By: Alex Goolsby, University of Alabama MLIS student
Editor’s Note: Hoole Special Collections Library will be closed for inventory from Monday, May 5, through Friday, May 16. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello! Thank you for agreeing to talk to us about your role at in the Division of Special Collections.
First off, how did you get started in this field?
During my undergraduate work here at UA, I strongly was encouraged to consider pursuing graduate work in library and information studies. Over the last year and a half, I have learned so much about the field, and I’ve become very passionate about it. This field gives you constant opportunities to learn and grow and, as a librarian, you get to learn a little about a lot. As a naturally inquisitive person, I love finding to new topics to research and read about. Similarly, I enjoy helping patrons, whether it’s explaining a particular resource or developing better search strategies.
What previous roles have you had in the Division of Special Collections?
In 2010 during my junior year of undergrad, I started working as a page in the special collections library under Allyson Holliday. It was my first time working in a library since my elementary school days as a library aide, and it was my first experience with archival materials. As Hoole is a non-circulating, closed-stack library, I was responsible for retrieving items that patrons in the reading room requested. This included items like books, manuscripts, university records, maps, sheet music, and more. I also fulfilled photocopy requests for patrons and interlibrary loan (ILL). It was a great way to learn more about the collections and types of materials at Hoole, as well as to learn about what makes special collections libraries so ‘special.’ Ultimately, I worked as a page for two years, and my time at Hoole definitely encouraged me to pursue a Master’s in Library and Information Studies. In May 2014, I will graduate with an MLIS, and I’m so thankful for the experience and encouragement that I’ve received over the last four years from all of the Hoole staff.
Starting in July 2013, I began working as volunteer to answer outside reference requests under Kevin Ray. Outside reference simply refers to any patron request that isn’t made in the reading room; these are often sent via email or telephone. Working with outside reference is exciting and challenging, mainly because you never know what new questions you’ll be asked. We do everything from helping patrons who are conducting research about their genealogy or for their new book to explaining how to use the collections, including how to search Acumen and the digitized finding aids. People from around the United States and overseas contact the special collections library to learn more about the unique items it houses. I love connecting those people with the information here, especially because I get to be a part of their research journey as they mine the treasure trove that is Hoole.
I also work at the Information Desk in Gorgas Library, the main library on campus, in addition to my duties at Hoole. At Gorgas, I answer questions ranging from basic directional requests to technology troubleshooting and complex research inquiries. I also inform patrons regarding policies and procedures specific to campus libraries and to the university as a whole. I enjoy working with students and faculty and informing them of the great services available to them on campus.
What is the most surprising item you’ve seen during your time in the stacks at Hoole?
The most surprising item that I’ve come across is the Jacob Faser collection of letters. A man from rural Louisiana had purchased a sword used during the Civil War and was doing research on its origins at his local public library. A librarian there found a finding aid for the collection on Hoole’s website, and he contacted the archives email for more information. Before this reference request, I didn’t know much at all about sword making and sword smiths. Jacob Faser was a Confederate sword maker who worked in Mobile during the war. He was highly skilled craftsman and he worked under the silversmith James Conning for a few years during the war. Hoole has a small collection of letters that Faser wrote to his wife during his time in Mobile. The letters discuss the prices of various goods that he buys in Mobile and ships to his family in Mississippi and his negotiations with Conning. I really enjoyed learning about Faser and researching more about his accomplishments as a master craftsman. The patron was also thrilled to learn more about the man behind the sword!
Out of all the items you’ve come across, which is your favorite?
During my time as a page, I was completing a shelf reading project of the map collections (shelf reading is done to assure all items are correctly organized) when I came across a beautiful map of the moon. It’s a detailed depiction of the surface of the moon, with each crater, plain, and volcanic feature labeled. The map was printed in 1924 and is a reprint of an original by Thomas Gwyn Elger, a noted lunar mapper from the 1800s. It was truly an unexpected find, as many of Hoole’s collections are focused on our state and its place in southern history. The map has since become one of my favorite pieces at Hoole and is great example of why I loved working in special collections — you never know what you will find!
Can you describe your average day in Special Collections?
No two days are the same when working in special collections as it really depends on the types of questions and reference requests that are waiting to be answered. Most reference interactions involve speaking or emailing with the patron about their request and explaining various library policies.
Say a patron wants a copy of item from the collection, I will check the condition of the item, make sure copying the item doesn’t violate copyright, figure out the number of photocopies to be made, and send the patron the correct form to request the photocopy. I also handle making and mailing photocopies and invoices. Another scenario that occurs fairly frequently involves a patron that finds a collection online but wants more information than what is listed in the online finding aid. From there, I try to make a more detailed list of the contents of the collection. For inquiries that are broader in scope, I always make sure to ask Hoole staff members about ideas for resources to answer these questions, as their knowledge and expertise is invaluable. Every time I help a patron, my goal is to ensure they receive the most complete assistance possible.
As both Kevin Ray and I monitor the outside reference email account, over the last few months we’ve developed and refined a new system of tagging each email. The tags are designed to indicate what emails need to be addressed, which are waiting for replies from patrons, which items have been mailed and are awaiting payment, etc. The goal for the tagging system is to make the status of each request more transparent. It pretty much eliminates questions like, “Hey, have you responded to Mrs. Smith’s question about newspapers on microfilm yet?” So, in addition to working directing with patrons, I am always checking and updating these email tags to ensure no requests get lost in the shuffle.
What are your goals for your career?
Through my experiences over the last few years, I’ve grown more and more fond of reference work. I really love connecting people with information and explaining how to use new technologies. My dream job would incorporate some sort of reference work, whether that’s in a more traditional sense in an academic library or in a special collections environment like Hoole. Either way, I’m very excited to officially start my library career after graduation, and I’m looking for opportunities to grow and be challenged in this amazing field.