Natasha Finnegan: Aspiring for Library Leadership and Management

Community Profile
Natasha Finnegan Headshot

“I like doing a lot of things, I could never put myself into a box (when it came to a career,) but when I started working in a library, I knew it was where I was meant to be.”

Natasha Finnegan, MLIS Student (expected graduation date in spring 2022)
Salisbury, MD

After spending her childhood and undergraduate years abroad, Natasha Finnegan developed a robust worldview at an early age. Now, after years of working in a library setting and being deeply engaged in her MLIS education, she is excited to embark on a career in library leadership and management.

Beginnings Abroad and Finding Her Passion

Natasha spent a large part of her youth living overseas until finally settling down permanently in the Washington D.C. area. After graduating high school, Natasha did her undergraduate studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland where she studied history with a semester abroad in Asia. 

Studying abroad inspired her to go into teaching English overseas, where she saw firsthand the difference between education in foreign countries as opposed to education in the U.S. She soon understood, however, that teaching had its set of challenges that went beyond her vision of an ideal career. She returned to the U.S. with the ambition to find work, spending most of her post-college time working unpaid internships while waiting tables and bartending on the side to help make ends meet. One day, her aunt sent a job post for a library assistant position at a local library. She applied and was hired.

“I had always used libraries before, but I never considered actually working in one. As soon as I started working there, I decided ‘this is where I want to be.’”

Embarking on an MLIS Degree During COVID-19

Natasha found satisfaction in her work in library circulation. She knew that a career in library and information sciences required a master’s degree. When a colleague recommended she pursue a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science, Natasha enrolled in San José State University’s School of Information’s Master of Library and Information Science program, and was accepted. Before she knew it, she was balancing the ever-elusive juggle of work, school and a growing family. 

“One thing I like about SJSU is, every time I take a class, I encounter those same topics at work in really applicable ways. Now I have resources and contacts to use because of the iSchool.”

Learning in “real time” has indeed been useful, especially over the past year when the world undertook the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Libraries everywhere, including her own library at Salisbury University, were shut down for months, and she had to relearn the intricacies of her position remotely. Both she and her boss manned the hours alone in the university’s library for months, and have only recently started to allow patrons in at full capacity. 

“Salisbury University is unique in that our COVID cases never hit the same extremes as they did in other parts of (Maryland). The school took on the protocols very well…but it’s still difficult to fulfill Interlibrary Loan requests and we had to redefine some of our library policies.”

Innovating how work was done during this time was an adjustment that took a lot of effort and creative thinking. What has kept her afloat is the help of her boss and mentor, whose organization and management skills have inspired her to stay focused.

Aspiring Toward Library Leadership and Management

These lessons, along with her experience as the chair of the iSchool’s American Library Association Student Chapter, have fueled her passion to fulfill a career in library leadership and management. Being in a role that would enable her to facilitate the success of others – to mentor others as she had been mentored – is a dream come true for Natasha. 

Learning how to be an effective leader in the face of difficulty has been a big step. One of her greatest accomplishments thus far has been her hard work on the ALASC’s 2021 Book Giveaway. This event experienced several setbacks, yet still managed to become a signature iSchool success. 

“That was a huge challenge — going from an event that is online to this physical entity! We took a lot of time to discuss what it was we really wanted to do. Eventually, we decided that a book giveaway was what we wanted. It was something that everyone could do together — read the same book and have a discussion on it. There was a lot of time spent on it, a lot of work with the treasurer, we finally got the money, and did it!”

The help from several iSchool instructors has also gotten her through her first few years as an iSchool student, including Debbie Faires, Ruth Barefoot, Niall McCarthy and Cheryl Stenstrom. According to Natasha, their organizational skills and willingness to communicate have been extremely helpful.

“I love their teaching style. They don’t overwhelm you…they also provide all of the information you could possibly want on (the subjects they teach), with a lot of ‘oh, and you can also look at this to learn more’ options. I always appreciate that type of availability.”

The advice she has for current students? Check the course syllabi!

“I would recommend looking at the old syllabus of a class you’re going to take and look at the required reading materials, and reading those materials before the class starts. That’s been the only way I’ve been able to get through my semesters.”

Now in her last year as an MLIS student, Natasha is ready for what the future holds. Her goals going forward are to assume a leadership role in a public library, as she feels it suits her love of working with and being involved in the community. As a future library manager, she has what it takes to become a leader both as a librarian and a public servant.