NMRT Member Profile: Holly Wilson

by Kelly Depin

Welcome to NMRT‘s member profile. We are happy to feature Holly Wilson, a Research and Instruction Librarian at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. One of her most recent responsibilities for NMRT has been as the editor of “Footnotes."

Could you tell our readers a little something about yourself?

I moved to Brooklyn in 2006 when I was offered my current position as Research & Instruction Librarian at Pratt Institute. Prior to that, I had been living in Chicago for several years but I am originally from Cleveland, Ohio. I have only been a librarian for 4 years now - a decade after finishing my BA with a Studio Art major, I started seriously thinking about what I *wanted* to do, rather than just bounce from job to job trying to fall into something that felt right. I’ve worked in art galleries and as an office manager (also in a creative field) and other similar positions, but nothing “stuck.” I thought about the elements of each job that made me happiest and tried to figure out how to maximize my interests. I really enjoy the “adventure” of research and also helping people find solutions to things, so combining those interests led me to consider librarianship. It was a bit daunting to think about returning to school after a decade away, but I decided to go for it and applied to and was accepted into (the) University of Pittsburgh’s FastTrack distance program, which allowed me to continue working while I worked towards my MLIS. The position at Pratt turned out to be a great fit for me, since its art and design focused. Working directly with art students is really interesting and fun for me… As for hobbies, as any librarian, I like to read. Mostly fiction, lately I’ve been on a bit of a science fiction kick. I read Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren a couple years ago and it pretty much broke my concept of reality (that’s a good thing, in my opinion). The interest in Sci-Fi led me to also become a member of the N3F, the National Fantasy Fan Federation, which is a geekily awesome organization with a great history. I also listen to a wide range of music, including a fair amount of underground metal...

What are some of your current responsibilities at work and through the ALA? How long have you been an ALA member and what other groups and roundtables are you part of?

My work responsibilities are pretty varied since we are a smaller operation. I do reference work, instruction, individual research appointments, collection development and liaison work. I’ve been an ALA member since I was in library school. I have attended a few of the annual conferences, which are always good if you can manage it financially. I became active with NMRT and have been involved with a few committees, including Student chapter of the Year Award Committee, the Scholarship, Research and Writing (now Endnotes) and Co-Chair/Editor of Footnotes. I’m also a member of RUSA and ACRL’s Instruction Roundtable and Arts Roundtable.

Could you share with us some of your philosophy of librarianship - what are some of your grounding beliefs that lead you to be the librarian you are.

My philosophy on librarianship, if I have one, is that we should do the best we can to help people find information. That can be defined in so many ways, if you think about it. Catalogers are every bit as important in this as reference librarians, even though that isn’t the first thought that comes to mind. If we didn’t have diligent, knowledgeable catalogers, we’d be in quite a lot of trouble! One of the most rewarding parts of my position is instruction. One of the things that I stress in instruction sessions is that patrons should feel encouraged and empowered to come to the reference desk. I think there can be social or cultural barriers to approaching the desk - patrons feel that they are “interrupting.” I make it clear that answering questions and being available is our priority when we are at that desk and that it actually makes my job more interesting when they do bring questions. I always offer to meet students one-on-one or in small groups since people have varying comfort levels and my contact information is always provided to them. I will do whatever I can to be approachable and to make students comfortable with using the library and doing research in general.

What has been some of your most rewarding times in your profession? Do you have advice for those librarians just starting out in their profession?

The things that I find rewarding are when students actually get to the point where they realize that they *can* do research and even get excited about it. When I can tell that I’ve really made a difference in how the students view libraries in a positive way. Jumping into NMRT involvement was also incredibly rewarding - at first I was going to wait a while before getting onto committees, but after a conversation with NMRT Past President Amanda Roberts, I was inspired to make it happen. The networking opportunities that ALA and NMRT provide have been instrumental in building many professional connections. I feel like I can always find someone to reach out to if I have a particular concern or issue.

As far as advice to new librarians: don’t be shy, ask questions, learn how to network (that means having significant exchanges with people and not just handing out business cards). For networking to be useful, you have to establish meaningful communication or common interests rather than meeting just anyone. Also, the first few months on a new job are pretty much supposed to feel awkward. It takes time to get used to any new position, but if you are embarking on a new profession, you may feel like you are in over your head at first - from experience and from others I’ve talked to, I’d say that’s normal. If you can, find a mentor; either through a formal program offered by a professional organization or just on your own - it really helps to have someone specific with experience in a similar position to bounce ideas off or to get advice.

I also had the great experience of having a chapter published in a book that I co-authored with a colleague here at Pratt. It was very exciting to have our proposal accepted and then work collaboratively to research and write the chapter and then to finally see it in print!

Tell us something that you feel makes you unique.

...I collect toasters and that I have tattoos related to that. Due to my long standing interest in music, I also find that I *need* live music fairly often, but I’m pretty specific about the size of venue I’ll go to. Once it gets too big, it takes away the intimacy of the show and you’re not really feeling the experience in the same way as at a small show. I would likely be a raving lunatic if I went too long without going to see a good band play. Despite the stereotypes, it is very apparent that librarians come in all different flavors. We all come to the profession through many different avenues. However, what seems to draw us all together is our common core philosophy of getting information into the hands of those that need it. Thank you Holly, for sharing your journey with us and letting us know how rewarding it has been to be involved in our professional organization.