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Mellon Program Recruits Future Librarians

The path to a career does not always take a direct route.  Sometimes, instead of choosing a profession, a profession chooses you, as Teresa Collins '05 discovered during her third year at Oberlin.

A penchant for research and a savvy recruitment program initiated by Director of Libraries Ray English set the anthropology major on a track that has placed her this year in a post-baccalaureate internship at Oberlin's main library and that will take her next year to graduate studies in library science.

But when Collins first came to Oberlin from her hometown of Atlanta, she had no idea that she would go into library work. It took a love of art and a stint as a docent at the College’s Allen Memorial Art Museum to steer her in that direction. “I loved working in the art museum,” she recalls, “but I think I loved researching the pieces in the tours I was giving even more.”

In spring 2004, she found her way across campus to Mudd Center, where she took part in an innovative librarian-recruitment program launched the previous fall by English and funded by the first half of a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; the second half of the grant was awarded this year.

"The program presents students who wouldn't normally think about librarianship, with unique and exciting career options through discussions and hands-on experiences,” says Collins. “As a Mellon intern, I researched and created an artists’ book exhibit for the art library and also gave a major presentation to my peers and area librarians. I was hooked.”

“The exhibit was an enormous project,” says Art Librarian Barbara Prior. “In less than one semester she conceived and created a wonderful exhibit with no prior knowledge of artists’ books—a specialized, complicated genre—and minimal guidance from me. Teresa had to review over 600 artists’ books and group them into a few meaningful categories. She then selected distinctive pieces and created a discourse explaining their aesthetics and intent. In the process she demonstrated an intellectual breadth and maturity beyond her years.”

“The program’s aim,” says English, “is to address a projected shortfall of professional librarians, as well as to better serve increasingly diverse populations by broadening the racial and ethnic composition of the library profession.”

The multi-tiered, collaborative, three-year-long program is designed to make undergraduate students aware of the challenges facing the library profession and potential careers as librarians through discussions and selective undergraduate and post-baccalaureate internships. The grant also funds graduate-level library science scholarships, which are awarded competitively to interns at the participating libraries: Oberlin College’s, the Atlanta University Center’s, which serves Clark University and Morehouse and Spelman colleges; and those at Mount Holyoke, Occidental, Swarthmore, and Wellesley colleges.

Since the program began in 2003, 7 students have received scholarships to graduate school, 48 undergraduates have served as interns, and 10 post-baccalaureate interns have been selected. Of these 65, 42 percent (or 27) were from groups underrepresented in the library profession.

“We’re delighted by the program’s success in attracting students into librarianship,” notes English. “The profession needs talented new librarians, such as Teresa, who can grow into leadership roles, and this program is clearly helping bring them into the field.”

In summer 2004, Collins, who had a very successful career with the indoor and outdoor track and field teams and is the Oberlin College record holder in the 400-meter dash, embarked on a Mellon internship at the National Basketball Hall of Fame Library and Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts. She helped the curator create an enshrinement exhibit, prepared preliminary finding guides, and assisted with reference requests.

Back at Oberlin for her senior year, she continued her work at the art library as a library assistant, helping in circulation and aiding students doing research. After graduating in May, she became a post-baccalaureate intern at the main library, a full-time, yearlong position. Her home base is a small office on the third floor of Mudd.

Not that she spends much time there. In addition to learning what makes an academic library tick, she is maintaining her ties with the art library, preparing an exhibit illustrating traditional Japanese bookmaking: papermaking, binding techniques, and woodblock printing.

A project close to her heart is constructing a blueprint for an Oberlin athletic's archive. “There is no designated space in which to store pictures, films, or trophies,” she says, “but these items are pieces of history, and what is abundant today could be scarce or nonexistent tomorrow. Though I will have moved on, at least the blueprint will be in place when the decision is made to translate it into reality.”

This fall Collins will begin graduate work at at the University of South Florida, where she will pursue a master's degree in library science and a master's degree in anthropology, thanks to a just-received scholarship from Academic Librarians for Tomorrow's Academic Researchers (ALSTARS), a funding initiative of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

“Teresa Collins is a wonderful example of what we’re accomplishing with the Mellon recruiting program,” says English. “I’m confident we’ll continue to encourage talented students from diverse backgrounds to explore this career option. Librarianship is a terrific profession for anyone who’s intellectually curious and wants to have a positive impact on society. The profession deserves the best and the brightest, and with interns like Teresa, it’s getting them.” 

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