Student Michaela Ullmann Connects University Students with Primary Resources

One of the most rewarding aspects of SLIS student Michaela Ullmann’s work as a librarian at the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library in Los Angeles is watching undergraduates’ eyes widen when they touch a 500-year-old book. “Once they’ve had that experience, they get excited about our materials and come back to work with primary resources for research projects,” she said.

Helping students and faculty understand the value of primary resources has been a longstanding goal of Ullmann, who received the 2012 CASA Dean’s Scholarship in May. “With the increase in digital technology, students don’t visit the library in person as often anymore,” Ullmann said. “This makes it even more important to engage students in collections with primary resources. I believe touching, smelling, and feeling the materials is very important. It adds a layer of intellectual discovery and engagement that a digital surrogate simply cannot provide.”

Ullman works as the Exile Studies Librarian at the Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, a special collection at the University of Southern California housing the archives of German-born Jewish intellectual, Lion Feuchtwanger, who was exiled to Los Angeles in the 1940s from Nazi-infiltrated Europe.  Ullmann is originally from Dusseldorf, Germany, but has lived in Los Angeles since 2006.  She works closely with colleagues and teaching faculty to create programs and events that bring students into the library to access its collections of rare books, personal papers, and archival documents in Special Collections.

“Usually, only the PhD students and some graduate students come to access primary resources in Special Collections, so my focus has been on reaching undergraduates,” said Ullmann. Working with teaching faculty, she recently created a small assignment that requires undergraduate students to use archival materials, such as a handwritten score by Stravinsky. “This type of programming requires a lot of collaboration with teaching faculty,” she said. “But the results are rewarding for everyone. We’re doubling our number of student visits every semester.”

Ullmann started the MLIS program in Fall 2009 and focuses her electives on classes relevant to Academic Librarianship and Special Librarianship. “I have tried to take courses that benefit my current work,” she said. “For instance, when I took LIBR 266 (Collection Management), I used one of the assignments to write a collection development policy for my job.”

LIBR 250 (Design and Implementation of Instructional Strategies for Information Professionals) with Diane Kovacs, was also helpful to Ullmann “because I had to come up with instructions and strategies – things I must do in my job. I still benefit from this class,” Ullmann said.

With a Master’s degree in cultural anthropology and minors in the classics and prehistorical archeology, Ullmann finds working in an archive a great professional fit. “I’m working with the remains of a culture that has produced materials for hundreds of years,” she said. “Librarianship is about bringing information to people without judging that information. I was always interested in that as an anthropologist and now as a librarian,” she said.