Nurture by nature

The River Campus Libraries has created an environment that naturally fosters interest in librarianship.
Author: Matthew Cook
A librarian looking at materials with a student

There are several reasons to think Seyvion Scott ʼ19 has librarianship encoded in her DNA. She’s been a voracious reader since elementary school. She says things like, “I’ve always had a love of the library.” There’s also the fact that she is a librarian.

So, Scott’s career path may have been the result of an inborn nature, but there’s just as much evidence that it’s the product of nurturing forces—like the University of Rochester.

In 2018, in her junior year at Rochester, Scott was hired by her former professor Margarita Guillory, an assistant professor of religion and classics at Rochester, as a research assistant for the project “Digitizing Rochester Religions.” The project required her to spend 40 hours a week working with the Dr. Walter Cooper papers in the Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation (RBSCP). Spending Monday through Friday in RBSCP’s Cominsky Reading Room with the Cooper Collection—an experience she wrote about for the RBSCP Blog—awoke a dormant librarian gene.

“Dr. Guillory believed in me and hired me to work in Rare Books,” says Scott, “which allowed me to develop a connection with the other special collections librarians. And that propelled my interest in becoming an academic librarian.”

RBSCP helped Scott take her first step toward librarianship by hiring her as their front desk clerk in August 2018. For the remainder of her time at Rochester, she worked in RBSCP developing findings aids for collections, coordinating access to research materials, and answering questions from patrons and community members about events and rare books, among other duties.

After graduating from Rochester, Scott enrolled at SUNY Albany, where she earned an MS in information science with a concentration in library and information services (2021). She’s now the first-year experience librarian at Monroe Community College. Her responsibilities include advancing the library’s roles in teaching and learning, facilitating undergraduate research, and providing instruction on information literacy.

Earlier this year, the River Campus Libraries (RCL), nominated by Scott, was chosen as Rochester Regional Library Council’s 2022 Academic Library of the Year.

“I did it because of how supportive the staff members were of my desire to go to graduate school for librarianship,” says Scott of her nomination. “I had two librarians read my cover letters and help me put my materials together, and that spoke to my heart. The care, the support, the mentorship, and the guidance made a difference. I believe the River Campus Libraries deserved to get this award because they care about creating and supporting future librarians from Rochester.”

Scott may be biased, but she’s not wrong.

Inform. Engage. Inspire.

Any student who has an ounce of interest in becoming a librarian will find opportunities to explore the world of academic libraries within the RCL, and they’ll have no shortage of support as they do.

Miranda Mims, the Joseph N. Lambert and Harold B. Schleifer Director of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, knows student employees and interns may be looking at other career paths outside libraries. The goal isn’t to create archivists or librarians.

“We aim to contribute to our students’ education and professional development,” Mims says. “We structure a students’ experiences in a way that aligns with their interests, and because we give them meaningful projects, some may develop an interest they didn’t have when they started. Many of our students have gone on to work in libraries and archives.”

At the Rossell Hope Robbins Library and Koller-Collins Center for English Studies, experiential learning is a significant part of the student staff experience. Director Anna Siebach-Larsen explains that students are active participants and sometimes leaders in various activities that include collection development and assessment, exhibit curation,  digital humanities and scholarship, programming, reference (here, they’re the first line of assistance), instruction, and outreach.

“Because we only have two full-time staff members, we see our student staff as collaborators in creating and shaping our services,” Siebach-Larsen says. “Over the last several years, they have been at the center of our work to transform and diversify our physical and digital collections and programming. And as the majority of our student staff are graduate students, they are already adept at providing in-depth research support, and they can develop and lead extensive resource development. We are delighted that so many of them have chosen careers in libraries and archives.”

In the case of Laura Cernik ʼ18 (MA), working at Robbins Library shifted her entire career track. “My career goal was to become a history professor,” she says, “so I was planning on attending a PhD program after completing my MA. However, I fell in love with the day-to-day work of librarianship.”

Cernik’s newfound affection led to a master’s in library and information science at the University at Buffalo. She now serves as the director of the Menands Public Library, where she wears many hats, often serving as the main point of contact for collection development, reference, and outreach.

“One of the most rewarding parts of my job is the impact I can make on the lives of my patrons every day,” says Cernik, “from the little stuff like finding a book to bigger tasks like teaching computer skills to patrons entering the job market. I also have a deep passion for collection development and finding the materials for my collection that best meet my patron's needs.”

Changing the face of librarianship

Historically, library positions—at Rochester and the across the library profession at large—have predominantly been held by white people. However, the RCL is attempting to diversify the field through the Career Exploration in Librarianship and Mentoring (CEILAM) program. CEILAM was created to introduce undergraduate students from underrepresented populations to work in libraries and archives. Through self-directed projects, students can see what a future in librarianship might look like and how it aligns with their skills and interests.

CEILAM could be seeing some changes in the near future with the hiring of the new student success librarian, Laura Dumohosky.

Dumohosky will oversee CEILAM, Karp Library Fellows program, and projects and initiatives that support first-generation students, historically underrepresented students, and international students. “As a first-generation graduate, I know what it’s like not knowing what you need as a student,” she says. “I’m thrilled to be in a position to help students discover the tools, resources, and opportunities that will help them be ever better.”

Ayiana Crabtree ʼ22 offers the quintessential example of CEILAM’s value and potential in aiding student development.

Crabtree came to Rochester intending to study astrophysics, but that didn’t feel right. Then, at the end of her first year, it dawned on her that librarianship might be her path. “I’ve always had a passion for books and information,” she says, “and I knew I wanted to inspire change and help people.”

Setting out on her new course, she landed an internship at her local library. She got an up-close look at events, patron interactions, and how the library shared information. It was all she needed to see—libraries were her future, and she went all-in at Rochester.

After being accepted by CEILAM, Crabtree interned with Robbins Library and Digital Scholarship. In January 2021, she became an extended reality (XR) research fellow at Studio X through the Carol ’74, Pʼ11 and Sarah ’11 Karp Library Fellows Program. She also worked in Studio X as an XR specialist. Not only has Crabtree done a lot within the RCL, she’s done it exceptionally well, earning her a Dean’s Student Library Employee Service Award.

Crabtree is now working toward an MS in information and library science at the University at Buffalo, where her tuition is fully covered by a research position in which she’s studying the retention of BIPOC librarians. As for her future, she knows she wants to be in an academic library. “I’m going back and forth between digital scholarship and being a professor and doing research,” she says. “I’m also interested in administration. There are so many options.” (She tells the story of her own journey in her personal blog.)

One aspiration Crabtree is sure of is that, wherever she lands, she will do her part to promote an inclusive environment. Having a mixed-race heritage and being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, she wants to contribute to making libraries welcoming places for people of all backgrounds.

“Ensuring that everyone feels welcome is important in any space,” Crabtree says, “but it is crucial in libraries. Doing what I can to make information as accessible as possible to everyone is my main goal, regardless of what I end up doing.” ∎

For more information on working in Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation, contact Miranda Mims at mmims@library.rochester.edu, and for opportunities in Robbins Library, contact Anna Siebach-Larson at annasiebachlarsen@rochester.edu.

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