MLIS Student’s Essay Wins Scholarship and Trip to Association of Research Libraries Fall Forum


Choosing between an essay or a visual submission when considering her application format for the 2019 Julia C. Blixrud Scholarship, Madelynn Dickerson decided to write an essay. Her decision proved successful in exhibiting evidence of her creative thinking and passion for research libraries. The San José State University School of Information graduate student received the $1,000 scholarship and was invited to attend the Association of Research Libraries Fall Forum, themed “Research Libraries as Catalytic Leaders in a Society in Constant Flux.”  

Madelynn Dickerson, Wendy Blixrud Beckmann, Ellworth Beckmann

Dickerson, who received a Bachelor of Arts in Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master of Science in the History of Art: History, Theory and Display from the University of Edinburgh, currently works as a research librarian for digital humanities and history at University of California Irvine Libraries.

She said it was her involvement in a “library school interest group” for staff members who are interested in, or currently enrolled in, a Master of Library and Information Science degree program that encouraged her to apply for the scholarship. First an email went out to the group about the scholarship, and then the human resources librarian forwarded it to her directly. 

When considering the format for her application, she began looking over the submissions of previous awardees. While last year’s winner submitted a video, she decided to write the winning essay.

For Dickerson, the Fall Forum, held September 26, 2019, was an “an excellent experience,” and a unique opportunity to be in a room full of library deans and administrators from across North America as they discussed the ways in which research libraries are leaders in higher education.

The goal of the Fall Forum was to help librarians understand what research libraries are doing as catalytic leaders, and to discuss what more they can do to contribute to their institutions, the research and learning ecosystem, and society. The conversation focused on four areas:

  • libraries as strategic institutions in societal flux;
  • emerging opportunities for research libraries as collaborative partners in the changing research and learning ecosystem;
  • new forms of reality to advance research integrity and learning; and
  • next generation organizations, skills, and competencies needed for research libraries.

As a digital humanities librarian, Dickerson said she found the keynote speaker, Jaron Lanier, a philosopher-technologist considered a founding father of virtual reality, particularly relevant.

“He spoke about the way corporate giants like Google use our content to teach its machine learning programs, and the role of libraries as refuges from surveillance culture,” she said. “He called librarians the ‘keepers of context’ in a digital world in which context is so easily lost on the Internet.” 

A writer and a librarian, Dickerson is fascinated by the intersections between art and technology, and the idea of research as creative practice. Her publications include Librarians Doing DH: A Team and Project-Based Approach to Digital Humanities in the Library with Lydia Bello, Margaret Hogarth and Ashley Sanders, Collaborative Librarianship, July 2017 and Beta Spaces as a Model for Recontextualizing Reference Services in Libraries, In the Library with the Lead Pipe, May 2016.

Dickerson emphasized that one of the most meaningful parts of her trip to the Fall Forum was meeting the family of Julia C. Blixrud. “Everyone I talked to had wonderful stories about Julia and her impact on librarianship,” she said. “I was so glad to learn about her, and plan to stay in touch with her sister, whom I met while I was there.”

More information about the Julia C. Blixrud Scholarship and the application process can be found on the ARL website. Additional scholarship opportunities from the SJSU School of Information and professional associations can be found on the Scholarship web page.