Canadian [Emerging] Librarians Spotlight: An Interview with Marianne Williams

What is the name of the employer/institution you work for?

The University of Arkansas Fayetteville, located on the cusp of the Ozark National Forest in breathtaking northwest Arkansas.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background, your current position, and how you got into the field of art librarianship?

During my undergrad at Carleton University in Canadian Studies and Art History, I worked a bunch of part-time library jobs around campus, including at CKCU FM, the Sexual Diversity Centre and the School for the Study of Art and Culture. I initially got into librarianship because I was interested in activism in GLBTQ+ communities, and did a fellowship at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn after graduation, and then returned to Canada to do my Masters of Information and Museum Studies degrees at the University of Toronto. After I graduated, I got an amazing full-time, year-long practicum at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, which confirmed that art librarianship was the right path for me, since I loved working with artists and collaborating with my peers to do research and other interesting projects. After that year, I became interested in doing library residencies and travelling a bit, so I started looking for jobs that combined my interests in teaching, art and librarianship, and ended up accepting an offer to be the Librarian-in-Residence at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.

What brought you to your current position?

I wanted the opportunity to teach students and to work at a public research university, and the University of Arkansas offers a great Librarian-in-Residence program designed to be an entry level position into academic librarianship. As the Resident, I get faculty status, but get to design my own rotations in various areas of the libraries system that I’m interested in. Right now, I’m conducting research on diversity and inclusion in the library profession while working in the Reference and Instruction department, where I teach one shot instruction sessions and work on reference requests. In 2018, I will do projects in the Fine Arts Library and in the Special Collections department, followed by a longer research project. The variety and independent structure of the Residency program appealed to me, and I have the collaborative and enthusiastic support of a great faculty, too.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

I start my day with a quick scan of headlines and current events, I check Twitter and scroll though messages from art and library related listservs. Then I think of ways that I might include those issues and ideas into instruction or other potential projects, like research guides or organizing public panels. Sometimes this gives me ideas about what materials to select for collection development. Currently, I’m doing a lot of research on information literacy and diversity, so I try to read 2-5 articles a day on those topics and take notes, I try to spend at least an hour or so writing. I also serve on a couple of cross-campus committees, and coming up with information literacy resources for some different instructors on campus, so I might spend a couple of hours designing a one-shot session, an assignment or lesson plan for those, attending meetings about those projects, or actually delivering instruction. I also work reference desk and chat shifts and edit and modify Research Guides quite regularly. I don’t necessarily have a typical day, but these are the main components I try to do.

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market? As an emerging librarian, what are the most important things you think your peers should know?

It’s different for everyone, but finding mentors in and outside of librarianship has been the most helpful and important thing in my emerging professional life, as well as maintaining friendships in all different areas of my life. The more people who care about you who send you job postings, the better. The more people who are willing to look over your CV or proofread your cover letter before you submit it, the better. The more people rooting for you, the better. And always return the favour!

What were/are some challenges for you as a new professional? What do you think are current challenges in the field of art librarianship or librarianship in general, particularly within Canada?

I think one of the biggest challenges in librarianship in general in Canada is needing to move, sometimes across the country, to pursue opportunities. Moving around and being nomadic works well in my life, but it doesn’t appeal to everyone nor is it feasible for those with personal or family commitments. In terms of art librarianship, there are more entry-level opportunities in the United States, and that’s where I have chosen to develop this part of my career, although I hope to return to my homeland one day.

Can you talk a little bit about ways that you draw on the more conventional aspects of your LIS education? And what are some things you’ve had to learn on your own?

I am currently doing a lot of LIS research, so I use my familiarity with LIS journals and databases from my education frequently. The conventional aspect I draw on the most is my relationships to my classmates. I keep tabs on where my colleagues and friends ended up, because they have become my professional peers and colleagues and I get a lot of support from them, and I try to give them support when I can.

I still have a lot to learn on my own! For me, I learned technical tools and software outside of the classroom. For example, MARC cataloguing and LibGuides were things I practiced a bit in school, but ultimately had to learn on my own at a slower pace than what an LIS classroom format could accommodate.

What would you consider the most rewarding parts of your job, and what are your biggest challenges as an information professional currently working in an academic library environment?

My biggest reward and challenge is teaching. Becoming a strong educator and encouraging and developing critical thinking about information in students is incredibly important to me. But, as with anything worth doing, it takes some trial and error before you feel confident doing it well. Right now, I’m still figuring out my teaching style and trying out new ideas of how to engage students. I’m a part of a great team of librarians here at UArk who have shared a lot of insights and techniques with me, they let me shadow their instruction, which is a huge help. Ultimately, instruction is something you need to figure out on your own through experience, and I think I’ll always be looking for ways to improve and get better.

Do you have any insight or advice as to how ArLiSNAP can continue to assist in connecting emerging Canadian and American information professionals?

Participating in the yearlong ARLIS Mentoring program has been a great experience for me, and I’ve managed to connect to both my peers and an awesome mentor, so please continue doing that! I have also really enjoyed Twitter chats, and presenting in the ARLISNAP webinar was a great opportunity to hear about awesome projects across the continent. Basically, anything that gives Jenny Ferretti (@CityThatReads) a forum is fantastic.

Tell us something fun about yourself! What do you do in your spare time? If you could take a trip right now to visit any library in the world, which would it be?

I am really interested in Sandor Katz’ Wild Fermentation, so I’ve been making a lot of kombucha, tepache, sourdough and sauerkraut, so fermentation and baking have become a big part of my life, complete with small parties where I serve said bread and carbonated drinks. That takes up a fair amount of my spare time.

If I could take a trip to any library in the world, I would go to the Lånegarderoben in Stockholm, Sweden. It’s one of the world’s first clothing libraries, and I’ve been following the research and ideas coming out of clothing libraries and sustainable fashion for a couple of years.

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