Category: guest post

Alumni Librarians: Elizabeth Bast ’89

Image of Elizabeth BastEditor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there.  Here’s another in a series.

Envy. I admit it. That’s what I feel when I think about students in college and graduate school today considering entering the library field (including my son, a current student at Lawrence). Not to be too “back in my day” about it, but when I attended Lawrence in the late ‘80s I can positively state that being a librarian never entered my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my local public library in West Bend, Wisconsin and was a frequent visitor to my school libraries and even the good old Mudd while a student at Lawrence, but it’s hard to describe to students today how much technology and culture have transformed libraries (and the role of the librarian).

Quiet. Sedate. Solitary. The libraries I used to know were filled with knowledge but were not particularly dynamic places. Going to the library (of any kind) meant entering a serious place where mostly silent, individual exploration took place. The stereotypical librarian was a “shusher” with glasses and a prim demeanor. She (typically) served in a gatekeeper role where orderly systems of classification ruled and being a patron had a definite “supplicant” feel. It was not a world I ever envisioned finding the most engaging, dynamic, and fulfilling career of my life. And yet…

If I could have majored in “Liberal Arts” at Lawrence I would have. I was interested in everything and took as long as I possibly could to pick a major, and even then chose one that spanned two disciplines (back then Lawrence had an Anthropology/Sociology department). Plus I threw in an Education minor and earned my teaching license in 7-12 Broad Fields Social Studies. Lawrence made it very difficult to leave the world of learning, so even though I was prepared to enter the classroom as a teacher, I decided to extend my studies into graduate school and entered the Masters in Sociology program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I completed the program with a thesis based on original research on the topic of urban education. After getting married and moving to New York City so my new husband could pursue graduate studies, I entered the world of publishing as an editorial assistant for an editor working on academic titles in the fields of Sociology and Philosophy, while I spent nights teaching GED and ESL classes at a non-profit community organization. Upon returning to Wisconsin three years later I took a job as an academic advisor with a program called Upward Bound, run out of the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan campus and three years after that I became pregnant with my first child and found myself moving again so my husband could pursue his career. Whew.

Taking time off from paid employment to be a stay-at-home parent to my two children was definitely not time wasted (in fact I highly recommend it if money and circumstance allow), but it did create a sizable hole in my resume when I decided to return to the work world when my younger child started Kindergarten. I knew I wanted a career again, a profession that would be part of my identity and allow me to fulfill my potential. Traditional teaching was obviously an option, but I didn’t have the same passion for it that I did when I was younger. I considered other roles within the education field, such as counselor, or reading specialist, because I had really enjoyed the one-on-one relationships I built with students when I worked for Upward Bound, but I knew I needed to go back to school on some level to refresh my knowledge and credentials before anyone would hire me.

I turned to the website for the UW-Milwaukee Graduate School to see what programs were available that might allow me to combine taking courses in-person with an online component, because I still had young kids and driving 35 miles from my home in Racine, Wisconsin was not always possible. It is there, while perusing the various programs, that I first laid eyes on the School of Information Studies (SOIS). Have you ever had one of those moments where everything just came into focus? I was excited and surprised. Course titles like The Organization of Information, Information Access and Retrieval, Metadata, and Information Ethics intrigued me. What sold me was the ability to combine a Masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) with the certification for a School Library Media Specialist license (K-12) by taking courses like Library Services for Children and Young Adults and Multicultural Children’s Literature. It felt like a great fit, so I enrolled in January of 2008 and never looked back.

How had this field escaped my attention all this time? Well, a little thing called the Internet took over the world in the time since I left Lawrence in 1989, and libraries and librarians have been leading the way as innovators and navigators of this brave new world. Now I work as a Library Media Specialist (sometimes referred to as Teacher Librarian) in a public middle school serving more than 800 students in a very culturally and economically diverse community. I am certainly proud of the collection of books I have selected and curated over the years but I am not the English-major book nerd that is often part of the librarian profile. I approach my profession as a Lawrence graduate, a liberal arts nerd who is fascinated by and knowledgeable about many different fields and topics. I collaborate with my social studies, math, science, art, music, and even gym teachers as much as I do my English faculty. The online world is a wonderful and terrifying place for kids and adults and a large part of my value to my school is my ability to make technology and digital information accessible, manageable, and meaningful. I collaborate, I troubleshoot, I teach, I counsel, I provide inspiration and sometimes refuge. Every day is a different schedule and a different challenge. I get to know and serve every student and teacher in my building. I also have chosen to participate in my profession by serving on task forces and committees for the American Library Association (ALA) and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), which is just the cherry on top of my already awesome job because I get to know and work with amazing librarians from around the country. (I’m currently serving on the Odyssey Award 2019 committee which selects the best audiobook created for children each year).

So, yeah. Do I wish I had found this career earlier? Absolutely, but I also recognize that the school library of my childhood was nothing like the one I work in today, so I just have to be grateful that I’m able to spend the 2nd half of my working life in a job I truly love (and also a little envious of those who can embark on a vital career in libraries right out of college).

By Elizabeth Bast, Class of 1989

Student Research in the Library: John O’Neill

John O’Neill is a double-degree student from Reno, Nevada. He’s been at Lawrence for five years and will earn his BM in French Horn Performance and his BA in Russian and Government in a just few short weeks!

John is also a much-beloved library student worker, and has been the night supervisor at the Circulation Desk. He definitely knows his way around the Mudd and offers great insight into using the library to your best advantage.

Upon being asked what he would like his fellow students to know about the Mudd Library, he responded,

“Get to know the staff, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and always go upstairs to find your own books because you will come down with an entire stack of useful materials.”

Read on to learn more about John and the fascinating and important research he’s been pursuing in the Mudd!

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John O’Neill holds a 2002 issue of Appleton’s local newspaper, The Post Crescent, which he used to research Appleton’s sister city, Kurgan, Russia.

John, what are your plans after graduation?

I am planning to travel to Ukraine for the summer to work with an NGO there that works with under-served regions of the country. After that I will be back in Appleton and hopefully onto Chicago in the fall.

What have you been researching in the Mudd Library?

Over the past two terms I have been working on my senior experience in government. For this project I am profiling the Fox Cities-Kurgan Sister City Relationship. The partnership had an astonishing period of peak activity from the 1990s through 2013, but it has since been dormant. Some of the partnership’s major accomplishments included a 2003 security summit hosted in Appleton with keynote from Mikhail Gorbachev, opening of medical facilities and a domestic violence shelter in Kurgan, obtaining funding for a project to decommission a significant stockpile of chemical weapons in the Kurgan region, and over 100 educational exchanges between universities, high schools, and middle schools in both regions.

What library materials and resources have been the most useful to you in pursuing this research?

For this project I ended up using a wide variety of resources that the library offers students. I took advantage of the main collection, ILL, and electronic databases for most of my background research. Later, I relied on our wonderful reference librarians, who pointed me to contacts at the Appleton Public Library and the Appleton Historical Society. Finally, I learned to be grateful for the VCRs and microform readers that the library makes available to students. Most of my resources were on VHS tapes from the 90s, so having those VCRs on hand was absolutely fantastic.

What are you hoping to learn or gain from this research?

One of my main objectives was to learn how sustainable local organizations are built. This involved finding out how Fox Cities-Kurgan got its start, what program leaders hoped to accomplish, and why it eventually entered a decline. As I progressed in my research I found many other sister cities around the country with similar stories of huge growth followed by a swift decline. This led me to ask just how much these relationships are subject to the broader political climate and what their place is in the global geopolitical environment.

Why do you think this research is important?

For me, The Fox Cities-Kurgan Partnership has been an inspirational example of international partnership that transcends political boundaries. Not only did the program accomplish some enormous objectives that we wouldn’t normally associate with smaller towns like Appleton, but it also forged lasting friendships between the countless exchange participants, volunteers, host families, and students who were involved. By increasing awareness of the program I hope to re-spark the interest in international advocacy that the program was founded around.

How did you become interested in this line of research?

A couple of years ago I found the partnership’s website, which hadn’t been updated since 2013. I later tried to search for Kurgan on the Post Crescent’s website, but due to archiving of the newspaper, my search returned no results. The disappearance of this program from the public eye made me a little sad and I began reaching out to program leaders and participants to find out more.

John, this sounds like really important work. We are so excited to see where you take what you’ve learned and to see the grand adventures that are in store for you! Thank you for sharing.

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Alumni Librarians: Emily Passey Vieyra ‘08

Emily (right) with celebrity librarian and author, Nancy Pearl

Editor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there.  Here’s another in a series. 

Thanks to the librarian alums who have gone before me on this blog and set the tone of telling the interesting story of how they came to be a librarian! It is one of those professions that prompts that question. From the outside, it’s not totally clear what librarians do. So it’s even less clear why or how someone came to find themselves in the role (other than being big readers, which not all librarians are.)

So here’s my story. During my four years at Lawrence, I was always on what felt like a pretty clear path: I would get really good grades, get my BA, and then go to grad school.

Senior year, I was nearing the end of that path. I had decided to explore journalism after a few years writing and editing for The Lawrentian. I was also armed with the knowledge that, despite working on an Honor’s Project in English, I did not want to pursue higher education in that subject because I did not want to be a professor. After a trip to New York City to explore NYU’s journalism program, I was totally disillusioned. I had a Rory Gilmore moment while there. I was used to being a sort of big fish at a small high school and then in the English department at Lawrence, but visiting a top journalism school in the Big Apple I felt like a single-celled organism floating in the Pacific Ocean. And I felt as spineless as one, too. In the end I graduated and then moved home with no plan.

Through twists and turns, I found myself 18 months post-Lawrence doing the tremendously unsatisfying work of a classified ad salesperson at a newspaper in North Dakota. One day I was walking my dogs and listening to a podcast of the public radio show, To The Best of Our Knowledge (produced right here in Wisconsin!). They were talking about public libraries, and profiled a book called This Book is Overdue! which I promptly went to the library to check out. In pretty quick succession, I applied for grad school, moved to Illinois, and spent two amazing years at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign studying library science and working as a graduate assistant at the Undergraduate Library. Yes, Lawrentians: they have one whole library just for undergrads! Big schools are so weird!

Now, I am the Assistant Director at Shorewood Public Library.

A few important things happened along the way to becoming a librarian, many of them at Lawrence. I’ll use these experiences to give you an idea of what a librarian does, at least this librarian.

I didn’t have one of those highly coveted jobs at the Mudd, but my jobs on campus gave me what turned out to be relevant experience for what I do as a librarian. Editing at The Lawrentian taught me to work strategically with a team, focus my creativity and turn work around quickly for a deadline. Tutoring at the Center for Teaching and Learning taught me to communicate tricky concepts in easy to understand ways, lead by example, and engage the learner in the process. I call on the multi-dimensional education I got at Lawrence when someone asks me for help finding a definition of modernism in poetry, or finding information on African explorers in the New World, or when I select new music for our collection, or when I write and edit library policies and procedures, or when I have to clean up puke. If only I were joking.

When a young woman asked me recently why people started writing books (I can’t make this stuff up), the librarian in me had the patience and forethought to answer her question as simply as I could (no library patron needs to hear a dissertation, but many want to give you one), but it was the Lawrentian in me who had the knowledge and confidence to answer.

By Emily Passey Vieyra, Class of 2008

“A Group of Completely Ordinary Objects”

Madeira Seaman’s solo show “A Group of Completely Ordinary Objects” opens today, May 3rd, in the Mudd Gallery. For the show Seaman created surreal and wonderful sculptures using reworked old toys. When you enter the gallery, or as Seaman calls it “the Playroom”, you are immediately welcomed by a message written by the artist in crayon inviting you to play with all of the toys you see. Seaman writes that they used toys as their sculptural medium because they saw them as a way to explore human behaviors and relationships.

Madeira Seaman’s solo show “A Group of Completely Ordinary Objects” in the Mudd Gallery

We are incredibly excited to have the idiosyncratic work of Madeira Seaman on display in the Mudd. There will be a reception for the show on May 14th before the show closes on the 16th.  Be sure to spend some time playing with Seaman’s toys before then.

Madeira Seaman’s solo show “A Group of Completely Ordinary Objects” in the Mudd Gallery

A Stone of Hope in the Mudd Gallery

A Stone of Hope, an exhibit which opened in the Mudd Gallery this past Wednesday, explores Black life in the Fox Cities from the 1700s up until the present day. The exhibit, organized by the History Museum at the Castle, has traveled throughout the Fox Cities over the last two years and is making it’s return to the Seeley G. Mudd library.

The exhibit tells a multifaceted story of the lives of Black Fox City residents. Before the 20th century, there was a growing black population many of whom were veterans of the the Civil War, business owners, and community leaders. In fact Lawrence admitted several residents of the Fox Cities as early as 1856.  However with this growth of the Black population and social standing also came a rise in racially motivated harassment, discrimination, and violence. By 1920 most Black residents had left the Fox Cities. This continued throughout the twentieth century as Appleton was an unofficial “sundown town” well into the 1960s.

A Stone of Hope confronts Appleton and Lawrence’s long history of white supremacy, but in doing so also honors the many activists that have worked tirelessly to challenge these structures – in the area and throughout the country. The title of the exhibit is taken from a speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. at UW Fox Valley in 1967 in which he challenges the white community to work towards inclusion saying the Fox Cities could emerge from a “mountain of hate” as a “stone of hope” in the Civil Rights Movement. While King imagined the Fox Cities as a haven from racism there is still no doubt a great deal of work to be done to achieve this. The exhibit ends looking towards the many Fox City residents  who continue to strive towards this goal.

A Stone of Hope

A Stone of Hope, which was made possible in part by the work of the Mudd’s very own Erin Dix and Antoinette Powell, will be on view in the Mudd Gallery until April 20, after which it will be moved to the Conservatory. Be sure to spend some time with this information and impactful exhibit before it closes.

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In the Mudd Gallery: Wonder and Resonance

Wonder and Resonance is a student-curated exhibit on view in the Mudd Gallery until Monday, March 12th. Using selections from Lawrence’s Anthropology and Archaeology collection, Manuel Ferreira crafted a show which explores the cultural meanings behind various artifacts. Ferreira encourages the viewer to experience the wonder and resonance of these cultural objects writing, “Wonder is the power of an object to grab the attention of a viewer, to convey a sense of enchantment and charisma. Resonance is the power of an object to go beyond itself, to convey the complex and dynamic cultural, historical, and personal forces that created it.”

Mudd Gallery - “The Story Behind the Artifacts” a solo show by Manuel Ferreira

Unlike a traditional museum exhibition, which would likely separate artifacts by time period, culture, and geography, Ferreira includes objects which cross all these boundaries. Walking through you’ll see an Aztec death whistle which dates back to the 12th century a few feet from Chinese ivory. The rich and diverse selection of the exhibit encourages the viewer to consider the consistent power objects have throughout cultures and time.

Mudd Gallery - “The Story Behind the Artifacts” a solo show by Manuel Ferreira

More than just present the viewer with a beautiful variety of objects, Ferreira pushes us to consider what goes into building a collection asking among other things: how did Lawrence come in possession of these objects? Why are they displayed the way they are and how does that affect my experience?  The result is an affecting and intimate experience with objects you otherwise are unlikely to have.

Mudd Gallery - “The Story Behind the Artifacts” a solo show by Manuel Ferreira

We at the Mudd are incredibly excited to house this exhibit and hope you all have a chance to see it before it closes Monday, March 12.

 

 

 

Alumni Librarians: Kathy Abromeit ’85

Editor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there.  Here’s another in a series. 

While a student at Lawrence, I worked in the music library under the supervision of faculty member, Paul Hollinger. At that time, it was a small collection housed in the conservatory, but we all ate up that collection like children in a candy store. Additionally, I was writing an honor’s thesis on Anna Bon, 18th-century composer and her flute sonatas, so I was getting a lot of library time both working in the library and doing extensive research myself. I studied flute with Ernestine Whitman, and both of us were very excited to be exploring Bon’s work. My advisor for the thesis was Professor Marjory Irvin, and she was the one who instilled my love of research, writing, and scholarly discussion. I came to love the hunt for information, and Professor Irvin helped me to understand that the process of research is often not a straight line from where you begin to where you finish, but that it is messy, that it is connected, that and it requires an ability to tolerate ambiguity. I think she was actually teaching me about life without me knowing it at the time!

Following Lawrence, I began graduate school in musicology. I had a teaching assistantship and was on the path to complete a PhD in musicology. To supplement my income, I also got a job in the music library helping with the copy cataloging of sound recordings. Before long I started appreciating the breadth of a typical day in the library. When I would visualize my life as a musicologist, I saw a tube that was somewhat narrow but tremendously deep. When I would visualize my life as a music librarian, the tube was much broader and offered exceptional breadth but not necessarily the depth of a teaching faculty member. I know it’s not that simplistic, but what I learned about myself, from my visualization of the two professions, is that I needed a career path that offered me a full span of knowledge and exploration. Essentially, I needed a big sandbox that included music, research, expansive learning and service, and the ability to influence the canon. It seemed that librarianship could be a viable profession that met the requirements.

In talking with a few librarians and exploring the job market, I decided to switch to the master’s in musicology, rather than the PhD, and apply for library school. I’ve never looked back. It’s been the perfect career choice for me. I work at the Oberlin Conservatory Library, and it is located on the campus of Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. It was founded in 1865 and is the second oldest conservatory and oldest continually operating conservatory in the United States. Like Lawrence, Oberlin is a liberal arts college and conservatory of music, the best of both worlds! My daily work in the Oberlin Conservatory Library focuses on public services activities. I spend my days doing information literacy work, conducting research appointments as well as supervising the public services operations of our branch library. It’s a very busy library!

After spending a great deal of time thinking about breadth and depth, my thoughts have changed. My work as a music librarian has afforded me the opportunity to become moderately knowledgeable across a domain, and deeply knowledgeable within a strand of that domain. It has been a profession with a continual learning curve as technology advances and changes. While at times it feels somewhat overwhelming, I appreciate the constant challenge that comes with an ever-changing landscape. I remind myself that I did ask for a large sandbox!

I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting and working with a wide range of musicians and scholars ranging from the undergraduates in the conservatory to the budding rap artist to the chorus member in the Metropolitan Opera to the seasoned soloist who is looking for a bit of information for their award-winning CD.

Librarianship is a meaningful profession that has given me tremendous opportunities, intellectual growth, and created a framework for my professional life. That care started at Lawrence where I was a first-generation college student who needed mentoring and guidance, and Lawrence took great care to develop me as a leader despite me coming from an economically-disadvantaged family. That spirit of support helped me to identify that I too wanted to further social justice in my library and research work. It started with Professor Irvin introducing me to music by women composers. Since that time, my path has taken me through the creation of a large folksong database, co-created with the journal, SingOut!, that indexes anthologies of folksong collections, publishing two reference books on African-American spirituals, and I’m working on a third.

I feel blessed that I had the faculty trifecta of Paul Hollinger, Ernestine Whitman, and Marjory Irvin along with Dean Colin Murdoch to launch me on my way and teach me, in the Lawrence way, to engage, develop multiple interests, and give back to my community.

By Kathy Abromeit, Class of 1985

You can read Kathy’s honor’s project in Lux, our institutional repository.

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History of the Book Exhibit

Here at The Mudd we love books – we acquire them, we organize them, we help students engage with them everyday – but it’s rare that we get the chance to truly reflect on how books have shaped and been shaped by the course of history. However, we are lucky enough to host an exhibit created entirely by Lawrence students as apart of Prof. Garth Bond’s class “History of the Book”. Under the guidance of Professor Bond and librarian Jill Thomas, several Lawrence student’s engaged critically with selections from our special collection to examine how the role of books have changed throughout time and suggest perhaps how we have changed with them.

Topics range from Catherine Stowe and Harriet Beecher Stowes’ 1869 guide The American Woman’s Home: or Principles of Domestic Science to Artist Books to an analysis of 15th century Christian books. The exhibit, featuring the work of students Sara Armstrong, Allison Brooks-Conrad, Rufino C. Cacho, Anna Cohen, Yarely Covarrubias, and Hanwenheng (Billy) Liu will be up until January 15th. This exhibit is a special opportunity to view some pieces from our special collections in person outside of the Milwaukee Downer room, so be sure to stop by the Mudd before then. For those of you who want to spend some more time with these pieces, selections are digitized in the database Artstor under Selections from Special Collections, Seeley G, Mudd Library. Photographs of the exhibit are available in the History of the Books album.

      These precious books alongside the work of our students provide great insight into the lasting impact books have not only in our own lives but also in the lives of those who lived long before us and surely those who will live long after we’re gone.

Alumni Librarians: Kasie Janssen ’12

My path to librarianship has felt fluid and fated in many ways.  With a multidisciplinary approach to a career in libraries, it is no wonder Lawrence has had such a huge impact on my path.  I have always been a lover of books, spending much of my childhood and adult life immersed in literature and libraries.  But it was fateful day at Lawrence University that set my sites on the world of books as my career.

That day Julie Lindemann and Johnie Shimon took my Intermediate Photography class to the LU Archives, I place I had never stepped foot in throughout my previous time at Lawrence.  Erin Dix, the University Archivist, had brought out a collection of glass plate slides for our class to look at and study.  She talked about the primary sources overflowing the archives and the unique ways such collections came to their Lawrence home.  The best way I can describe that experience of being surrounded by history in those archives… wonderment.  The glass slides tapped into a nostalgia and appreciation so deep it became a day and experience I would ever forget.

But that day came and went.  While memorable and important looking back, I was not as sure of what I wanted out of life as I began wrapping up my time at Lawrence.  After graduating in 2012 with a BA in English and a minor in Studio Art, I spent two years moving around, trying different jobs, and feeling incredibly unsatisfied.  And I know I cannot be the only one to have these post-graduation blues and trials.  After lots of ups-and-downs in my career path (mostly downs it seemed like at the time), I decided to tap back into that day in the archives.  If I could not access a fulfilling career with the credentials I had, it was time to change those credentials.

I applied to six different library programs throughout the United States, and subsequently visited three in person.  And to assist in learning more about libraries and archives while I applied, I went back to Lawrence to volunteer with Erin Dix in the University Archives.  I loved having an excuse to visit campus each week, and loved even more the amount of skills and information I was able to learn from Erin while I worked with her.

I ended up with an acceptance letter to the top library program in the country, in a small town I had never heard of prior to sending in my application, the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (yes, quite the mouthful).  But it was not just the high credentials of the program that drew me to UIUC.  My in-person visit assured my of the breadth and depth the program had to offer.  Not only would I leave after two years with my Master of Science in Library and Information Science (MSLIS, we library-folk love our acronyms), but I could do it by catering the program to my interests in the fields (there is that multidisciplinary approach coming back in).  On top of the academic love for the program I was just accepted to, I also received a Graduate Assistantship in Conservation.  Now, I had never even heard of conservation, but what I learned brought back that archives-wonderment feeling.  A job that blended books, archives, libraries, and art… yes, yes please.

My experience in the conservation lab was nothing short of amazing.  I was able to work alongside of incredibly talented and knowledgeable people in the field who offered me insight and training.  I was able to work on historical items ranging from the papers of Gregor Mendel to an Ian Fleming collection and beyond.  Gaining this incredible work experience alongside of a strong and vast library education gave my career-searching heart everything it was looking for and more.

But graduate school comes to an end all too quickly, and so began a carer-hunt extravaganza.  Months of applications, resumes, and cover letters took over any speck of free time that I had while finishing up my grad program.  All that work paid off when I took on my current job at the Newberry Library in Chicago as their Conservator for Special Projects.  At the Newberry I am greatly involved in the treatment and preparation of the many items that go on exhibit every year, while also continually working on treatment for the vast and varied collections the library houses. (Seriously, these collections are amazing. Next time you are in Chicago, stop by for a visit, the Newberry is free and open to the public, that means you!)  Honestly, it is a dream job.  It blends my interests of literature and art perfectly.  Every day I go to work the library offers new and interesting challenges that bring amazing historic items across my bench.  And it is a career that means I will be continually learning—learning new treatments, seeking new insights from other professionals in the field, researching collections and their uses in the library—which means my career will be a constant source of inspiration and enjoyment.

When I started my education at Lawrence I did not foresee where it would lead me, but as I look back from my bench at the Newberry I see a clear path of how I got here.  Libraries have so much to offer, and I hope that there are many future librarians sitting in Lawrence’s classes today.

By Kasie Janssen, Class of 2012

Alumni Librarians: Sarah Slaughter ’13

Editor’s note: We invited Lawrence alumni who have gone into library work to share with us what they do and how they got there.  Here’s another in a series. 

Like many people who’ve found their career in libraries, I didn’t start out thinking I was going to be a librarian. I was a typical Lawrentian in that I had many interests, but I wasn’t sure where they would take me after graduation. As my senior year loomed I was getting anxious about what to do next – I majored in philosophy and German, which while both fascinating, didn’t point me toward a definite career path. Then one day, I was working an afternoon shift at the circulation desk, and I distinctly remember looking around the first floor at all the books and the people studying and thinking, “Hmm, I really like it here.” I decided to follow up on that instinct and started researching librarianship. After reading about grad programs I was still intrigued, so I decided to talk to some real life librarians to find out more.

Hearing the stories of the librarians at the Mudd was what sealed the deal for me. As I listened, I noticed we had a lot in common. They were all multi-interested people with a love for learning and a passion for helping students. They sounded like my kind of people.

The next year, I submitted my application to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) and was ecstatic when I found out I’d been accepted. I graduated from Lawrence in 2013 and started at Madison in the fall. Madison’s program turned out to be a great fit for me, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I had there to get some hands on experience both in my student jobs, and the credit-bearing practicums I completed.

I had the good fortune to work at the Wisconsin Historical Society, as well as at the SLIS Library (that’s right, they have an entire library about libraries). These two jobs were very different, but they taught me just as much about working in libraries as I learned in my classes. At the Historical Society I worked in the periodicals department, checking in magazines and newspapers, and helping with a long-term storage project for their extensive newspaper collection. At the SLIS Library, I worked at the circulation desk, checking out materials, putting things on reserve, and teaching occasional technology workshops for my fellow students as well as those in the distance cohort.

Before grad school I didn’t realize that librarians could also be teachers, but now it’s one of the primary aspects of my job. I learned about teaching in libraries by taking classes on information literacy pedagogy and through an instruction practicum in which I co-taught an online course. I would strongly recommend to any student interested in libraries take advantage of whatever opportunities you can to get some hands on experience. The skills I learned in my practicums and in my student jobs gave me the edge that helped me land my first real library job after graduation.

I now work as the Humanities and Education Librarian at the University of Dubuque, a small private school, only slightly larger than Lawrence. My time is usually spent teaching information literacy in the core curriculum as well as other courses in my liaison areas, helping students one-on-one at the reference desk, and buying materials for the library. I’ve also had the chance at UD to nurture the curiosity I cultivated at Lawrence by doing my own research. Last year I worked on a paper for UD’s character education journal, Character And… about online privacy and character formation. This was especially exciting for me, because it gave me a chance to use the ethics background I gained as a philosophy major.

I’ve been at the University of Dubuque for two years now and I feel extremely lucky to be here. The small college atmosphere is where I feel most at home and I work on a library staff of ten wonderful people who all share the same enthusiasm for their work as I saw in the librarians at the Mudd. My job is different every day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I didn’t start out thinking I’d be a librarian, but now that I’m here I can’t believe the idea didn’t occur to me sooner. Librarians are curious about myriad subjects, adept at solving problems, and passionate about helping others. All of these characteristics can also describe Lawrence graduates. In conclusion, for any Lawrentians looking for an enriching career, give libraries a chance. I found my people here, and perhaps you will too.

By Sarah Slaughter, Class of 2013