By: Ashley Bond, SLIS graduate student
Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series profiling the graduate students who work in the Division of Special Collections. Haley Aaron, Alex Goolsby, Ellie Campbell, Mary Haney, and Katie Howard have also been featured.
Hi, Ashley! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today. First, can you tell us a bit about what made you decide to pursue a career in libraries?
I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Georgia in studio art with a concentration in painting and had intended to get my Master of Fine Arts when I originally started looking at Alabama.
I’ve always enjoyed trips to the library growing up, and I more or less rediscovered that after college. Once I graduated, reading became less about academics and more about fun again. I began visiting the library more frequently, found myself browsing library jobs online that interested me, and over time it became pretty clear that’s where I wanted to be. The great thing is, I can always incorporate my art background into what I do, whether that means a career in art libraries, helping with special collections exhibitions, or planning activities in a children’s department. And of course I still draw and paint in my free time when I can!
As far as choosing the University of Alabama, my mother has been a fan of the school her entire life and also now works for the university. I can credit her since she took me to a football game while I was still an undergrad. It only took that one campus visit for me to know this was absolutely where I wanted to spend my graduate career.
What responsibilities do you have at Hoole?
Initially, most of my time at Hoole was spent researching individual pieces in the collection and writing blog posts to highlight them. Around the second half of fall semester, I began working on an analytics project for the library’s social media accounts, primarily Facebook and Twitter. We really looked at what special collections libraries at other schools around the country were doing on social media and then diagnosed how we could improve our own outreach. This evaluation was how the Hashtag Project, which started around December of last year, was born. We wanted to sprinkle in fun and academic posts on a daily basis to supplement what we’re already posting and use hashtags in each tweet and status to reach a wider audience. I think it was a good start to really getting our posts out there so people can see our collection, and I’m excited to see how Hoole’s social media presence continues to grow in the future. So far, the first three months of the hashtag project have gone wonderfully.
Another duty I actually really enjoyed was helping mount items for display in curated shows throughout both semesters. The biggest project I helped with involved the two Confederate imprint exhibitions that just went on display this month in Gorgas and Hoole, Making Confederates: Building Nationalism through Print and When this Cruel War is Over: Sheet Music of the Confederacy respectively. Because of the nature of the items and how fragile they are, we needed to make duplicates of every item shown for part of the display time. Amy did all of the scanning, then I went into Photoshop for most of the images to adjust the color balance and keep the print color as true to the original imprints as possible. From there, I used photo-quality adhesive, mounted the printed images to foam board, and cropped the pieces accordingly. I thought the irregular edges of some of the imprints would pose a problem in the mat cutting, but it ended up being kind of fun getting out the X-Acto knife and carving out the details in the edges. It felt a lot like being back in the art studio from undergrad, which I loved!
How does working in special collections supplement the education you are receiving through the School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) at UA?
I went into SLIS with an interest in public libraries, mainly because I enjoy visits to the public library myself, and most of the job positions that have interested me in the past fall into that category. It didn’t take long after I was placed in Hoole for my assistantship for me to fall in love with special collections though. At this point I would be thrilled to make a career in either field, depending on where the future takes me.
SLIS is great because I’ve already learned so much just in a year: classes dealing with cataloging and metadata, technology, management, reference, how to go about academic research, and even current issues in the library and information studies field. Being in a special collections library is completely different from all of the core material, so I think having my assistantship here during my first year really broadened my library knowledge in a short time. I enjoyed it so much, I’m actually taking a course on special libraries in the fall! I’m so thankful for my time spent at Hoole, the amazing staff I’ve gotten to work with, and everything they’ve taught me along the way. And thank you especially, Amy, for making my first year of graduate school (and first experience working in a library!) so exceptional.
What is your favorite item you’ve come across at Hoole?
There are so many to pick from! I can probably narrow it down to a single aisle in the stacks. Every day at work is literally a treasure hunt because I never know what I will find to post on social media. My favorite collection would have to be Rare Books. The row of old British Literature has everything from Charles Dickens to William Shakespeare , my favorite being the copy of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park from 1859. I also love the Kate Ragsdale Memorial Miniature Book Collection that is currently on display in the reading room of Hoole. The collection is incredibly diverse, and who doesn’t love tiny books that can fit in the palm of your hand?
The art major in me also really loves the Book Arts collection because of the uniqueness of each item. I’ve found handmade pop-up books, a book made from mini cereal boxes, and even a little book shaped like a cigarette carton with “cigarette” scrolls inside. It’s such a fun collection to look through!
What has surprised you about your time working in special collections?
The most surprising thing to me has definitely been the diversity of what’s in the stacks! The collections have rare hand-written manuscripts from the 1700s, early sheet music from the University of Alabama, and everything in between. I even found a Forrest Gump chocolate cookbook the other day! It made me laugh.
Another thing that is really surprising is the fact that students and faculty have access to really amazing, priceless items, and many don’t even realize it! Special collections is sort of this hidden gem on campus…you [Amy] are doing an incredible job of making students and faculty more aware of this amazing resource through class sessions and other outreach efforts. I hope every department on campus realizes that there is something here for them!
Tell us a bit about what you learned managing the hashtag project for Cool@Hoole.
Library social media accounts are surprisingly tricky! You have to create a balance between academic and fun, all while keeping posts professional to a degree. Doing this from an individual account is challenging in itself; trying to accomplish this as you represent an entire group or organization is even more difficult.
As I mentioned a bit ago, the Hashtag Project started out as an analytics project for Cool@Hoole last fall. In addition to analyzing what top schools in the country were doing on their library social media accounts, I also looked inward to Hoole’s accounts for information on how we could make them even better. Using a lot of the data that platforms like Facebook and Twitter already provide, I discovered what types of posts generally receive the best response, which blog post topics are the most popular, what the best times of the day to post are, and a lot more. I also tried to find more faculty members and campus organizations to follow in order to keep us engaged with the rest of the UA community.
The hashtag part of the project emerged as we were looking at what tools other special libraries use in order to reach a wide community online. We decided to begin a series that would involve highlighting items from the collection during the week using hashtags that are already being used on the internet, like #ThrowbackThursday and #FoodieFriday. I even discovered several library-specific ones on Twitter and Instagram like #MarbledMonday and #BannedBooks.
The idea behind the Hashtag Project was that it would regulate our weekday Twitter and Facebook posts, supplement the blogs and statuses already being posted, and connect Hoole to a wider audience overall. I think it was a great first step because it showcases items that could potentially go unnoticed in closed stacks, all while giving us a better feel for what appeals to Hoole’s audience. That is one of the most difficult parts about library social media: taking something people often perceive only as academic and helping them see how relevant and interesting it is, all in the midst of everything else that pops up in news feeds. It’s a challenge, and we’re still learning, but I’m excited to see where the future takes Cool@Hoole!
What are your goals for your career?
I’ll be honest—if I can have a full-time career in a library setting that I enjoy working in every day, I will be happy. I’m aiming for something in the public library or special collections field, especially long-term, but I’m excited and pretty open to whatever the future holds for my career!
Thank you so much, Ashley, for all your hard work over the past year. We at Cool@Hoole wish you the best as you move forward in your career.