Alumna and Former Student Assistant Strives to Empower the Public Every Day
“For me, I love being able to empower people the most. Many people who come in don’t realize the full range of services we offer or how to really find what it is that they are looking for. Being able to show local students how the databases work or helping a patron understand how to download a library e-book is a thrill for me.”
MLIS Graduate 2013
True to public librarian form, San José State University School of Information alumna Julie Whitehead (MLIS, ’13) is partial to the empowerment she provides people every day at her work. “Many people who come in,” Whitehead says, “don’t realize the full range of services we offer or how to really find what it is they are looking for.” She continues, “Being able to show local students how the databases work or help a patron understand how to download an e-book from the library is a true thrill for me.” As Adult Reference Librarian for Dixon Homestead Library, Whitehead does everything, from simple tasks such as explaining a Microsoft template for resumes to patrons to complex tasks such as helping patrons learn how to engage with their new gadgets and devices. “And if I can help someone to improve their work life using Lynda.com,” says Whitehead, “or help them find their new favorite novel, I’m living the dream.”
Assisting Her Future
Whitehead’s course work and student assistant position while attending the School of Information deeply influenced her to realize the dream she’s living now. She was a serial library volunteer from her teenage years into adulthood until she realized that the career she’d been looking for was the was exactly what she kept finding herself volunteering to do. Says Whitehead, “I met quite a few librarians who had a great experience at SJSU’s School of Information.” Courses revolving around instructional design, reference, and web design have proven to be particularly helpful to Whitehead in her career. “Instructional design and reference,” Whitehead says, “have helped me when thinking through programs and interactions with patrons. I definitely approach reference interactions with a teaching approach in many instances. The website design course has helped me not so much because I design websites, but because I can help my patrons navigate webforms and sites better for having taken the class.”
As she explored with us in her last community profile, Whitehead was also a student research assistant at SJSU, working closely with Dr. Anthony Bernier and Dr. Jeremy Kemp on their IMLS grant-funded research project “Making Space for Young Adults in Public Libraries: Establishing a Research Foundation.” Says Whitehead, “I mostly worked with Dr. Jeremy Kemp creating 3D replicas of real life young adult library spaces in Second Life and inviting people to come visit and comment on them.” Whitehead and the team also examined the videos of spaces they received and inventoried each space in detail. “I think,” Whitehead reflects, “this project really helped me to consider carefully what service with dignity and young adults might look like.” Although she is now an adult reference librarian, the entire patronage of her library is important to her. Providing solid reader’s advisory, having space available for young adults, and helping them pursue their interests with the library’s collection is a responsibility neither her or her library take lightly.
Continued Development, Continued Empowerment
Whitehead has continued to develop skills learned at the iSchool and through her student assistant position as an adult reference librarian. “Things don’t always unfold the way we think they will,” Whitehead says, alluding to her plans to become a youth services librarian after her experience as a student assistant. “Now I’m focused mostly on adult reference, collection development, programs, and readers’ advisory” she says. “But our library does have a small staff, so I often find myself doing reference and reader’s advisory for young adults.”
Whitehead particularly enjoys reader’s advisory and helping teens when they are researching for school projects or when they have a new interest. Part of the Dixon Homestead Library’s building is from the 1790s and Whitehead oversees a small collection of local ephemera and Jersiana, which is helpful when teens come in needing local history research help. So, while her path hasn’t led exactly where she thought it might, perhaps it hasn’t veered too much at all.
As for Whitehead’s plans for the future? “Right now,” she says, “I am learning more every day about developing a strong library collection on the ground in a library and how to create stronger ties with our community. I am hoping we can create more multi-generational programming and more services that are helpful to local students.” Indeed, Whitehead will remain focused on building community and providing empowerment every day.