Alumna Erin Mischak Draws from Online Learning Experiences at iSchool in New Role as Distance Education Librarian

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Relying on her MLIS coursework that prepared her to manage virtual services, alum Erin Mischak is building an innovative program to support distance education students at the University of Wisconsin’s Polk Library.

“The university has several programs and courses that are exclusively online, but until I came on board, there was no designated distance librarian,” said Mischak, who now serves as Distance Education Librarian. “When a few librarians retired, there was an opportunity to restructure, and they recognized a need for a distance librarian.”

Drawing on her experience as a student in San José State University School of Information’s fully online MLIS program, Mischak has been instrumental in developing her position at Polk Library and ensuring that online and distance students get equitable library service.  For example, she wants to be sure that distance students have access to online reference service, online resources on par with those in the physical library, and research instruction. Since taking the position in Fall 2012, her initiatives include developing asynchronous video tutorials and instructional videos, making contacts on campus with faculty in the distance programs, revamping the library’s website to improve user experience, and making all information more accessible to distance students.

Day to day, Mischak said that two-thirds of her job involves serving distance learning students, such as responding to Skype requests from students, providing reference service on the Second Life island devoted to the university’s nursing program, recording tutorials, and conducting instructional webinars. One-third  of her job caters to on-campus students and colleagues, such as providing on-site reference and instruction, and attending on-campus meetings with department heads and faculty.

Mischak took the position, which required her to move across the country, after an exhausting job search in southern California. “I wanted to stay in California, so I initially focused on that area,” recalled Mischak, who during her job search was working in a non-professional circulation position at an academic library as well as working two part time jobs– one at a community college, and the other teaching an online course in library skills.

Eventually, Mischak made the decision to open up her job search to anywhere in the country. “I started applying to any type of academic library instruction position – from Spokane, Washington to East Texas to Colorado, and soon realized I was doing the right thing,” she recalled. “I started getting call backs for almost every job I applied to. I realized I was going to have to leave California for a little while.”

Mischak said the job description at Polk Library read like it was written for her. While at SLIS, Mischak was a student assistant, helping faculty during the transition to a new learning management system, D2L. That, along with her online teaching experience, was the background they were looking for. “They got back to me very quickly and invited me to come out for an interview,” Mischak said. “It was an all day process that included dinner with the Library Director, interviews with members of the search committee, and a tour of the university and town. It was a crazy, overwhelming experience and by the end of it, I wasn’t even sure how it had gone!”

She found out soon enough — an offer came just a couple of days after she returned home. Since her move to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with her fiancé (a fellow SLIS alum), Mischak said that it has been the best possible experience. Mischak graduated from SLIS in December 2011.

Influential Classes

INFO 287 Seminar in Information Science: Information Literacy with Dr. Michelle Simmons: “Michelle Simmons is amazing and absolutely the most phenomenal instructor. We developed webinar and screencast tutorials in her class. I do that all the time now in my work. Now that I’m working with online faculty, I can see the differences in their approach and recommend best practices based on Michelle’s approach.”

INFO 251 Web Usability with Dr. Jeremy Kemp: “A very useful class.”

Career Tip

“Have some really serious conversations with yourself about what you’re willing to do to achieve your professional goals. In my job search, the tide changed when I began applying for out-of-state jobs. The ALA joblist was a good resource.”

Tech Tip

“Become as tech savvy as possible! Almost any job you’ll take has an online component – you’ll need to tweak html code or get in on the back end of a website to make changes, so the more comfortable you are, the better. Seize any change to master a learning management system like D2L or Blackboard. All universities are using those systems – even those without distance programs.”

Favorite Blog:

In the Library with the Lead Pipe: “I like the longer pieces.”

Agnostic, Maybe: “Andy Woodworth goes after big issues facing the profession and is not afraid to stir the pot.”

Professional Affiliations

American Library Association, Association of College & Research Libraries, Beta Phi Mu (an international LIS honor society)

Facebook’s ALA Think Tank Group: “This is an open group with almost 2300 members. The best discussions I see about libraries are happening in this group.”