Who We Are
Putting a face on the people behind the service is key to positioning librarians as essential to the learning community and a dynamic career choice. The important work of librarians, especially those in academic and research settings, is not always easily visible to those on the outside. We in the profession know that it is filled with interesting people, facing interesting challenges, and doing interesting things. And the need has never been greater, particularly for those with subject and technical specialties. We need to tell our story. The most tried and true form of recruitment is people in the field reaching out to others, both one-on-one and speaking before groups. Pitching stories about library staff to your institution’s publications, posting profiles on the library’s Web site, and featuring them in library publications also can be useful strategies for raising awareness as are career and other events. Information about Careers in Libraries, including academic and research librarianship, can be found online under the ALA Office for Human Resource Development and Recruitment.
The following profiles are just a few examples of those who have found rewarding work in academic and research librarianship.
Susana D. Boylston, Davidson College Library
Thomas Dowling, OhioLINK
Debra Gilchrist, Pierce College
Susana Hinojosa, University of California, Berkeley
Mike Kelly, Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University
Allison Sutton, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Susanna D. Boylston
Head, Library Instruction & Collection Development
Davidson College Library
"Fast-paced, ever-changing, and always challenging" aren’t the words most people think of when they think of librarianship. But that’s how Susanna Boylston describes her work at Davidson College, a private, four-year liberal arts college with an enrollment of 1,700.
On any given day, Boylston may be found at the reference desk, consulting with students on how to research the influence of Catholic missions on the 19th century West or the history of the America’s Cup, or a member of the faculty seeking information about a new electronic product to support a class he is teaching.
"It’s a treasure hunt," says Boylston. "The questions lead you off in all directions. Some are easy. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to find, and that’s part of the fun."
A recent challenge was helping a student pinpoint the date when passenger ships no longer had to take on fresh water for drinking when they were making transatlantic voyages.
"Our students are very bright but like a lot of other students, they want to do a Google search first," says Boylston.
Part of her challenge is to take them beyond Google and teach information literacy skills, including how to find and use a variety of research tools and primary sources, such as patents, court cases, diaries, correspondence, and newspaper advertisements.
Boylston’s work is interdisciplinary. The materials she selects for the library’s collection support the school’s varied and changing curriculum. Her classes in research methods and library use are tailored for students in classes ranging from entry-level writing and 300-level Sociology to 400-level French, or Psychology research methods.
"Since we are engaged with classes across the curriculum, academic librarians have a unique perspective," Boylston explains. "We support students, faculty, and administrators, often all at the same time."
Boylston, who holds a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Oxford in England, said she always loved libraries but initially resisted suggestions that she become a librarian.
"Like a lot of folks, I didn’t fully understand what it meant to be a librarian. But I fell in love with the work."
Boylston received her master’s degree in library science in 1997 from Catholic University in Washington D.C. She worked at the Lafayette College (Easton, Pa.) and University of Virginia (Charlottesville) libraries before moving to Davidson a few months ago.
Boylston says her work has proven to be both intellectually stimulating and fun.
"I learn at least one new thing everyday," explains Boylston, noting that in the past, this has included learning to cope with plumbing problems, roof leaks, and book thieves. "People outside the profession might be surprised to learn how much librarians need to know in order to keep facilities open and services running!
"This is a profession for people who value life-long learning and seek opportunities for it!"
Assistant Director of Library Systems
One of the best-kept secrets about the Internet is the role of academic librarians in advancing its usefulness. Dowling is one of those who early on recognized both its promise and problems and detoured from a career as a reference librarian to become a technology specialist.
"I’m never quite sure what to tell people when they ask what I do," says Dowling. "When I tell them I’m a librarian, they expect I work at a reference desk or circulation. Sometimes I tell people I’m a Web developer, but then they think I work for an e-commerce operation."
Looking back to the ‘80s, Dowling recalls, "It was obvious the Internet could allow rapid and widespread distribution of information. It was also obvious there was no system in place to control that information. The Internet had a million authors and no editors."
Eager to harness this new technology for their users, academic librarians sought to create order out of chaos. Their solutions included developing lists of recommended Web resources, the Librarians’ Index to the Internet, and their own Web sites with electronic collections of the scholarly source materials needed by students and researchers.
Today, Dowling and others are working to develop Internet2, a high-speed network that will link academic and research institutions around the world and allow them to transfer high quality instructional films and other "high end" products that require more bandwidth than the "commercial" Internet.
At OhioLINK, a consortium that links 82 academic libraries and the State Library, Dowling works to bring state-of-the-art technology to its members and their users. Services he has worked to develop include a computerized catalog of all member collections, extensive online collections of scholarly journals and bibliographic databases, and a digital media center that provides high resolution access to art, architectural images and historical archives, such as the Wright brothers archive housed at Wright State University in Dayton.
Dowling says his work adapting new technology for academic libraries provides an opportunity to help define the leading edge of technologies that will shape the future of information delivery.
"There’s a sense of, oh boy, I get to play with new stuff," says Dowling in explaining what he likes best about his work. "And there’s something really satisfying in knowing that what I work on benefits students and researchers around the state--or anyone in the academic community."
Dowling received a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Michigan but decided against a career in teaching. He went on to receive a master’s in library and information science in 1988.
While he acknowledges that his work may mean libraries may not be needed as a physical presence someday, Dowling says the same cannot be said of librarians.
"At some point, someone will have a question that can’t be answered by the tools, and that will require a librarian."
Ft. Steilacoom/Puyallup, Wash.
For Debra Gilchrist, it’s all about students.
"Information is a powerful thing," says Gilchrist. "I love connecting students with ideas."
At Pierce College, a two-year community college, the students include adult learners seeking to improve their basic education skills, older students making mid-life career changes, and younger students who are only beginning to think of college. Gilchrist’s efforts are directed at teaching them how to get the answers they need.
"Good decisions depend on good information," explains Gilchrist. "We help them develop skills that they will use throughout their lives, whether it’s buying a refrigerator, figuring out what kind of tree will grow best in their front yard, or if one of their children has a disease, researching what alternatives there might be for treatment."
She recalls teaching a class for students who had been laid off from their jobs and were returning to college to begin new careers. "We looked at reference books and career guidance sites to help them make good choices. One student said she was really afraid and didn’t know how to do this until my class. After two 2 hours, she felt really empowered with a library and librarians behind her."
Last year, the library received a $400,000 grant from Intel to develop what Gilchrist describes as an "amazing computer clubhouse" for disadvantaged youth ages 10-18. About 40 kids drop by each day after school to work on homework, digital films, and other projects of their own design. Library staff, faculty, and college students serve as their mentors and guides.
"We want to help these young students become information and media literate, so they are ready to face a different kind of world and are ready for college," Gilchrist notes.
Gilchrist’s days are action-packed.
In addition to managing the clubhouse and other administrative responsibilities, she is planning a major remodeling and expansion of the library. She also serves as copyright officer for the college and advises faculty who want to copy materials for their classes on how to stay within the law.
"I teach. I work with faculty. I put paper in the printers," says Gilchrist. "If there are three students in line at the reference desk, I stop and do that."
The best part?
"When a student returns back to the reference desk, an "A" paper in hand to say thank you for making a difference in their thinking and their skills, and helping them succeed."
Gilchrist received a master’s degree in library science from the University of Denver. She says she was drawn to academic librarianship because of its focus on learning and the vibrant campus atmosphere.
Asked if she would recommend her choice to others, Gilchrist answers, "Absolutely! It is exciting, diverse, and most of all, it matters. Information is the cornerstone of our culture."
Latin American/U.S States Documents Selector
University of California, Berkeley
Susana Hinojosa says her first memory of a library was being thrown out of the adult section because she was too young.
"I told the librarian I had read all the books in the Children’s section. But she told me to go back downstairs."
The memory did not stop her from later pursuing a degree in library science. She became interested while working as an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, library.
Although she expected to work for a public or school library, Hinojosa was recruited by UC where she worked in the Moffitt Undergraduate Library and Reference Department before moving to Government Documents six years ago.
As a documents selector, Hinojosa is responsible for building the library’s collection of documents published by U.S. state, Latin American, and Iberian governments. As a specialist
in government information, she consults with students and faculty on all areas involving government documents, including U.S. Federal and international organizations such as the United Nations and World Trade Organization. For example, she might consult with a graduate student seeking information on female candidates and members of parliaments in Venezuela, Chile, and Argentina, or a professor researching indigenous immigration movements from rural to urban areas in Guatemala.
Her work is demanding, Hinojosa explains, because it requires constant monitoring of political, economic, and other developments to ensure that student and faculty researchers have the most current information.
Because of the complexity and expense of building a large Latin American collection, Hinojosa works with colleagues at the University of Texas in Austin and Stanford University as part of a research library cooperative program. She attends the Feria Internacional del Libro (International Book Fair) held in Guadalajara, Mexico, where she is able to select from a larger selection of Spanish language materials than is available in the U.S. and meet with vendors from other countries.
"I like the constant change and the challenge. It’s the nature of the profession and a large campus. Every question is different."
In addition to her work in the library, Hinojosa teaches a class "Introduction to the University from a Chicano/Latino Perspective" for incoming Latino students. She is past president of REFORMA (National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking) and a member of the Latino Advisory Committee for the Oakland Museum of California.
Hinojosa says she recommends academic librarianship to those who like the mental and social stimulation provided by an academic environment, who like challenges, are interested in working with students, and enjoy research.
She is particularly concerned with the low numbers of Latino librarians in academic libraries. Says Hinojosa:
"We’re needed-the perspective, the experience, the language skills we bring. It’s good for Latinos and for libraries."
Fales Library & Special Collections
New York University
New York, NY
Michael Kelly thinks of himself as sort of a deejay. Only what he mixes isn’t music. It’s literature and culture spanning more than five centuries. And his audience is made up of students and other researchers.
"The most gratifying moments are those when I connect a library patron with something they’ve never been able to find anywhere else-whether it’s showing a scholar the only known copy of an 18th-century novel or presenting an undergraduate with a folder filled with flyers from concerts in the early 1980s." says Kelly.
Along with an extensive collection of rare books dating from pre-1500, the Fales Library specializes in documenting the late 20th-century downtown New York cultural scene. Its collection includes performance art and experimental films, underground newspapers, comic books, ‘zines and other "outsider" publications.
"Last week I bought a first edition of "Northanger Abbey" by Jane Austen and a small collection of books about punk rock from the early 1980s," Kelly explains. "I spend as much time talking to students about comic books and photocopied ‘zines as I do explaining the fine points of early printed books."
Along with tracking down and purchasing items of interest, he makes sure the items are cataloged correctly so they will be accessible to researchers. He also teaches classes in bibliographic instruction-how to use the library, conducts tours, answers reference questions, and assists students and scholars with research projects.
A favorite recent assignment was curating an exhibition of more than 100 works of American fiction about the American Revolution. Drawing on Fales’ collection of letters and original documents, Kelly was able to juxtapose eyewitness and fictional accounts of the same events. "It was a unique opportunity to share my expertise with a broad audience," says Kelly.
Kelly says he especially enjoys working with students.
"I show them 18th century novels that were bound in leather and could be six or eight volumes. The books were small so they could fit in women’s hands, " he explains, adding, "It’s as much about history as literature."
For those who are academically inclined and want to be part of higher education without the pressures of "publish or perish," Kelly says academic librarianship is an excellent alternative.
Once an aspiring English professor, he earned a master’s in library science from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996. After graduation, he worked as a Humanities Reference Librarian at the University of Missouri at Kansas City before taking his current position.
Kelly acknowledges there is some truth to the stereotype of the "uptight, antisocial" librarian. "Rather than deny it, I try to convince people that they can change the image of librarianship by becoming cool librarians."
As for himself, Kelly claims, "I have the best job. It’s a great job for people who are collectors at heart but aren’t independently wealthy."
Assistant Education & Social Science Librarian
Assistant Professor of Library Administration
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"Reading and the library always fascinated me," Allison Sutton recalls. "But it didn’t click as a career choice. I went on to other things."
Those other things included working in marketing and customer service for two major corporations, serving as admissions officer for a university, and teaching computer education to elementary and junior high students.
It was while doing late night research for a grant project that Sutton came across the American Library Association (ALA) Web site and thought, "I had skills that lend themselves to this world. It seemed like a perfect fit."
She received an ALA Spectrum Scholarship for minority students and an Association for Research Libraries (ARL) diversity initiative scholarship. She took her current position in 2001 shortly after receiving a master’s degree in library and information science from Louisiana State University.
Says Sutton about her relatively new career, "Academic librarianship gives you an opportunity to be involved in research at another level-one that makes a huge difference in the future of society. I find it exciting."
Recent projects that she has advised on include a professor studying e-mail communication and its impact on the workplace, and a graduate student studying parenting relationships among juvenile delinquents.
A major responsibility is materials selection for the university’s psychology and social work collections. Sutton selects books, journals, and other resources in print and electronic formats. Knowing what to buy is key both in terms of its usefulness to researchers and because the materials are often costly, and Sutton enjoys the challenge of managing a $150,000 budget.
She also enjoys teaching library user education classes. Noting that many undergraduates are more oriented to the Internet than print materials, Sutton says she emphasizes the importance of evaluating information sources and going beyond the Web. While the UIUC library subscribes to over 200 electronic databases and 8,500 scholarly journals online, Sutton points out that the library has subscriptions to some 90,000 print publications:
"I tell students there’s a real possibility they may miss a seminal work if they focus only on electronic sources."
Looking back, Sutton says she has brought much of what she learned in her previous positions to librarianship. She retains a strong sense of recruitment as her mission from her work as a college admissions officer, only now it is directed at prospective librarians.
"Unless we make an effort to promote what we do and the variety of things that are available, people who are clinging to the old image will never picture themselves as an academic librarian," Sutton explains.
She also retains a strong commitment to quality customer service from her years in the corporate world. As for teaching, along with her classroom skills, Sutton says she brings the knowledge, "If you can teach 7th grade, you can do anything."