research paper,” she says of her earliest adventures in their stacks, catalogs and computers. “And this example is very silly, but I have curly hair, and you can find advice for curly hair, but there are entire books about it. And that realization that you don’t just have to go to a top-10 list – you can find an entire book – was fantastic.”

Up next for IRL is the addition of UMSL graduate students’ theses and dissertations to its growing collection. Already digitally housing 1,500 items – mostly yearbooks, bulletins and archived issues of the student newspaper – it’s set to grow by leaps and bounds in the months to come.

For more information about IRL, contact Marvin at There’s also a helpful FAQ page on the IRL site. And to hear Marvin on the radio, stream WHCR 90.3 FM on Wednesdays from 4 to 5 p.m. CST.

The UMSL Experience

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill