Katie Archambault (’03) began her IS career at the Microsoft site library in Charlotte. She has also worked as a public librarian, information specialist, independent research consultant and been a full time Mom. In 2007 she saw a unique job posting in the Times Free Press for an Assistant Librarian at Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, TN. It was at this job Archambault found her niche in independent school libraries. In August of 2013 she became Director of Research at the Emma Willard School in upstate New York (http://www.emmawillard. org/). The school is one of the nation’s oldest all-girl boarding and day schools in the country. She and her husband Paul and their three children, Riley (8), Jack (6), and Bryce (4) relocated to New York over the summer.
The following is an interview with Katie Archambault:
(SIS) Tell us about your current job responsibilities.
(KA) I am working in a school that is celebrating its Bicentennial this year and am in a very dated space with a massive print collection. I have been charged with reimagining the library to transform it into a 21st century space, a learning commons if you will. I am doing everything right now, including collection development, weeding, cataloging, circu- lation, providing reference instruction, creating book displays, collaborating with teachers, creating research guides, teach- ing everything from scholarly research to Googling like a librarian to the principles of intellectual property in the digital age. I have redesigned the library web site, streamlined database access, and am blogging, tweeting, and creating a digital newsletter to market library programs and services. I’m also teaching three seniors in an archival research class studying U.S. history through the lens of our amazing school archive and I’m an advisor to six freshmen, three of whom are day students, the other three are boarders from Massachusetts, Nigeria, and Japan.
(SIS) Did you imagine yourself in this role while you were a student?
(KA) No, I thought I would be working in the corporate world. I wanted to go into competitive intelligence and I took as many courses with Dr. Tenopir and Dr. Albright as possible.
(SIS) What is unique about your job compared to public school or public library jobs?
(KA) I work in a single sex school for one thing. It’s amazing to watch how girls engage and find their voice without boys in the classroom. Independent schools typically do not participate in any sort of state testing program so those super-stressed conversations that you might hear among public school folks, the binds of common core, going through rigorous evaluations, we are exempt from those. We can use them, of course, to better serve our community, but we are not bound by them. There is no “teaching to the test”; therefore, there is endless room for creativity. Our libraries are typically better funded than public schools. I have known public school librarians who have to provide their own copy paper, who rely on book fairs for their collection development funds, who have to pay for their own professional development. Not here—we typically have very healthy budgets and are encouraged to apply for any and all professional development funds. I have attended some amazing conferences in Toronto, San Francisco, Nashville, Denver, and Baltimore. I took a distance ed Programming for Young Adults class with Dr. Welch. I have taken some ALA courses online and I have traveled to roundtables and conferences, oftentimes presenting my own research and engaging in professional conversation throughout the state. I have time to be creative and I am encouraged wholeheartedly to be a leader. Teachers in my world have planning periods built into their days. They welcome me into their classroom to collaborate, but do not rely on me to create planning time, something I have heard happens in the public school world. Both independent schools that I have worked in have been college prep schools so we are using and teaching the same databases that students will use at the next level. We are not typically paid as much as public school librarians in terms of salary, but the benefits far outweigh the difference in salary. I serve a population of bright, motivated girls and an amazing, engaged faculty who genuinely want to be here, who are passionate about their education, and who take this opportunity very seriously. The girls fill their days with not only rigorous classes, but clubs, sports, activities, and community service projects. They travel to study languages, cultures, and to serve others. Our student body is made up of 336 girls from 35 countries and 23 states. 51% of students here are on aid, which allows for some amazing diversity in the classroom. I could go on and on about the strengths of program and electives offered that you would be hard pressed to find in public schools. Personally, I will say that partnering with these bright teachers—being invited in to teach students how to be critical information consumers say, in the context of a Shakespearean Gender Benders class—it’s just so much fun.
Did I mention that the school provides housing for my family? We are living in a 4 bedroom, 2 ½ bath house on one of the most scenic 137 acre campuses imaginable. The track and soccer field are adjacent to my front yard and there are 40 wooded acres full of running trails behind my house. The gothic buildings on campus, built in 1910, are like something out of Hogwarts. My colleagues are my neighbors and my students sit across from my family and me in the dining room. I’m finding that work at a boarding school is more than a job; it’s a way of life.
(SIS) What is your favorite part of the job?
(KA) The fireplace in the center of the library. Just kidding, though I do love it and I think it will be amazing when winter hits this southerner for the first time. My favorite part of this job is that I’m encouraged to dream and that I can look forward to seeing that dream (or some version of it) in action one day as the library redesign progresses. I also get to enjoy school breaks and summer with my kids, a huge bonus.
(SIS) Why do you think you bring special qualifications to the job?
(KA) I love developing relationships with people. Professionally, that helps market the library. Who doesn’t want to work with their friend, right? I am tech savvy and I like to play. I like making the library the intellectual hub, buzzing with activity, the ‘place to be’ on campus. If I don’t know how to do something, I pair it with a goal for the library and kill two birds with one stone, like learning iMovie in order to create book trailers. I like to blog and experiment with social media, connecting with students, and I love creating digital library newsletters which tend to connect with the adults. I am stubborn—a great attribute for a researcher—I love reading and talking books, and I love serving others
(SIS) What components of your degree program are helping you the most in your current job?
(KA) I think that the program was an awesome foundation for what I do now—programming and book talking for teens, web design, cataloging, collection development, the reference interview, and of course the advanced research techniques that I learned really do help in explaining advanced search features to my students. I was also a graduate teaching assistant for the communications department exposing me to the admin side of Blackboard, which has been very helpful, as well as lecturing, grading, etc. without an actual teaching degree. I also took a great Photoshop class as an elective—conveying information without using words. This has been surprisingly useful as I play with images for my newsletter, blog, etc.
(SIS) If you could give current students some advice, what would it be?
(KA) Look beyond a paycheck when you are considering your career options. Find something that you are passionate about. It will shine through your work. You cannot put a dollar value on a feeling of professional fulfillment years down the line. Utilize the practicum program—try out a variety of libraries. If you have time, interview or shadow professionals. See what a day in the life truly is like, don’t just imagine it. Take courses that teach you to market your library—you are going to have to convince others of your utility in any community that you serve. Pray for a good supervisor/mentor. If you don’t find it, find a mentor through the SIS program. Stay relevant, read professional journals, follow blogs, continue to take classes, learn new skills, don’t be afraid to take risks, network, follow job boards and when you see your dream job but know you aren’t quite there, make a to-do list of skills that you need to gain in order to get there the next time a job like it is posted.
(SIS) Likewise, what is your advice to prospective SIS students?
(KA) Do not be discouraged by articles questioning the future or relevance of libraries and librarians in the 21st century! It’s been happening since the card catalog was replaced with the OPAC. Many are calling us the ‘Sherpas of the Information Age’. Now, more so than ever, knowledgeable guides are needed to help people find the best information to suit their needs. Look into all of the potential fields that a degree from SIS can take you. Whether it’s a traditional or non-traditional path, the technological component of the program will prepare you for jobs that quite possibly haven’t even been thought of today. Cliché but true.
(SIS) What advice would you give to SIS graduates in their job search?
(KA) Create an online portfolio. Use it to show your comfort with technology and to present examples of your work. This will give you an edge over the vast majority of your competition right now. Keep your cover letter brief, showing that you read the position description and that you are qualified, and then give the URL for your portfolio. It should demonstrate your skills and show your personality. Use Dr. Robinson’s interview prep materials. They work!! Do your homework before you interview and have a list of questions prepared to ask them. You will show your interest and professionalism by being prepared. Be prepared to sell yourself—no one else is going to do it for you. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some, but you’ll learn something each time.
(SIS) Do you think it matters if a graduate receives a degree from an ALA accredited program?
(KA) I totally think it matters. The accreditation process is quality control in my mind. It is a constant reminder for program administrators to create and maintain a rigorous academic environment, to offer the most relevant courses, to hold themselves accountable year by year, and to best prepare students for the professional world. So many employers trust the accreditation process and therefore limit applicants to only graduates of ALA accredited programs. I can’t imagine risking wasting my time or money on a degree that is potentially useless in the job market or one that limits my marketability.
(SIS) What is the funniest or most gratifying experience you have had in your career?
(KA) After reading “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” a few years ago, I was determined to get as many people in my school to read it, teachers and students alike. I came up with a marketing campaign that included a borrowed TVA 6 foot model wind turbine spinning away in the library, 7th grade windmill art sculptures made out of recycled objects inspired by quotes in the book, and an assembly speaker from a local mega-wind turbine producing company comparing his company’s design with William Kamkwamba’s homemade one. We left for winter break and I had no idea how successful my campaign might be. We returned to discuss as a community. Our group consisted of twelve teachers and fifteen students. Success! After our book discussion, we watched William’s TED talks as well as trailers for its upcoming documentary, “Moving Windmills”. It was fabulous. I thought that was the end of it.
The next year, UTC chose the book as their all-freshman read. William arrived at UTC to speak to the student body right as Hurricane Irene struck the Northeast, delaying his return to Dartmouth. UTC had heard of our reading program and called to see if we might like to host him for a half day. Would we ever?!! Best.day.ever. Getting to meet him, to hear him speak with various STEM related classes and to hear the girls question the scien- tific principles he used to create his windmill, and then hosting him in the library for a book discussion and book signing…it was one of the best days of my life. I’m only afraid that he might have been a little overwhelmed with my Beatles Mania-like excitement to meet him.
Library site: http://emmalibrary.com
Archambault portfolio: http://katiearchambault.weebly.com