Editor’s Note: This post is the third in a series highlighting ACRL sections written by a group of ALA Emerging Leaders. Check ACRL Insider over the next several months for more. And don’t miss their posts on ACRLog as well.
English majors make great librarians. Generally, we like to read and we like to do research. We also like to critically analyze the ins and outs of texts until our friends and family ask “don’t you just read anything for fun?” That’s why, when there was a vacancy for the role of liaison to the English department at the university where I had been recently hired as a librarian, I jumped at the chance to fill it. Although I had left my English major days behind me to pursue the MLIS, it wasn’t so long ago that I was using the library for marathon research and writing sessions for my undergraduate classes in English literature. Looking back, I vividly remember my lack of confidence when it came to research: trying to figure out which databases to use, how to access the microfilm, which search terms to use to find criticism on my topic, and nervously approaching the reference desk for help.
Since then, I’ve made my liaison responsibilities to the English department one of my top priorities. I’ve made connections with teaching faculty and have a steady schedule of instruction for their classes. I’ve integrated myself into a few classes and meet with students one-on-one on an almost daily basis. In cooperation with department faculty, I work to select materials that I think will benefit students and try to connect students with those resources through the creation of online research guides. I feel like I’ve come a long way, but I’ve only been a librarian for a little less than two years and there is a lot that I just don’t know. It’s also easy to get into a holding pattern teaching students how to use the same research strategies, with the same resources, over and over again.
When my ALA membership came up for renewal last year, I realized that there was an ACRL section for Literatures in English (LES) listed on the membership form. Although I didn’t know much about the section at the time, I had high hopes that I had found a community where I could learn more about this specialized area of study and bring back what I discovered to the students and faculty at my university. Since then, I’ve signed up for the online LES discussion groups, attended an in-person discussion at ALA Midwinter in Boston this year, read the LES Blog regularly, and was just recently appointed to the LES Membership Committee.
I’ve found the three online discussion groups (New Members, Collections, and Reference) to be invaluable and the conversations that take place there have opened my eyes to so many more resources and issues than I would have known about otherwise. I found them to be a tremendous resource last semester when I was asked to provide ongoing support to a class on Victorian literature and sought suggestions for sources of primary materials from that period. I received responses from librarians across the country on excellent resource guides, databases and online archives, some of which I eventually used in an article for the “Internet Resources” column of College & Research Libraries News (“Internet Resources: Victorian Literature and Culture,” April 2010).
I’ve also learned a great deal about the various databases and print resources available for literary research and have been able to look critically at my own library’s collection and make more informed decisions about what materials to purchase. Although I am more often a “lurker” than a participant in many of the discussions that take place, I’ve learned a great deal from the contributors to the LES discussion groups and would highly recommend them to any librarian who has English literature responsibilities. Another great resource for the section is the LES Wiki where you can find information about committees, governance policies, a directory of LES librarians, links to the section newsletter, Biblio-Notes, and much more.
The LES discussion group I attended at Midwinter was also a great opportunity to meet librarians with similar responsibilities and interests and I look forward to attending more LES events at Annual this year. I’m also looking forward to serving on the Membership Committee and working with other librarians toward a common goal. And, to be completely honest, LES feels less overwhelming to me than some of the other ACRL sections. While I also plan to be involved with other sections in the near future, LES is the section where I know I can find a community of people who share my interests in literature and who want to help English students as much as I do.
In an organization as big as ALA, I think finding a niche like this is invaluable. So, if you’re a librarian who has responsibilities in English or if you’re a former English major who wants to get back to your roots, I would definitely recommend getting involved in LES.
Public Services Librarian
California State University, Fresno