What Brandeis librarians do behind the scenes
Cider, donuts and iMacs: what do all of these apple products have in common? They were all in the Brandeis Library on Thursday, Sept. 13, to mark the annual Meet Your Personal Librarian event, offering students the opportunity to mingle with their librarians over autumnal refreshments. Students could ask general questions, receive help with research, connect with various library resources or just get to know their personal librarian better. Among the attendees was Associate University Librarian for Research & Instruction Laura Hibbler, who talked about her job in an interview with the Justice, about what it’s like to be a personal librarian at Brandies.
Hibbler oversees the library’s Research and Instruction department, which entails working with classes, providing informational literacy instruction, helping with research assignments, consulting with individual students and more. “It’s really fun. I sometimes joke that I get to learn about everyone’s research projects and, you know, I don’t have to write the paper at the end!” she teased. “But I get to hear about all the cool stuff everyone else is doing,” she added.
She is also the personal librarian for first-years whose last names begin with L through M, explaining that the idea to provide new students (first-years and transfer students) with their own librarians originated a couple of years ago to help facilitate the transition from a high school library to a college library. As Hibbler put it, “there’s been some research done comparing the average high school library to the college library, and it’s just so much bigger –– and sadly, a lot of K-12 public school systems have had to even reduce library services –– so it can be a little overwhelming to come here.”
She said that the biggest obstacle in her job is simply having enough hours in the day for everything she does, emphasizing how much she loves her work and the people she works with. “There are really great people who are really passionate about what they do and really like helping people. I think Brandeis students are so engaged with learning, and I’m always so impressed to hear about what they’re researching,” she elaborated, adding, “The faculty here are amazing.”
Hibbler’s day-to-day work usually involves a couple shifts at the Research Help Desk and on the Chat Service, but beyond that, her work varies from answering general questions, to tracking down obscure sources, to preparing and hosting workshops. Her month-to-month work depends on how far along students have progressed in the semester. For example, in early September, the librarians shared news about course reserves, equipment students can check out and resources such as Getz Media Lab (now part of Sound and Image Media Studios) and the MakerLab. Later in the semester, with finals approaching, the librarians will advertise research help services, extended hours and de-stress events, such as the therapy dogs and farm animals brought last Spring.
Other recurring events that the librarians promote include the Artists’ Book Award (a judged art competition for students), Blind Date with a Book (book display for the week before Valentine’s Day), Voter Registration Celebration and Voter Absentee Jamboree (help or guidance registering to vote or submitting an absentee ballot), Edible Book Festival (creation of edible books to be judged in commemoration of the birthday of gastronome and author Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin), Pi Day at the Library (celebration of Pi by eating pie) and Printathon (24-hour competition to solve a practical problem using the MakerLab’s resources).
Hibbler especially enjoys the Edible Book Festival for its literature-inspired creativity and puns. She remembered, for example, that one of the winners from last year’s Festival was a rabbit sculpted from Velveeta cheese, inspired by the British children’s book “The Velveteen Rabbit.” “I’m always really, really impressed,” said Hibbler. “I enter it every year, and I never win, nor should I win … But I have fun doing it.”
One of the lesser-known sections of the library that Hibbler highlighted, was the Archives & Special Collections. Located on level 2, the department “houses Brandeis University’s unique and rare primary sources,” according to the Brandeis Library website. “Considering Brandeis is relatively young, the collection is really, really impressive,” she said, noting such highlights as the Shakespeare First Folio and Spanish Civil War Posters, as well as a history of Brandeis.
Ultimately, Hibbler sees the Brandeis Library as a gathering place on campus and an outlet for students going through a stressful period of studying. She reminisced how during the eclipse in summer 2017, students and library staff gathered outside the library to watch the eclipse with eclipse glasses, which everyone shared while eating Starbursts and Milky Ways. “It was just a really neat way to bring people together,” she recalled. “And I think libraries can often serve that role on campuses, and we really try to serve that role.”