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What Can You Do with an English Major?
Library Careers: More than just books!
By Sophia Lorusso (she/her), Junior English Major.
Pictured above: Panelists and faculty members from left to right: Brystan Strong, Ed Battistella, Melissa Anderson, Margaret Perrow, Brenda Shelton, Dale Vidmar, Jasmine Waters, Rio Picollo, Merrilyne Lundahl and Alma Rosa Alvarez.
On February 2, 2022, the English program hosted a librarianship panel featuring six panelists, including five SOU alum, with a wide range of experience in the library science field. Panelists Dale Vidmar, Melissa Anderson, Rio Picollo, Brystan Strong, Brenda Shelton, and Jasmine Waters shared their stories. All of their work is diverse and covers different aspects of librarianship, but they all share passions for social service work, words, helping others, and research.
Librarian at SOU’s Hannon Library
Dale Vidmar is currently an Interim Librarian, also known as the Dean of the University Librarian, at the SOU Hannon Library. In 1984, Dale set out to obtain his BA in English from SOU and directly after he completed his MA in English and Education. While working on his first master’s degree at SOU, he got a job as a graduate assistant at the Hannon Library. Librarianship was not a part of his original plan of being a teacher, but after helping a student develop a successful essay, Dale quickly realized it was what he wanted to do. In his view, “One of the most fulfilling things in librarianship is knowing that you’ve created success in someone else.”
Dale began to train with the Hannon Library’s first computer and later learned that he had a passion for researching texts due to the involvement of words. “I started working with the library databases…I was really good at it and I never, for years, figured out why I was good at working databases. It took me 15 years before it dawned on me one day while working on a search that I was playing with all these different words. I realized it was about the words! That’s the English major in me.” Dale’s love for words and his first experience with librarianship inspired him to create a new path for himself.
“I love creating an environment of shared governance where everyone’s expertise is explored and enhanced.”
— Dale Vidmar
In 1995, Dale finished his first master’s degree and went to Kent State in Ohio for his second MA in Library and Information Science (MLIS). After completing his masters, he began working at the SOU Hannon Library.
Throughout the years, not only has Dale loved the researching aspect but he also loves helping people. “What I discovered is that it’s really all about the people. I love creating an environment of shared governance where everyone’s expertise is explored and enhanced.”
Dr. Melissa Anderson was also an aspiring teacher and lifelong library user and lover. For her undergraduate degree, she double-majored in English and French, then went on to pursue an MA and PHD in comparative literature. Melissa taught writing and research at the college level for several years, but ended up moving to a small rural town in California where there weren’t a lot of opportunities for higher education positions. Melissa then realized she was interested in librarianship, so she went on to get her MA in Library and Information Science, an online program, from San Jose State University.
After finishing her master’s degree Melissa moved to Portland, where she learned that bigger cities have more opportunities – and more competition – for aspiring librarians. She was able to work in a variety of public and academic libraries.
Melissa now works at SOU in library instruction and teaches research sessions, a perfect mix of her two passions: teaching and librarianship. “I’m really passionate about information literacy and what that means for today’s students.”
Tween Librarianship and Librarianship as Social Work
Brenda Shelton graduated from SOU with her BA in English and a minor in GSWS. During her undergraduate years, she worked at the Women’s Resource Center helping students connect with different resources. This was where she decided that she wanted to get into public librarianship because she had a huge passion for social service work.
Brenda earned her MLIS at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked in the academic library as well as volunteered at the Madison Public Library. With these opportunities, Brenda did lots of programming for the tween (ages 10-13) section of the library and got to experience both academic and public library systems.
Shortly after completing library school, she moved back to the Portland area, where she was able to get a temporary position with Beaverton City Library to help with summer reading. Right as her summer position was coming to an end, a tween reference-assistant position opened up, and Brenda landed the job.
“If you are interested in public librarianship, you need to keep in mind that you’ll be doing a lot of social work and be a community resource first.”
— Brenda Shelton
Reference assistants do almost everything as a librarian, except for collection-development work that librarians do. Brenda’s job consists of working at the service desk, children’s desk, teen desk and the adult desk, in addition to lots of programming. She also does children’s programming: prior to the pandemic, Brenda would organize and host DIY and crafting events for teens and children. She has also started a sensory play group. “What really drew me to public librarianship work was working with and helping people. If you are interested in public librarianship, you need to keep in mind that you’ll be doing a lot of social work and be a community resource first.”
Job markets for librarians are extremely competitive in big cities, so Brenda recommends getting your foot in the door like she did, even with a temporary position.
Youth Librarian Programmer
Brystan Strong refers to herself as an “unlikely librarian” as her love for books, or lack thereof, fluctuated throughout her childhood and teen years. As her college career came around, she decided she wanted to be an English major to become a teacher.
Halfway through her degree she realized that teaching was not her passion; extensive soul-searching led her to librarianship. After graduating from SOU in 2013 with her BA in English, Brystan earned her MLIS from San Jose State with a focus in youth librarianship.
Since San Jose State’s librarianship program is online, she was able to stay local. She started out in Jackson County Library Services (JCLS) as a volunteer helping managers with cleanup tasks and shelving. Brystan made it her mission to be known by the employees, so that if a position came up, they’d have her in mind.
She landed quite a few different positions in the JCLS Medford branch and was able to also work in the Talent branch. Working at these two branches gave her experience working at both big and small libraries. Brystan picked up more and more responsibilities and eventually landed her current job as a youth services coordinator for JCLS.
Brystan oversees youth related things at all 15 library branches in Jackson County. Her position also includes programming, outreach, collection development and policy and procedure. She also directly manages the Outreach to Childcare Program and Educator Support Services Department.
Rio Picollo graduated from SOU in 2015 with a double major in English and interdisciplinary studies in linguistics. One of their first jobs after graduation was working as a copywriter in Medford; they then worked in sales and marketing for a publishing company here in the Rogue Valley.
When working in sales and marketing, they worked closely with libraries and library vendors such as Hoopla, a library media streaming platform. From there, they decided librarianship was their next step so they enrolled in the Masters in Library and Information Science program at the University of British Columbia.
While working on their master’s degree, Rio has had a number of student jobs in technical services. They aim to improve representation for marginalized communities in catalogue records, primarily indigenous and queer subject headings. They are on the board of the queer community library at UBC and is always looking for ways to be inclusive in librarianship.
Jasmine Waters is the newest to librarianship, but has accomplished a lot in the past year. She graduated in Spring of 2021 and now works as the Resource Sharing and Fulfillment Lead at Hannon Library.
“I realized that I really loved all the aspects of librarianship that most people find frustrating like the information sides of it, organization, and much more.”
— Jasmine Waters
Before transferring to SOU her junior year, Jasmine worked at a library in her hometown of Contra Costa, CA, where she discovered her love for librarianship. She learned the basics like shelving, the Dewey Decimal System, and other library foundations. She explains, “I realized that I really loved all the aspects of librarianship that most people find frustrating like the information sides of it, organization, and much more.”
As a junior at SOU, she got a position as a circulation assistant in access services helping people answer questions and check out books. Throughout the pandemic lockdowns, Jasmine was able to continue working at the Hannon Library. Halfway through 2021-2022, the access services department restructured, allowing Jasmine to pick up more responsibilities in resource sharing, the department that lends and borrows books from other libraries.
As Jasmine’s senior capstone project came around, she dedicated her work to researching “the myth of library neutrality,” reflecting her commitment to making libraries more inclusive. Also during her senior year, Jasmine became the resource sharing lead student. When Jasmine graduated, she had a hard time finding librarian jobs until she got offered a temporary position with the Hannon Library. In her temporary position she took on lots of managing responsibilities as well as other permanent-member tasks. When the resource sharing and fulfillment lead position opened up, she was recommended by another staff member and got the job. Every day, Jasmine is reminded of her love for solving mysteries while researching.
As seen in nearly all of the panelists’ experiences, a huge aspect of librarianship jobs is location. In bigger cities, there are bigger library systems; however, their job market is extremely competitive because a lot of staff members stay until retirement. In Brenda Shelton’s experience in the Portland area, some library systems hire out of a pool of people. In this case, you would have to get into the pool first, then be hired from there.
In more rural places with smaller towns librarian-related jobs are more likely. As seen in Brystan and Jasmine’s journey, it is more common to get a temporary or part-time position first and work your way up into the library from there. Internships are also a great way of getting your foot in the door. Dale Vidmar advises that internships allow you to expand your skills, experiences, and connections.
The English program is grateful to all of these panelists for sharing their experiences with us! If you’re interested in more information about librarianship, contact Melissa Anderson (email@example.com) or Dale Vidmar (firstname.lastname@example.org).
If you’re interested in sharing your story with the English Program blog, or if you know someone whose story we should feature, please contact email@example.com.
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Interested in the English program at SOU? Learn more about the programs offered below:
English Home Page | English BA/BS | English Minor | TESOL Certificate Program