Library On/Library Off

Nicolibrarian explores the secret life of information

Profiles in Awesome – Amy Slowik

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I first met Amy Slowik when I was visiting the University of Iowa to look at their MLIS program, since I knew it was likely I’d be moving to Iowa City with my husband. At a lecture I attended, Amy introduced herself, and has since provided me with invaluable advice about library school and Iowa City. Amy has just started a new job as the Electronic Resources Librarian/Assistant Professor at Western Kentucky University, and shares information on her trajectory through academe and library school below. You can also learn more about Amy at her blog, Dark Archivist, or follow her on Twitter.

Nicole Forsythe:  Tell us about your background, current work, what made you want to go to library school, and what you hope to do with your MLIS.

The one and only Amy Slowik

Amy Slowik: In 2000, I graduated from DePauw University with a double major in art history and English Literature. Though I was considering getting a PhD in either field, I wanted a career that would allow me to work with both fields and also in publishing. In high school I served as Editor-in-Chief my school’s literary magazine for three years, and I knew that I loved editing, writing, and leading people. I continued through college to work on my publishing skills: I edited and wrote for two campus newspapers and a social justice journal, as well as publishing my own term paper in DePauw’s research journal and editing/researching my adviser’s book with an FDIC summer grant. That same adviser suggested that I become an art librarian or academic librarian.

Immediately after graduating from college, I entered the Master’s Program in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. Though admitted into the art history track, I also took literature courses. The program allowed me to gain a subject master’s in art history, which I knew to be a keen advantage (if not outright requirement now) for either the art librarian or academic librarian career paths. At that point I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be a librarian, which is why I earned the subject master’s first. That same master’s allowed me to be hired as an editor in Iowa City when I followed my husband there for his PhD in Film Studies at the University of Iowa.

While working as an editor, I worked closely with the art/permissions librarian at my company. That combined with my former interest in librarianship and research into the field (including informational interviews) made me decide to apply for a master’s in library science. The University of Iowa had a library science program, and just happened to be admitting students for the final cohort of a Digital Library Fellowship. I knew that modern librarianship—particularly art librarianship, which is going more and more into online catalogs and galleries—more and more deeply becomes entwined with digital initiatives and that the fellowship would be both a free ride and a great idea. I won the fellowship and graduated in December of 2009.

In January of 2010, I started a job as Electronic Resources Librarian/Assistant Professor at Western Kentucky University. It’s my job to manage the electronic resources and their systems for the university. The position requires a subject master’s and a great deal of knowledge/training about library technologies and intellectual property. I serve as a subject liaison and a reference/instruction librarian. Because I am 10-month tenure track, I am required to publish in order to gain tenure.

NF: What do you see as a big issue in the world relating to LIS – challenges for the field itself, info challenges for the rest of the world, or challenges for individuals?

AS: It’s hard to narrow my answer down to just one issue. One big issue (and the root of many other issues) is the same issue that America faces on the whole: uneven distribution of wealth, including capitalism’s degrading influence on the country’s already dangerous economic polarization. This is a big problem for librarians on two fronts: the library’s inability to function because of an increasing lack of funds, and the vast differences in users’ abilities due to uneven educations and families of origin. But both fronts have the same cause: our country continues to pull money away from education. This is exactly the opposite of what the country needs to do to stay competitive in the global market. If America continues to do this, our power as a nation will continue to dwindle. Guns do not determine power in the 21st century, economics do. And the smarter a nation, the better its economics and therefore its influence and quality of life. That’s a proven fact.

NF: What might “information leadership” mean to you?

I think the whole purpose of a librarian is to be an “information leader”. In the 21st century and Web 2.0, patrons are users of technology as much as librarians. More and more of our information goes through new channels to reach users. It is our job to not just gate keep but guide users in using information. We must lead them into ever-evolving ways of accessing and using information. We cannot just sit a book in front of them and tell them to read. That model does not work for the modern user. I consider us to be teachers, counselors, and enablers—all of which requires leadership. If you want to be a librarian who sits in a small room by yourself and never interacts or changes, forget it. That doesn’t happen anymore.

NF:  Where do you get information to stay on top of LIS issues, or issues in a sub-field you’re into?

AS: I use a combination of listservs, publications, networking, and conferences to stay abreast of issues. You cannot rely on any one or two of these. Library science evolves so fast that publications cannot keep up for much of us. But listservs and networking cannot be relied upon fully as they rely upon individuals in a casual setting who are thus prone to error and bias. Conferences are also flawed: they occur only annually, so the information they present is often outdated. Also, many professionals who present at conferences do so because required, not because they actually have anything valuable to say or are experts of their fields. Thus, staying in touch with LIS requires a great deal of balance, time, and energy. But don’t do this all in your own free time: keeping updated should be just as much a part of your daily work hours as meetings or deadlines.


Don’t forget: Keep up with Amy at her blog, Dark Archivist, or follow her on Twitter.

Are you interested in being profiled in “Profiles in Awesome” or know someone you’d like to see here? Have a good idea for a question to ask? Email me at nicolibrarian{at} gmail {dot}com.


Written by nicolibrarian

January 24, 2010 at 5:43 am

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