Stephen Hamilton Cox, Jr., MLIS – Alumni Spotlight

iSchool Graduation Date

2011

Professional Organizations/Affiliations

American Library Association, Association of Zoos & Aquariums  

Current responsibilities/How are you using your information skills?

I serve as branch librarian for the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park & Conservation Biology Institute, where my primary focus is scholarly research. The mission of the National Zoo is saving species, and to that end, I assist its veterinarians, curators (head keepers), animal keepers, and fellows in their important work.  Species conservation is a global effort, so I serve many of the zoo’s curators in their work for the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. To do this, I provide bibliographic curation for half a dozen Species Survival Plans, including literature searches, database hosting and maintenance, citation verification, and bibliographic reports.     

I also serve as the Mineral Sciences librarian at the National Museum of Natural History and provide reference services for the Natural History library.  Because I sit on committees across the Smithsonian, teach research methodology, and am embedded with the 1,000 patrons I serve, my responsibilities closely resemble those of university library faculty.

Since May, I have sat on institution wide COVID-19 committees.  Seeing the explosion of COVID-19 scholarly literature while performing tailored searches, I decided to create a comprehensive coronavirus/respiratory illness citation database for Smithsonian Institution medical personnel, veterinarians, and epidemiologists.  The database currently houses 120,000 citations.           

What is the best professional advice you can give?

Just as librarianship is often a second or third career, so too can it take working in several subject disciplines to find fulfillment in one’s chosen field.  I attended graduate school with a focus in digital preservation, but have worked in biomedical research, university librarianship, federal contract librarianship, and public librarianship before my current role.  Being able to define professional success and hold to that ideal can be scary, especially when your field’s cursus honorum is well-defined.  Most outsiders would not think of librarianship as having inherent risk, but finding contentment in one’s work means being willing to explore different paths.  

How do you encourage innovative ideas?

I spent a lot of Saturday mornings at my dad’s office, watching him tackle international accounting in Lotus 1-2-3.  Dad was an early adopter and advocate for new technologies (e.g., he’s the reason his company invested in sub-Atlantic telecommunication wiring in the late 1980s/early 90s).  I learned that efficiency in purpose and product is key to building strong relationships, and therefore, a lasting, professional reputation.  To that end, I am constantly seeking the most efficient way of serving my patrons, which means long hours testing new software, trying new search methodologies, or reading about peers’ discoveries.   

Do you have a mentor? How have they influenced you?

I am extremely fortunate to have four mentors, across academic, corporate, and federal librarianship.  Marrying the practical with interpersonal aspects of our field is the lesson I continue to learn.  By serving not only our patrons, but each other and the broader profession, we improve all three.  My first mentor taught me to ask the question behind the question, in pursuit of thoroughly understanding a patron’s query and motivation for their request. Practically, learning to create effective and efficient search strings, tailoring deliverables to clients, engaging students, and teaching young researchers how to best use the tools at their disposal, emboldened me to eschew the trivialities that hinder service. 

What do you wish you had done earlier or more often?

This is too easy: I wish I had pursued my library degree earlier.  Whether you believe you are born with specific purpose/fate, or with the combination of traits needed to succeed at a given profession, I have never felt more fitted to a role than that of librarian.  Looking back, there was no other way to achieve my current position, so I do not regret my path.  To be a librarian now, when citation indices, open access publishing, and mass digitization are making access wider and (potentially) more equitable, makes me appreciate my own place in the profession, especially after hearing “stone age” stories from more experienced colleagues.      

How and where do you find inspiration?

My colleagues in the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives.  Their dedication to service and professional development means I am never far from learning something new.  Best of all, they love to share their expertise in intimate seminars or consultations.  I joked before coming to the Smithsonian Institution that it was the big leagues for librarians, but being here, it’s clear this is a daily all-star game.       

To what values are you committed?

Universal access permeates every professional action I take.  The stewardship of knowledge, curation of data, and presentation of information is a trust that must be honored.  Government service has always been my goal, and to do so while working in a non-partisan environment means I can serve the public and my patrons faithfully. 

How do you balance your work and home life?

 I use the commute home on the Metro to unwind the spring in my mind, usually by rating music (in iTunes) or reading.  I’m very color-oriented and use my Outlook calendar to make sure I underpromise on delivery dates and overdeliver on quality and deadlines.  I also make extensive use of Tasks and alarms.  For an overthinker, this was a hard discipline to achieve, but it has made compartmentalizing work much easier.  I have found I’m more productive working from home, while still using Outlook and Tasks to make sure I put work away at 5 pm each night.  Lastly, my home office is in a loft, meaning I can keep an eye and ear on my daughter (i.e., peace of mind), as well as listen to my wife teach virtually, while working.      

What are some challenges that today’s information professionals will face? And tomorrow’s?

The exorbitant cost of scholarly publishing means librarians are often more like Tantalus than Prometheus, forever reaching for timely papers or books but unable to afford them.  We strain our consortiums through interlibrary loan requests, even as digital resources could alleviate backlogs of demand if licenses weren’t so often limited to one or three consecutive users.  The open access movement is integral to providing even adequate access.  I’m not so naïve as to think costs for for-profit publishing services are insignificant, but it will take buy-in from authors, non-profits, and governments to counter the conventional wisdom of the scholarly publishing model.  The Berlin declaration of open access, and the subsequent Belgian declaration, are models for publicly financed research to be made accessible without publishers merely selling other people’s writing (i.e., labor).  

How can the library remain important to the community?

The purpose of our profession is to illuminate information, in all its facets and, and as we see with our peers’ pursuit of improvement, emerging services and products will make the library indispensable.  Passionate and sustained advocacy will make sure the public sees the library as such.  Continued support for the IMLS and regional library associations are necessary to make sure that we continually develop our knowledge and skills.   

What websites, apps, podcasts, or other resources would you recommend to explore?

 I can’t recommend Zotero enough.  Coming from Endnote, Zotero contains all the features I desire, especially the ability to create tags and automatically retrieve PDFs of articles (based on DOIs or URLs).  Integration with web browsers and word processors makes it easy to quickly retrieve article metadata and embed citations in documents, all while retaining the ability to change citation styles on the fly.    

What is a book you like that you have to defend liking and what is a book you dislike that you have to defend disliking?

While I know the series is immensely popular, I still find myself defending Robert Jordan’s (and Brandon Sanderson’s) Wheel of Time series.  The most common complaint is the length of the books and  series itself, yet that’s one of the most attractive features.  Four million words?  Sign me up!

I loathe A Separate Peace, both the novel and the 1972 movie adaptation.  It lacks any sense of authenticity and, though attempting to present powerful and transformative themes, still manages to utterly lack in sincerity.  This book, along with The Scarlet Letter, is why I chose to focus on modern British fiction during my undergraduate degree.           


Special thanks to the Kent State University iSchool Alumni Network for coordinating these profiles. Learn more about the Alumni Network on their Facebook page and group. Students are welcome to join and participate.

Tracey Johnson, MLIS – Alumni Spotlight

iSchool Graduation Date

2013

Professional Organizations/Affiliations

American Institute for Conservation (AIC), Southeast Regional Conservation Association (SERCA)

Current responsibilities/How are you using your information skills?

As an assistant conservator in a state archives (Georgia), I am responsible for gathering and analyzing temperature and humidity information from environmental data loggers to ensure a stable environment for our collection. I also conduct surveys to assess the preservation needs of the collection, including the degradation of the reference microfilm and identifying candidates for digitization and removal to a more appropriate storage environment. A good portion of my job is performing conservation treatments on collection items to provide access to and stabilize them for use by researchers. I also assist the Conservator with developing and maintaining policies and procedures for emergency preparedness, preservation, etc.

What is the best professional advice you can give?

It’s the same advice that was given to me early in grad school: get out of your comfort zone when deciding on a specialty and try things you don’t think you’re interested in to make sure that’s really the case. I thought for sure I was going to be a cataloger in a public library, since that’s what I had done during my undergraduate program and really enjoyed it. Following this advice, I chose a practicum in digital preservation in an archives and loved it. When I started working in an archives shortly after, I was introduced to conservation and fell into my dream job!

How do you encourage innovative ideas?

By encouraging others to experiment and really explore their ideas no matter where it takes them, and by being open-minded about new ideas myself. We had an intern in the conservation lab this year that we were teaching bookbinding to and she was really disappointed with one of her books. Instead of giving up on it, we encouraged her to keep working with it and she ended up creating a small volume to collect sample materials in for reference during her conservation training. By continuing to work on the oddly shaped volume, she better understood how to work with complications a volume from the collection might have.

Do you have a mentor? How have they influenced you?

I have had several excellent mentors in both my library and conservation training. Sure they taught me the day-to-day specifics of the work, but they also taught me how to be an excellent leader by demonstrating patience, understanding and importance of the larger picture, and how to support other staff and departments within the institution.

What do you wish you had done earlier or more often?

I wish I had gotten more involved in professional organizations and networked with colleagues. By being on various boards, I feel like I’ve contributed to the profession in a meaningful way. I wish I could have broken out of my shell earlier so I wouldn’t still be chiseling away at it.

How and where do you find inspiration?

Looking at leaders in the field of cultural heritage and adapting their ideas in ways that are attainable and/or appropriate for my institution. Looking at different fields and how their methods or materials might work for archives conservation. And talking with people I come in contact with from all kinds of professions to figure out how our careers and ideas might overlap.

To what values are you committed?

Dependability, Creativity, Growth, Dedication

How do you balance your work and home life?

Because the bulk of my job is treating collection items, much of my work physically stays at work. I am very passionate about what I do so it isn’t a burden when these overlap. However, I am very aware of burnout and take steps to prevent it, such as spending quality time with my family, knitting, and reading novels.

What are some challenges that today’s information professionals will face? And tomorrow’s?

Funding will always be a challenge. When state and federal budgets get cut, cultural institutions are the first to feel it. My institution is an example of this that after the economic downturn from the pandemic we were asked to decrease our budget significantly. With very little fat to cut, the result was a few layoffs and several other positions remaining indefinitely vacant as well as deferred maintenance of our facility.

How can the library remain important to the community?

By helping the community understand that we are curating and caring for collections specifically for their use. As information professionals, we analyze the communities we serve and create programs and exhibits, highlight collections, etc. that we hope they will find interesting. We exist to serve them.

What websites, apps, podcasts, or other resources would you recommend to explore?

The C-Word is a podcast by conservators for conservators covering a broad range of topics from a real-life perspective. Sometimes brutally honest about the life and experiences of a conservator, I think this podcast would be of interest to anyone in the realm of preservation.

What is a book you like that you have to defend liking and what is a book you dislike that you have to defend disliking?

I am surrounded by open-minded people, so I don’t have to defend liking anything I read. In fact, many of the books I read are recommendations from friends. One such recommendation was The Kingkiller Chronicle series by Patrick Rothfuss, which is amazing!

It’s not so popular now, but I really disliked Fifty Shades of Grey. I was working in circulation in a public library when it came out and I decided I should read it to better understand the interests of our patrons. There was no suspension of disbelief for me and I struggled to finish it. The storyline seemed very flimsy and the characters totally unrelatable. I’m not against the genre, but I simply couldn’t understand what made this series so worthy of being made into movies over the many other novels of its kind. I still regret the 20 minutes I spent trying to get into the first movie before finally giving up.


Special thanks to the Kent State University iSchool Alumni Network for coordinating these profiles. Learn more about the Alumni Network on their Facebook page and group. Students are welcome to join and participate.

Ken Burhanna, MLIS – Alumni Spotlight

iSchool Graduation Date

1994

Professional Organizations/Affiliations

Association of Research Libraries, Academic Library Association of Ohio, Association of College and Research Libraries, American Library Association 

Current responsibilities/How are you using your information skills?

I oversee the University Libraries of Kent State as Dean. I also oversee Kent State LaunchNET (entrepreneurial firm focusing on innovative mindset development and student-startups) and the Kent State University Press.  

What is the best professional advice you can give?

Cultivate a growth, learner mindset. Always ask questions and know you are likely more wrong than you are right.  

How do you encourage innovative ideas?

Ask questions and encourage experiments. Put resources behind the experiments if you can.   

Do you have a mentor? How have they influenced you?

 I have had several mentors filling several different roles. It takes a village and it’s an active process. Mentorship doesn’t just happen to you. My mentors have influenced me by supporting me, showing me the way and listening to me.  

What do you wish you had done earlier or more often?

Forgive myself for my mistakes.  

How and where do you find inspiration?

Reading, writing and exercising outside — anything that helps me stop and reflect.  

To what values are you committed?

To be open, inclusive and innovative.  

How do you balance your work and home life?

Wow, this is not a question that can be easily answered in a few lines. It takes a type of selfish discipline that I have yet to entirely master. The pandemic has really blurred the lines too. At this point, the best start for me is not to check email after I stop work for the day and not on Friday nights and Saturdays.  

What are some challenges that today’s information professionals will face? And tomorrow’s?

Privacy of user information. The spiraling costs of information resources. Equitable access to information (Internet) for all. Educating users to apply critical thinking to the information they encounter. These all, by the way, are connected in an almost perverse way.    

How can the library remain important to the community?

By constantly responding to their users’ needs while maintaining the values of our profession.  

What websites, apps, podcasts, or other resources would you recommend to explore?

Scholarly Kitchen, Fast Company, Charleston Hub, and any number of library-related podcasts. You can easily find many on Google. A good starter list can be found here: https://player.fm/podcasts/Librarian.  

What is a book you like that you have to defend liking and what is a book you dislike that you have to defend disliking?

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – liking 

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation – disliking 


Special thanks to the Kent State University iSchool Alumni Network for coordinating these profiles. Learn more about the Alumni Network on their Facebook page and group. Students are welcome to join and participate.

Mary Schreiber, MLIS – Alumni Spotlight

iSchool Graduation Date

2003

Professional Organizations/Affiliations

• American Library Association
• Association for Library Service to Children
• Currently serving on the 2021 Randolph Caldecott Committee

Current responsibilities/How are you using your information skills?

• Collection Development Specialist for Cuyahoga County Public Library in the area of youth selection

• Presenting at the South Central Library System (WI) virtual staff development day in October on the topic of Partnering with Parents for Early Childhood Success

• Adjunct Professor at Kent State University’s iSchool.  Taught the Selection and Acquisitions class in Spring semester 2020

• Published a professional development book, Partnering with Parents: Boosting Literacy for All Ages through ABC-CLIO.

What is the best professional advice you can give?

Always return emails and voicemail in a timely manner.  I shoot for 24-48 hours even if the response is simply that I’m still working on getting an answer or finding a solution.  Your co-workers and community partners will really appreciate the courtesy.

How do you encourage innovative ideas?

We’ve had a lot of retirements over the last few years, so there are many new librarians and support staff working in the branches.  It can be a challenge to get to know everyone, but I feel it is important to keep the lines of communication open so branches know they can ask for materials to support their programming idea.  For example, when Baby Club was started, the branch staff asked to have reference copies of the board books they would be sharing with families.  This was something I could happily do.

Do you have a mentor? How have they influenced you?

I’ve had several mentors throughout my career.  Some have been formal mentors that have helped me make decisions about next steps in my career.  These were set-up through my library’s mentoring program.  Others have been more informal, including managers who were strong and supportive leaders and were examples to me when I was a supervisor.  I’ve also been informally mentored by ALSC members through the various committees I’ve served on.  This has expanded my network and comes in handy when my library is looking for outside advice on new products or services.  Specifically, I learned how to work with a board and leadership team when I served on and co-chaired the ALSC Public Awareness Committee and was involved in creating board proposals and the Championing Children’s Services toolkit.  I’ve also served as a mentor and learned a lot from my mentees.  Their creativity and enthusiasm inspires and energizes me.

What do you wish you had done earlier or more often?

Taking a little time to think before saying yes to an opportunity and knowing it’s fine to say no when a project doesn’t really interest you or the timing isn’t right. If it’s meant to be, they’ll ask again.  If it’s a must do for your job, then speak up to your boss and ask for guidance.  It is okay to ask for help prioritizing projects when what you’re hearing is that everything is top priority.  They can’t all be #1 and a good boss will help you manage your to-do list so you can get them what they need when they need it.  I’m stilling working on this one. 
😊

How and where do you find inspiration?

I read a lot and get inspired by books all the time.   Listening to authors and illustrators talk about their process brings additional joy to favorites.  I also find professional development rewarding.  Whether it is attending an ALA or OLC Conference or a webinar, I love to learn from others and then see how I can bring at least one thing back to my library to implement. 

To what values are you committed?

As a selector of materials, I’m committed to intellectual freedom and access of information.  I work to find and add a wide variety of diverse titles to the collection.  I feel it’s very important to have books that reflect and expand a child’s experiences with the world.

How do you balance your work and home life?

In the past, I have not brought work home much, and tried to limit out of work time spent checking email.  Using the out-of-office feature lets people know when they can expect to hear back from you.  Since March, I’ve been working more from home and so I’ve been pretty strict about turning off my work computer at 5:00 and staying off email in the evenings.  I enjoy spending time with my family, reading (the lines are a little blurry on this one), and traveling when I’m not working.

What are some challenges that today’s information professionals will face? And tomorrow’s?

With the pandemic it has really highlighted the importance of digital access and broadband for all.  I think this is an area that library professionals will be working with their communities to expand and improve.  There will also be a need to see how it permanently influences libraries.  Will people permanently move to ebooks?  What will programming look like once large in person groups are safe?  Will there still be some author/storytime events online?

I’ve worked in libraries for 25 years.  Services, programs, formats, and technology have changed and shifted to the point where some areas of librarianship are almost unrecognizable to the libraries of my childhood.  I’m glad the library is more of a community space rather than a quiet, sacred space.  I think being flexible and embracing change are characteristics information professionals will continue to need in the future.

How can the library remain important to the community?

As COVID-19 has shown, libraries are where people go when they need reliable Internet and computer access.  They go to libraries for job searching and for help applying for benefits.  I gained firsthand knowledge of the challenges of applying for unemployment when my library went on Shared Work Ohio for a couple of months this Spring.  Libraries are perfect partners for community organizations like senior centers and schools to support reading and lifelong learning.

What websites, apps, podcasts, or other resources would you recommend to explore?

I like the Mile High Reading blog and Heavy Medal Mock Newbery blog. To keep in the know about what’s being published, I subscribe to the Shelf Awareness and Book Pulse e-newsletters.  

What is a book you like that you have to defend liking and what is a book you dislike that you have to defend disliking?

I was a huge Babysitters Club fan as a child and a librarian told my mom that she should make me read “better” books.  Thankfully, my mom didn’t listen.  This has made me a champion for kids having access to the materials they like – graphic novels, comic books, cartoon/superhero beginning readers, video games, etc. Caregivers can set limits for their kids, but library staff never should.

I never was able to make it through Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.  I tried reading and listening to the first book, but just couldn’t get into it.  When asked, I say that teens know about the series and they’ve never really needed me to recommend it.  I also read the reviews so that I would have good background knowledge for parent concerns.  Twilight was hot right before I left branch life and moved to collection development.  With Midnight Sun arriving in August, I purchased many copies to meet the customer demand and in lots of formats.


Special thanks to the Kent State University iSchool Alumni Network for coordinating these profiles. Learn more about the Alumni Network on their Facebook page and group. Students are welcome to join and participate.

Julianne Bedel, MLIS – Alumni Spotlight

iSchool Graduation Date

I graduated with my MLIS in 2006. I was part of a scholarship cohort guided by Dr. Carolyn Brodie and Dr. Greg Byerly through the Laura Bush: Librarians for the new millennium IMLS scholarship grant. If memory serves me correctly, half of us aspired to teen librarianship in a public library (that was me!) and the other half of our scholarship cohort planned to do the same in a school library setting. I’ll always be thankful to Drs. Brodie and Byerly for the wonderful experience I had in the program! I’m happy to say that I still see a few folks from our cohort around the library community and it’s always wonderful to catch up.

Professional Organizations/Affiliations

OLC, ALA/PLA, American Association of University Women, and Chi Omega

Current responsibilities/How are you using your information skills?

I am presently the Director of the Medina County District Library (Ohio). We’re a county library with six branches and a bookmobile. I’ve held the position since February of this year. What a wild six months it’s been! Prior to that I was the system’s Assistant Director starting in July 2018. Is it just me…or do you also find yourself relying on both basic and advanced information literacy skills sometimes even more in your personal life than at work (some days) as a library professional? I’ll blame the relentless 24/7 news cycle.

What is the best professional advice you can give?

The following was shared with me many years ago, and I think it’s still evergreen. Change can be achieved by either evolution or revolution. There’s a time and place for each. Choose wisely.

How do you encourage innovative ideas?

By not being afraid to admit mistakes and change course when needed. I always put in the honest work to research, plan, and exercise due diligence. However, when things run amuck, I try to be frank about it. Don’t point fingers, just fix the problem and move on! Nothing kills innovation more quickly than fear of blame. That’s not to say I don’t hold myself and others accountable for inadequate planning or poor decision-making if that occurs. It’s all about honesty. I just try to encourage creativity by reducing the fear of failure by being open and honest with mistakes. Of course, when things DO end in success, shine the light on all those who were involved. Make sure that kudos are given to the entire team – not only those who were directly responsible for the innovation, but also those who supported the work in ancillary ways. Recognize “the village” that contributed to the success.

Do you have a mentor? How have they influenced you?

The library director who gave me my first management position (20+ years ago) still takes my calls. I’ve kept in touch with her through professional good times and tough periods, even though I only ever actually worked for her for less than a year. She was also the adjunct professor who taught my KSU library management class. I’m not sure she knew I unilaterally appointed her as my mentor way back in the day, but she’s certainly lived up to the role. She’s influenced me by her professional example as she’s directed several library systems in our region and been actively involved in OLC and ALA leadership roles. I’ve been particularly thankful for her willingness to listen and talk through complex situations…always offering insight and guidance but never advice.

What do you wish you had done earlier or more often?

I wasn’t aware of the practice of mindfulness until fairly recently. I’m still very much a work in progress in that regard, but I do wish I had started thinking about that much earlier in life.

How and where do you find inspiration?

Professionally, my staff is the biggest inspiration to me at this stage in the game. Their ingenuity, dedication, and tenacity are the reason that I look forward to doing my own job. Ensuring that they have access to the resources they need to get the job done today and in the future is my number one priority. And not just in a pandemic.

To what values are you committed?

Speaking on an individual level, I strive to live with personal integrity, empathy and kindness. Thinking about values organizationally, last year our library’s staff developed a Culture Statement – and I have to admit that I kind of love it.

How do you balance your work and home life?

Most times I would say that I categorically do NOT have a balanced work and home life. It depends on what’s going on and where, really, which way I lean at any given time. For me the key to long-term sanity is knowing when to unplug long enough to recharge. If you’ve got the secret to balancing work and home, please give me a call!

How can the library remain important to the community?

As we always have: by staying responsive to our local community’s needs. By providing the services and resources they need – not that which we think they ought to want. By listening. And 2020 of course is putting a whole new twist on connecting with our communities in the ways which are safest for patrons and employees alike.

What websites, apps, podcasts, or other resources would you recommend to explore?

Right now I’m enjoying Higher Ground: The Michelle Obama Podcast on Spotify (including the free version) as it is focusing on the relationships that make us who we are.

What is a book you like that you have to defend liking and what is a book you dislike that you have to defend disliking?

Back in my very first library job, when I was a high school sophomore, my manager could hardly bear to include “trash romances” in the library collection. I think she may even have described them that way and said that at least they (the paperback romances) got some folks in the door who otherwise wouldn’t come in. She just hoped that sometimes they also grabbed some “decent reading” while they were here, too. I must have internalized that judgement because some years later I accidentally read Jude Deveraux’s Knight in Shining Armor (1989), which started me on romance reading, and I became a fan of the genre – but certainly wouldn’t mention it at work! (Yes, I made sure she didn’t see me borrowing “those” kinds of books.) I originally picked up the title because I thought it was time travel fiction (it is) rather than a romance (it really is). At the time I was support staff working through my undergraduate education, and in hindsight it still surprises me how long I carried that attitude. I think in the long run it made me super sensitive not to do that to any of my own library patrons! What book do I dislike? I just can’t stomach any kind of horror. Even the most basic. But I’m not going to defend that…because I know you won’t judge me for it!


Special thanks to the Kent State University iSchool Alumni Network for coordinating these profiles. Learn more about the Alumni Network on their Facebook page and group. Students are welcome to join and participate.