NU Declassified: Shelving the rumors on campus librarians

Noraan Mohamed and Nour Taqatqa



Northwestern librarians have been offering help to students and faculty for about as long as the university has been functioning, but they have many other roles that often go unnoticed by most on campus. Jason Kruse, Chris Davidson and Rachel Cole, all librarians based in University Library, discuss the underutilized services in the library, their favorite part about their job and how they play a role in student activities, social media and more.


CHRIS DAVIDSON: Whenever people ask me about what I do, it’s always a very complicated answer because in the library, we wear a lot of hats.

NOUR TAQATQA: That was Chris Davidson, Northwestern Libraries’ outreach and community engagement librarian and journalism specialist.

NORAAN MOHAMED: Librarians here at NU are responsible for the resources in the library, but the roles go far beyond what you might expect.

NOUR TAQATQA: Basically, they do more than just read books and shush people.

NORAAN MOHAMED: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Noraan Mohamed.

NOUR TAQATQA: And I’m Nour Taqatqa. This is NU Declassified, a look into how Wildcats thrive and survive at Northwestern.

NOUR TAQATQA: Librarians’ responsibilities vary — from working with faculty to provide books needed for their courses to connecting with other organizations on campus to ensure the library is well-advertised and communicated to students. But frequently, this work is unseen by students.

RACHEL COLE: Students are often excited to find out about us when they do and kind of delighted to find out about our materials that we offer and our services that we offer.

NORAAN MOHAMED: Rachel Cole, the transportation librarian, works on the fifth floor of University Library. Her job includes working with special collections to determine what new resources the library adds, helping students with research questions, creating social media content and making new library activities for students to participate in.

RACHEL COLE: But the priority is always working with students and faculty. So if I have a class coming up that I’m going to be teaching, introducing students to our materials or research, that’s a priority.

NOUR TAQATQA: Jason Kruse, who is the undergraduate engagement and sociology librarian, also discusses the importance they place on helping out students and faculty here on campus.

JASON KRUSE: What we do a lot of is what are called research consultations. And these are one-on-one meetings usually, but they can be also meetings with groups around a particular topic. We’re information specialists. We know how to find things, we know where to find things, we know what resources we have, we know what resources exist. And you know, generally, but also and especially in our subject areas that’s what we do. So we’ll sit down with a student, we’ll walk through what databases might be good to find journal articles, how to find books in our collection, how to develop search strategies, how to cite things. So, along those lines.

NORAAN MOHAMED: Jason also says librarians spend a big part of their time in training and creating more programs for students to engage with the library.

JASON KRUSE: A big part of my job is being an engagement librarian, and two big pieces of the job are developing programs and running programs and events that build awareness about all the things that we’ve been talking about with all the great resources that we have for students. I coordinate the library’s Wildcat Welcome orientation stuff, and we work on programs with my colleagues throughout the year to do all kinds of activities and programs. But a bigger part of it is building relationships with other campus units. So I work very closely with the Office of Undergraduate Research, New Student Experience, Admissions some.

NORAAN MOHAMED: In the library, the librarians all specialize in particular subjects, so they end up seeing a lot of students with the same areas of study. However, people of all different interests come to utilize resources the libraries offer.

RACHEL COLE: Primarily, they’re focused on civil and environmental engineering, but transportation does touch everything. So there are faculty and students in history or economics or business — like really across the University — who use our library.

NOUR TAQATQA: Undergraduates, graduate, Ph.D. students and all certificate or associate degree holders can benefit from the expertise of the librarians in their designated subject areas. As Chris says, that can all start with an email from a student asking to meet with him.

CHRIS DAVIDSON: I have a very large focus on how the library works in students’ lives. I focus a lot on belonging and building a sense of community in our spaces. To me, a lot of that ends up being how are users using our spaces and working with them to figure out what are the questions we should ask to learn what we need to know to better meet student needs? To better understand how they’re using our spaces so we can make changes.

NOUR TAQATQA: But not everyone who should be using the library services does, or knows how.

CHRIS DAVIDSON: I do think that grad students are more likely to reach out to their librarians, and I think that that has something perhaps to do with the support structure that graduates go through in the process of getting their degree. So I think there are more pillars in place to connect them to their librarian.

NORAAN MOHAMED: While the librarians may seem like experts in everything, particularly in their area of study, they all had to do some studying of their own before acquiring their current positions. Chris said it’s less about what to know, and more about how to find it.

CHRIS DAVIDSON: That’s exactly why I have a master’s degree. What I learned in library school was how to find things. Librarians don’t know everything…at all. We know a lot about a lot of things, but what we really know is how to find something.

NOUR TAQATQA: The NU librarians didn’t immediately find their way to Northwestern’s libraries. Rachel said her passion for special collections and history led her to her current position in NU’s transportation department.

RACHEL COLE: I finished library school in 2008, which was sort of the low point of the recession in that era. While I was in library school, I worked in special collections. So I worked at the Newberry Library and then the Ryerson Library in the Art Institute of Chicago. So I got some really good experience to working with special collections and historical materials and just really fell in love with that part of being a librarian.

NOUR TAQATQA: To be a librarian, Rachel says, you must have a few different qualities and skills including a passion for lifelong learning, a natural curiosity and a range of hands-on skills.

NORAAN MOHAMED: While a lot of people have those traits, Rachel believes the most important component in a good prospective librarian is a passion and willingness to put students first.

RACHEL COLE: If someone is interested in becoming a librarian, I think that a desire to work with people and to help people is really central to that. In any work that I have done as a librarian, whether its reference work or research consultations, whenever I get a request from someone for help, it always takes priority over anything else that I’m working on. So being able to centralize helping other people in your work I think is a key trait for a librarian to have.

NORAAN MOHAMED: Rachel says that she loves working with students and faculty and getting to share her passions with them.

RACHEL COLE: I feel lucky almost every day honestly to get to do what I do. I feel like I’m learning something new every day, every time I get to work with a student or faculty member on their research or introduce them to a new material, or a new collection or new materials. Yeah, it’s pretty great.


NOUR TAQATQA: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Nour Taqatqa.

NORAAN MOHAMED: And I’m Noraan Mohamed. Thank you for listening to another episode of NU Declassified. This episode was reported and produced by Nour Taqatqa and myself. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Will Clark, the digital managing editor is Jordan Mangi, and the editor-in-chief is Isabelle Sarraf. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this.

Email: [email protected].edu

Email: [email protected]

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