Featured librarian: Miriam Rigby

[This post mirrors content I’ve posted to Re:Generations, a blog for new and emerging academic librarians.]

This is the second in a series of posts featuring librarians taking an interesting approach to the profession, or using their degrees in interesting ways. If you missed the first post (featuring Heather Ward, UN Librarian and certified mahout) you can see it here. If you know of someone else you’d like to see interviewed, please let me know in the comments.

Miriam Rigby is the Social Sciences Librarian at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. She’s been a librarian for about a year, and she was selected as one of ALA’s Emerging Leaders for 2009-2010. Above, she engages in hula-hoop outreach with UO faculty.

Miriam says: “Don’t sell yourself short, join and apply for things, and make connections.”

Q: What do you do? (What’s your job title, who do you work for, where in the world are you?)

A: I’m a Social Sciences Librarian at the Knight Library, University of Oregon, in Eugene, Oregon. Specifically, I’m the subject specialist for the Anthropology, Sociology, and Ethnic Studies Departments, as well as the liaison to the Honors College.

Q: Okay, but really–what do you do? (Describe your job in big outlines–what kinds of things might you do in any given day?)

A: My general day-to-day work includes doing collection development, training the student workers for the reference desk, answering reference questions, teaching library research sessions, committee work, general outreach to faculty and students, and so on. I’m also the elected Secretary for the Library Faculty, so I run elections when they come up and take minutes at faculty meetings.

A typical day for me might involve reading book reviews, buying books, spending a few hours on the reference desk, and meeting with a committee or a faculty member in one of my departments or teaching a library research session in a anthropology or sociology course.

But then there are also my outreach efforts, which I think are one of the best aspects of my job. I am a fairly social creature, and I’ve put this to work to make connections with faculty within and beyond my liaison departments. I’ve done this online, via Gmail chat and Facebook, and offline, through social outings for new faculty that I’ve co-organized with a sociology professor.

So a typical day for me can also include going to the cafe near the library and working on my laptop doing chat reference and working on any of my other tasks, while teaching faculty filter in and out and stop to chat for a while. I also tend to leave my Facebook and Gmail accounts logged in, so that faculty have an easy way to contact me over chat during the day.

One of the best perks about outreach to faculty over these social networking sites is that I get to know people better faster. I can also see if they are complaining about a problem with library services – which actually happens on Facebook more that you might think – so that I can solve a problem quickly. I also rarely go without plans for lunch.

Outside of my typical work day, I might find myself going to a bar after work to have a social hour with faculty and solving information needs over a beer while chatting and venting. Sometimes I go skiing with faculty and talk about library services on long chairlift rides. I also tend to find I have projects to work on outside of my typical work day, so I’ve made a habit of working for at least a few hours each weekend at a coffee shop. This meshes well with teaching faculty who have articles to write and papers to grade, so these tend to become “study sessions” where a number of us will hang out, chatting a bit, and working on our various projects.

Casual collaborations often spring up from these, as well as the occasional reference interaction; there have been a few times when I barely get any of my own projects worked on because they turn into informal instruction sessions about databases or finding aids.

By far my favorite outreach-social outings I’ve organized are the bicycle adventures. I’ve now lead three biking tours – one around Eugene, and two around Portland – and I’ve been asked to organize more. Working on the same theories that were behind my bar and coffee shop outings for new faculty – that work-related topics will be discussed while having fun (in an “old boys’ club” manner*) – I have taken on these more ambitious expeditions. Because new faculty are new to the area and I have a fair amount of local knowledge of Portland, I have been able to play tour guide on these trips.

The first was a day-trip by car to Portland, and then a biking tour of about 10 miles of Portland neighborhood streets with frequent stops at delicious restaurants, coffee shops, quirky stores and parks, and of course one of Portland’s best tasting rooms, at the Clear Creek Distillery. After this event went so well, I was asked to lead a longer trip, so along the same vein, I organized an overnight journey by train, again stopping at more of Portland’s fantastic eateries along two long (but relatively easy-to-be-inclusive) bike rides. More trips have been requested once spring temperatures return, and who am I to deny teaching faculty requests for meetings with their librarian?

* Sometime in the hopefully not-too-distant future, I expect my essay about this will appear in C&RL News.

Q: When did you get your MLIS/MLS, and what school did you go to?

A: I received my MLIS in 2008 at the University of Washington in Seattle. Before that I had earned my MA in the Social Sciences (Cultural Anthropology) at the University of Chicago in 2004.

Q: What other jobs have you had before this one?

A: This is my first official librarian position, so I don’t have a long history of other jobs.

As far as library-related jobs go, I was a student worker at the Reed College Library for a few years as an undergrad. That mostly consisted of shelving and sitting at the checkout desk.

While I was at the University of Washington earning my MLIS, I had a student job cataloging government publications from the 1940s-70s. It was primarily copy cataloging, though I was able to make a few original item records.

Something that I’ve noticed in all of my jobs is that the more variety of types of tasks I have and the more I work with people, the more I enjoy what I do. So, the nice way to put it is that I’m not exactly cut out to be a cataloger. I did enjoy stumbling upon some curious old government publications including Mark Trail comics, food processing standards, and a Charlie Brown characters comic about eye disease treatment for children (Linus gets to wear an eye patch I seem to recall.)

I found much more interest though in some of the reference volunteer work and practicums I had during my time at the iSchool. I spent a year volunteering at the Seattle Art Museum Library as a reference assistant. This was a fun position, as being a corporate library the work was less about teaching people how to do research than to put together research packets for museum employees. I learned quite a bit about art doing this, and overall the work was a bit like a treasure hunt.

I enjoyed a one-quarter practicum at the Capitol Hill Branch of Seattle Public Libraries, during which I learned that while public libraries definitely keep things interesting for me, I’m not sure that I would want to work in one for the long-term. My final practicum while I was in my MLIS program was at Seattle University, and was probably the most useful learning experience of my whole time at the UW. I created an online guide, provided reference service and light bibliographic instruction, and was able to sit in on collection development meetings; all of which helped me gain great practical experience to balance out the theory-heavy coursework in my MLIS program.

Outside of libraries, I’ve been many things including a nanny, a binocular inspector, a personal chef, a shop-girl in a suit store, a jack-of-all-trades (but mostly office worker) at a big art gallery in Portland. I’ve also enjoyed volunteering at a therapeutic horse riding ranch and building scenery for small theater productions.

Q: What’s the most useful thing you learned on your way to this job–either in school or along the way in your career?

A: Figure out what you enjoy doing, and find a way to get paid to do it. Perhaps a bit cliche… but that’s pretty much my approach towards my outreach efforts, and it’s working out well.

Q: What are you learning now? Or, what do you wish you were learning now?

A: I’m currently a few months into starting to learn Mandarin Chinese, which is great. It’s been years since I’ve tried to pick up another language, and it’s waking up parts of my brain I had been neglecting. There is a strong Asian Studies program at the University of Oregon, many of the teaching faculty in my departments are China scholars, and there is also a large portion of the student body from China, so it seems like a useful language to learn (beyond my general interest in picking it up.)

To a similar purpose, my colleague John Russell and I have been collaborating with three teaching faculty from assorted social science departments for a reading group. It has been a great refresher for me on some key theories in the social sciences, and also helps me keep up with the fields for which I’m a subject specialist.

I’m also still figuring out quite a bit about being a reference librarian. I picked up a number of new responsibilities this year, including supervising student workers, being the liaison to the Clark Honors College, and serving on a hiring committee, and I have been active on a few new regional and national committees.

Honestly, in many ways, my entire job is a learning experience as I go. I would probably get bored it it wasn’t.

Q: If the stars align and everything goes according to your heart’s desire, what else would your career bring you?

A: I would love to have more opportunity to travel internationally. I hope that my Chinese studies will lead to work related traveling to China, possibly to attend the annual Hong Kong Book Fair. Eastern Europe and Antarctica are also both on my list of places to get to. Every once in a while the New Zealand Military advertises for a librarian at their station in Antarctica, so that might make for an interesting sabbatical!

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: Of course I follow Reference User Services Quarterly, and College and Research Libraries, but I’m currently between books that might be considered particularly library-focused. For the reading group I’m in, I just finished reading a few chapters in the latest translations of Foucault lectures, Birth of Biopolitics, and I’m about to start in on an essay by Heidegger, The Questions Concerning Technology.

As far as leisure reading goes, I am a few pages from finishing Haruki Murakami’s novel Kafka on the Shore. His style could be described as that of a current day, Japanese, Philip K. Dick, in that it’s light science fiction, mostly grounded in regular daily life, but with weird things that happen. Most of his novels are set in recent-day Japan, with fairly ordinary people going about fairly ordinary lives in which curious events start taking place. This one is particularly full of libraries and cats. I am mildly concerned that I am soon to have read all of his novels though, so I am trying to pace myself with other authors.

I recently received the gift of Foam of the Daze, a novel by French author Boris Vian. So, despite knowing nothing about it, I am looking forward to reading it next.

I also follow over 50 blogs (according to Google Reader, which I use to manage them). I have a mix including libraries & information-related blogs, including In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Stephen’s Lighthouse and Academitron, comics-based blogs such as Dinosaur Comics, and silly photo blogs like Cake Wrecks, Awkward Family Photos, and (of course) I Can Has Cheezburger.

Q: Any words of advice for new librarians?

A: I’m still quite new myself. I guess I would refer them back to my answer for the most useful thing I’ve learned for my career. Also, just get involved in anything that sounds interesting or useful to you. There are a lot of opportunities to learn from other librarians when you join committees on interesting topics.

I’ve also found that if you put effort into applying for different scholarships, grants, and competitions, you’re likely to win a few of them (especially if you join committees and volunteer for a variety of projects.)

One example of this for myself is that I was recently accepted into the American Library Association’s Emerging Leaders Program. I am looking forward to the workshops and collaborative projects with other Emerging Leaders at the ALA Midwinter and Annual conferences in 2010. All I know for sure at the moment is that I’m on a project with a few other academic librarians and that we’ll be creating something useful for the Association of College and Research Libraries, and presenting on it at ALA Annual 2010. Whatever we are up to, it seems like a great way to get involved and to network with more librarians.

So overall, don’t sell yourself short, join and apply for things, and make connections.

Outreach on skis, Rigby-style.

Thanks, Miriam!

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