Jen led her team to a Governor’s Award for Continuous Improvement in 2014. Left to right: Brenda Cassellius, Commissioner of the MN Dept of Education; Jackie Blagsvedt, Library and Youth Literacy Specialist; Jennifer (nee Iserman) Verbrugge ('99), Library Program and Partnership Coordinator; Emily Kissane, State Library Program Specialist; Jen Nelson; Kevin McHenry, Assistant Commissioner, MN Dept of Education
Jennifer (Jen) Nelson (’87) is the Director / State Librarian for the Minnesota Department of Education. Read on to learn how she is using her SLIS degree to cultivate a unique career.
What was your career path that led you to becoming the Director / State Librarian?
Becoming state librarian was not a career aspiration, but has ended up being a perfect place for the range of experience I’ve gained over 30 years of work in libraries. As a college student, I worked in the university archives, which gave me grounding in the principles of preservation and description. While in library school at UW-Madison, I worked at Wisconsin Library Service (WILS), which gave me firm footing in resource sharing and library technology. With an MA in political science in addition to my MA in library science, I was pretty convinced that my career would be in the direction of academic libraries. However, shortly after graduating, I moved to Minneapolis and was fortunate to land at the Minneapolis Public Library.
It turns out that working in a large urban public library with a deep research collection and diverse patron base was the perfect fit. Over the next 20 years, I had a myriad of opportunities to grow and develop as a professional. I worked as a children’s librarian, reference librarian in business and technology, electronic resources coordinator and partnership coordinator. Along the way, I developed an interest in informal learning, emerging technologies, working with cultural communities, employment and small business and youth development. Great mentors including Lois Ringquist, Susan Tertell, Melinda Ludwiczak and Kit Hadley were instrumental in helping me to push my personal boundaries to improve library service and understand libraries as cornerstones of community learning. I worked on dozens of interesting projects, learned to develop compelling grant projects and even published a book. So when there was an opening at Minnesota’s State Library Services, it felt like a natural move. And when the position of director/state librarian came open, I thought my full complement of experience would make me a strong candidate. So while I didn’t set out to be a state librarian, I really prepared myself to be one!
Will you describe what a typical day is like for you?
A typical day is a mixture of activities – I won’t even mention the deluge of email. I lead a small but vibrant staff team; a portion of the day is almost always spent providing guidance or support to help them further their work. Phone conversations and in person meetings to deal with emerging issues or move projects ahead. Often preparing communications, planning (or plotting :) ) strategies to help bring together resources to better support libraries and library service; and I’m often asked to interpret statutes or to provide guidance to local parties.
Please tell us about a goal or two you have in your current position.
A primary goal I have is to continue to align the activities of my division more closely with the Department of Education’s goals of improving early learning and closing the achievement gap to help Minnesotans achieve their dreams. In doing this, we’re building relationships within the department and a number of external organizations to ensure that libraries are part of important conversations about the future of learning at statewide and local levels. I’m also looking forward to finding ways to connect the good work that’s happening in Minnesota’s libraries to what’s happening elsewhere in the country.
How has your time at SLIS influenced your career?
My time at SLIS provided a solid and strong foundation for all that I’ve done. Early in my career I drew on what I learned about reference service from Jack Clarke and Wayne Wiegand; the library automation and online searching classes I took (in the days before the internet) helped me understand how computers function. More recently I find myself turning back to lessons in library marketing gained from Darlene Weingand and library management from Prudence Dalrymple. Even today I remember a guest lecturer, the director of a county library system in Wisconsin, who came and talked about the paths her career took – much different than planned but utterly satisfying.
Congratulations to the 2015 award winners! Awards will be presented at the SLIS graduation ceremony on May 17.SLIS Distinguished Alumna Award
Awards from Beta Beta Epsilon Chapter, Beta Phi Mu
Outstanding Student Scholar
Kathleen Fox, Mary Kate Kwasnik, Katelyn Martens, Darcy Poletti Harp, Carolyn Vidmar
Jack Clarke Scholarship
SLIS Student Awards
Lawrence C. Zweizig Student Leadership Award
This award recipient is a continuing student and is selected by a vote of the student body.
James Krikelas Award for Innovative Use of Information Technology
This award goes to SLIS students who have presented the innovative use of information technology through a SLIS course assignment.
Dianne McAfee Hopkins Diversity Award
This award recognizes students for their work on behalf of diversity.
Lawrence Jacobsen Innovations in Library Science Scholarship Award
This award recognizes a continuing student focused on academic or special libraries who demonstrates a potential to be a difference maker.
Penelope and Stephen Klein Scholarship Award
This award goes to an excellent continuing student with a background in the humanities and a commitment to public library work.
The Beatrix Award of Stephen and Penelope Klein Award
This was created to support an international student interested in public librarianship.
Valmai Fenster Award for Outstanding Promise for Exceptional Scholarly Contribution to the Profession
for the paper “Cardboard Counterpublics: Cartoneras and/as Collective Pleasure In and Out of Argentina”
for the paper “The Power of the Press: Newspapers’ Significance in Wisconsin’s Push for Statehood”
The Midwest Archives Conference was held in Lexington, KY on May 6-9. Many SLIS students, staff, and alumni attended this annual gathering of archivists from 13 heartland states. SLIS students created 13 of the 16 submissions at the poster session and took home all three of the top prizes (see photos below). It's wonderful to see strong and successful student participation. Congratulations to all!
First Place Poster: Harvey Long
"From the Bottom Up" Digitizing Oral Histories of the Civil Rights Movement
Second Place Poster: Molly McBride, Melissa Schultz, Ryan Welle
Planning for the future: Assessing preservation needs at the Middleton Area Historical Society
Third Place Poster: Sam Snyder
Hangin' Out at UW: Promoting an archives through ""reblogs, "retweets," "likes" and "views"
Congratulations to Dr. Sharon McQueen!
Dr. McQueen, an assistant professor at Old Dominion University, has won the 2015 Justin Winsor Library History Essay Award. The award is presented by the Library History Round Table of the American Library Association "annually to the author of an outstanding essay embodying original historical research on a significant subject of library history." Her winning essay focuses on gender nonconformity in the classic children's book, The Story of Ferdinand.
Read more about the award and Dr. McQueen on ALA's site.
The Grand Opening of the Red Cliff Library
Ten-year-old Leora DePerry, center, participated April 18 in the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Red Cliff Library. Alexia Boyd, 10, and librarian Nancy Newago observed as the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians celebrated the library’s grand opening. The reservation has lacked a public library since 2008.
Photo and article by Troy Espe ('12)
RED CLIFF INDIAN RESERVATION — Since Reggie Cadotte became a parent seven years ago, no local library has existed for his three children. So when the Red Cliff Library opened this month, the 36-year-old father wasted little time.
“My son was the first one to get a library card here,” Cadotte, of Red Cliff, said. “We love books.”
The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians celebrated the opening of the Red Cliff Library on April 18. The reservation, located on the northern tip of Wisconsin, had lacked a library since 2008, when the former building closed.
More than 50 people attended the gala. Conducted in English and Ojibwe, the reception featured dedications, music, gifts, prayers, and reunions.
“We now have our library open,” Red Cliff Tribal Council chairperson Rose Gurnoe-Soulier said at the event. “It’s been a journey getting here today.”
The opening ceremony attracted more than 15 people from the UW-Madison library school. For the past seven years, School of Library & Information Studies students, faculty, and alumni have worked with the Red Cliff Ojibwe to reestablish a library on the reservation.
“It’s one thing to plan and research, but to come and see the finished product is overwhelming,” said alumna Janetta Pegues, manager of the Goodman South Madison Public Library. “It’s so beautiful.”
Funded by a grant from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux in Minnesota, Red Cliff Library is located in the tribal administration building. Space became available when the reservation opened a state-of-the-art medical clinic last year.
The library contains 3,000 books, including American Indian literature and reference materials. The space also features a children’s corner and public computers. The library plans to offer storytime and youth reading programs. The grounds boast garden plots and beds of sage and sweet grass.
“A library is not just all about books,” Gurnoe-Soulier said. “It’s a place with many opportunities.”
Red Cliff Library’s slogan is ginanda gikendaasomin, which means “we seek to learn” in Ojibwe.
“We all continue to learn,” said librarian Nancy Newago, a Red Cliff tribal member. “The library is an extension of that.”
Christina Johnson was among three UW-Madison graduate students who visited Red Cliff shortly after its library closed in 2008. Although it took seven years to reopen, the wait was worth it, alumni said.
“I knew it would be many years. It doesn’t happen overnight,” said Johnson, executive librarian of Globe University in Green Bay. “It’s better than expected. It’s beautiful. I’m so proud of all the people who have come together over the years. It’s amazing what has all come out of it.”
UW-Madison library students and administrators have continued to visit Red Cliff. In October, volunteers assembled shelves and unboxed books that had been stored at a fire station.
Although 300-miles apart, Red Cliff and the library school have developed a bond. At the ceremony, Red Cliff leaders presented handmade dreamcatchers to library students.
“They have become part of our community,” Gurnoe-Soulier said. “I cannot thank you enough.”
The UW-Madison library school has benefited from the partnership, administrators said. The project has spawned a three-credit course, a student group, and conferences.
“These seven years represent seven generations of School of Library & Information Studies students,” said Louise Robbins, retired UW-Madison library school director. “These years have been transformative for the library school.”
Library student Megann Schmitt enrolled in the Tribal Libraries, Archives & Museums course this spring at UW-Madison.
“I’ve never worked on such a grassroots library project,” she said.
The Red Cliff Tribal Council has set aside 40 acres for a future community center that will include an expanded library and a language-immersion school.
“We have a limited library now,” Newago said, “but it will grow.”
SLIS is proud of its tradition of innovative research and teaching, ever looking backward and reaching forward to answer the most interesting questions while preparing students for the changing needs of the profession. Therefore, SLIS was excited to be invited to join the iSchool consortium, an organization of programs at the forefront of information research and education.
The iSchool designation reflects what SLIS has always been doing: generating scholarship that questions assumptions about information in society and producing inquisitive, creative and dynamic professionals working at the intersection of people, information and technology.
The iSchool designation will also help SLIS attract undergraduate students to take SLIS’s Digital Studies course offerings. Undergraduate students will become tomorrow’s new information professionals, and numerous students who have taken SLIS’s undergraduate courses have gone on to apply for the MA program in Library and Information Studies.
Please celebrate with the School of Library and Information Studies as we adopt the new nickname “SLIS: the iSchool at UW-Madison.” As part of this effort, SLIS created the iSchool mark (above) to market the program to undergraduates and new audiences. SLIS will use the iSchool mark in conjunction with our official University of Wisconsin School of Library and Information Studies logo.