By: Katie Howard, Director of the Paul R. Jones Gallery and The University Gallery, University of Alabama MLIS student
I grew up in libraries. More specifically, elementary and academic libraries.
My mother, Penny McAllister, was an elementary school librarian for 30 years. My grandmother, Joyce Lamont, had a 40-year career at the University of Alabama as an archivist and preservationist and eventually ended up as the Associate Dean of Special Collections. While my mother passed on to me her love of reading, my grandmother is the one who instilled in me the importance of preserving history for future generations.
I have been in and out of the halls and stacks of Hoole (Gorgas and current location) for the past 20 years. It wasn’t until 2003, when I began working as a student assistant under Jessica Lacher-Feldman that I actually began to understand and appreciate special collections for the sheer volume of rare materials it holds and the endless opportunities there were to share this information. For the longest time (and I hate to admit this) but I always thought special collections were only filled with dusty old books. It wasn’t until I came to Hoole as a student and employee that my eyes were opened to the treasure trove of cultural history that Hoole holds in the form of manuscripts, ledgers, maps, photographs and yes, even the dusty old books.
What sort of responsibilities did you have in your prior position?
I assisted Jessica with planning, researching and designing exhibitions for Special Collections to be displayed in the main hall and entry hall of the Hoole library, as well as in Gorgas Library. The exhibitions were usually organized around particular themes and showcased the wide variety of materials that the Hoole Library has to offer as well as interesting facts and other tidbits.
I also had the opportunity to help Jessica with Publishers’ Bindings Online, 1851-1930: The Art of Books, a 3-year IMLS-funded collaborative digital project in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. PBO combines about 5,000 decorative book bindings into one digital repository where students, scholars, teachers and more can explore a relatively “unexplored” field of study.
Albeit, I was just the student assistant tasked with cataloging, scanning and data entry but, man was it fun knowing I was contributing to something that could open the doors to a whole new appreciation of rare books. The fact that I was also a graphic design student made it even better. I was totally in my element. Looking back, I think this was the moment when I realized that special collections and digital humanities could be a future career path for me.
Since you are attending the University of Alabama’s School of Library and Information Studies, can you tell us a bit about your time with SLIS?
Ten years ago I never would have thought I would be graduating with my MLIS in August. I had been told all my life, mainly by my mother and grandmother, that I should go back to school to get my masters in librarianship. “Katie, you would LOVE it”. I put it off because, come on, did I really want to be a librarian like everyone else in my family? As it turns out, they were right (…they always were). A couple of years ago, I stopped by the reference room in Hoole one afternoon on the way to a meeting and Jessica gave me the gentle push I needed (THANK YOU JESSICA!). One last “Katie, you will LOVE it” was all she wrote and I applied to SLIS that week.
I knew that I wanted to focus on archives and digital libraries. I have a degree in graphic design and a fascination for history and historical artifacts so naturally, I thought of the best possible way to combine the two. Dr. Albertson’s classes, Information Management and Digital Libraries, have been wonderful in that I am able to see how to build all of the components of a digital library from the ground up. These courses, along with Information Technology have helped me overcome the last few learning curves in what have, up till now, been self-taught web design and tech skills. Dr. Albertson’s classes, combined with Dr. MacCall’s Metadata course have really brought out my love for “data about data”.
I took Dr. Rollins’ Digital Reference course and fell in love with reference work. Who knew there were right and wrong way to answer reference questions?! This course really peaked my interest in reference and outreach. I really enjoy the process of working through a problem or questions with a patron and figuring out exactly what they are asking for. With my passion for history and the having ability actually read and touch items that have so many stories to tell, reference work in special collections is like the best kind of treasure hunt.
Although I have not had the opportunity to take any archives classes with Dr. Riter, I have heard wonderful things about him as an instructor and all of his courses. I am hopping to have the chance to sign up for his Introduction to Archives this summer.
Come back on Tuesday, March 10, to read the second half of our interview with Katie Howard. We’ll learn more about Katie’s current position and her volunteer work at the W.S. Hoole Library.