Posted on August 25, 2010.
Lorna looked at us and said, almost conspiratorially, “I told him he should not go into politics! Community outreach? What can you do with that? The law school was going to offer him tenure and benefits but he would have none of it! Politics! What can you do with politics? I guess that goes to show what I know.”
At the University of Chicago, everyone seems to have one or two “Obama” stories and almost everyone who works here claims to live “just a few doors over” from his residence near campus. Of course, many of the staff at D’Angelo Law Library actually worked with Obama when he was an instructor at the law school between 1992 and 2004 before he “hit it big” and did, in fact, know him. Others simply enjoy basking in the reflecting glow of Obama’s U of C legacy.
But we digress — this story really needs a proper context. A year ago, upon learning of our acceptance to the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto, we decided that we needed an “American experience” and even though we had no clue what any of this librarian “stuff” was really about yet, we launched a massive international “networking attack” in hopes of securing internships this summer somewhere “sexy.” Chicago was an excellent choice insofar as it offered both of us something that we were looking for. Aside from the obvious prestige of its name, we were able to secure a position with a specialist in our respective fields of interest: Slavic (Katya) and law librarianship (Stephen). The following will offer brief individual reports on our placements, our responsibilities and overall experiences in professional development.
Internship under June Pachuta Farris
Bibliographer for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies
Bibliographer for General Linguistics
Slavic & East European Collection,
University of Chicago
Being absolutely clueless about Slavic librarianship and what it actually entailed, I jumped into my internship feet first, eager to sponge up as much information and useful skills as my modestly-proportioned brain would permit.
Now, over a month later with only two and a half weeks to go, I find it difficult to believe that I actually do not “work here”! June has constantly been giving me useful information, bringing me to staff meetings, challenging me with new acquisitions proposal lists, preparing an exhibit to showcase one aspect of the Slavic collection and working with mad transliteration projects. I always feel quite wild-eyed when I leave our meetings and remain constantly in doubt that I even have the capacity to absorb even half of the information she projects my way. Having a few of my instructors advise me that she is truly one of the best in her field, I live to be the testament to her professionalism and dedication to the field of Slavic librarianship, constantly in quiet envy of her extensive Dostoyevsky bibliographies!
Having a solid knowledge of Russian and Ukrainian languages has certainly made my undertakings and transliteration projects much easier than they otherwise would have been. But then again, after my work with Ukrainian transliteration I still find myself misspelling “Chicaho” (God help me!). Having said that, I strongly believe that knowledge of foreign languages should be made an essential component to the study of librarianship. Master’s degrees in our field should require a successful graduate to pass an exam in a language other than English. This knowledge would not only add one more feather in an applicant’s proverbial cap, but certainly enable better library service to the multicultural community of the 21st century.
Having familiarized myself with the Library of Congress Ukrainian and Russian transliteration tables and permanently traumatized myself with the occasional Tatar and Hungarian transliterations, I spent a few weeks compiling Library Guides. While a fun project at the onset, the lack of active links, messy and often ‘sketchy’ websites, and lack of proper English translations proved it to be a difficult undertaking. In fact, I am amazed there isn’t a full-time librarian whose sole responsibilities revolve around the creation and maintenance of library guides.
Putting in 30 hours a week working with specific deadlines, an array of projects and readings, staff meetings and scheduled mini trainings sessions with Acquisitions, Cataloguing department, and a few fascinating specialists has made this for an exceedingly busy internship. Having said that, I am still amazed at just how accommodating the University of Chicago has been! Thanks to Jane Ciacci, the Staff & Organization Development Librarian, whose dedication to sort out exceedingly boring and mundane government documents and paperwork was invaluable to me. Furthermore, upon arrival, we were able to get a wonderful tour of the library and warm introductions to all the staff! Being a Canadian ex-pat, Jane was eager to get first-hand accounts on relevant gossip in politics and of course, the much dreaded Toronto G20 Summit!
Meeting a few Canuck Expats and (somehow not surprisingly) University of Toronto graduates, was rather illuminating and surreal at the same time as we talked about the G20, the Ontario earthquake, and the power outage on the weekend of July 3. In turn, we learned about their lives in Chicago, pros and cons to living abroad and inspiring stories about their personal professional developments! Chris Cronin, the Director of Metadata & Cataloging Services, was a particular inspiration as a fairly recent iSchool graduate whose motivation and drive have landed him in administration only 8 years after graduating from the University of Toronto.
I was also able to take a day off work and visit the Urbana-Illinois University of Illinois campus (a two hour drive south of Chicago) and tour the Slavic library. During my visit, I met Helen Sullivan who is a very skilled Slavic reference professional, and who was able to impart a few words of wisdom with regard to her profession.
Working side by side with the exceedingly accomplished Sandra Levy, Associate Slavic Librarian, who trained me about Slavic Exchanges, and Katerina Vankcova, Assistant to the Slavic Bibliographer, whose general pragmatism and weather reports saw me through some of the more challenging projects, have been some of the highlights of my time at the Slavic Collection. I will be looking at my time in Chicago with exceeding fondness and miss my busy Breughel “beehive” populated with a remarkable team of very knowledgeable “bees.”
Internship under Judith Wright
Associate Dean for Library and Information Services and Lecturer in Law
University of Chicago Law School
The field of legal librarianship is a complicated one, especially in terms of qualifications, as many Canadian legal librarians do not have law degrees, while many American ones do. As a Canadian with a JD from Osgoode Hall Law School now working on my MI at the University of Toronto’s iSchool, this paradoxical status quo held a great deal of significance for me. It only seemed reasonable that the summer between my first and second year at the University of Toronto’s iSchool should be spent gaining the American experience that is so valuable the world over.
Katya and I began to think about this early, starting to make contacts with librarians across the country, noting a few favourite locales and universities, including Chicago, where we had visited and enjoyed tremendously the year previously. Given that my interests lay in legal librarianship, one could hardly hope to do much better than the D’Angelo Law Library, which is one of the country’s best law libraries in one of the country’s best law schools (and it has obvious cachet due to one of its most famous former instructors). With this in mind, I contacted Judith Wright, the Director of the library and Associate Dean of the law school, to ask about opportunities for the summer. Judith was exceedingly receptive and helpful, making what could and might otherwise be an extremely difficult process into a straightforward and pleasant one.
It was made clear from the outset that while the library has a well-developed history of interns, there was no set programme, per se. It was the responsibility of the intern to devise and execute an appropriate agenda for the duration of the internship. That being said, the sky was the limit in terms of the sorts of opportunities that were available within the confines of not only D’Angelo, but the University of Chicago and beyond. The University of Chicago library system is enormously different from the system that I have become accustomed to at the University of Toronto, as it is highly centralized. This allowed for myriad opportunities to speak with and learn from librarians throughout the University of Chicago library system.
In addition to my experience at D’Angelo and the University of Chicago, I was given the opportunity to visit the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana law library, Northwestern University law library, and to partake in a Chicago-based law librarian conference on collection development policy at the John Marshall Law School in downtown Chicago. All of it was highly educational and interesting, but none of this would have been possible without the amazing guidance and support provided by Judith and the rest of the D’Angelo administration and staff.
When I arrived on my first day, I sat down with Lorna Tang, the head of the Technical Services division, and Sheri Lewis, the head of Public Services, to hash out a provisional list of prospective objectives and achievements that would form a guide for the way in which I would conduct the internship. While we both agreed at the time that to complete all of the tasks would be almost impossible, the final aim would be to do as many as possible. This list became an invaluable gauge of my experience, and as I checked off items, it only increased my sense of accomplishment.
The tasks included learning and devising online LibGuides, learning the American formats of Westlaw and Quicklaw, assisting with collection development assessments, writing reports on collection analysis, working with both circulation and reference staff, sitting in on a variety of staff meetings both at D’Angelo and the University of Chicago to learn about administration at multiple levels, and other tasks such as faculty requests, catalogue searches, and collection shifting. It was exhausting, but rewarding. I managed to not only get experience with American law, but with Canadian and international and foreign law, which would not have been possible without the assistance of Lyonette Louis-Jacques and Bill Schwesig, who were pillars of support as well as enormously patient with an eager, yet somewhat wet-behind-the-ears intern, who wanted to do everything, but knew he could only do almost everything!
The experiences of both Katya and myself were nothing short of incredible. Not only did we get the chance to work with some of the very best in our respective fields of librarianship, we managed to do so at a first-rate university in a world-class city. It was an experience that we shall not soon forget.