Meet one of OLA’s 5,000 members. An interview with random OLA member #34: Helen McDonnell, CEO, Callander…
Meet one of OLA’s 5,000 members. An interview with random OLA member #18: Courtney Waugh.
Courtney Waugh is a Research & Instructional Services Librarian at the D.B. Weldon Library at the University of Western Ontario. She is a liaison librarian to several social sciences programs, including Anthropology, First Nations Studies, and Geography. As befits a column on the randomness of librarianship, Courtney and I met for the first time at the Calgary airport last year when she was en route to a workshop on evidence-based librarianship in Regina and I was en route to a qualitative research workshop in Edmonton. I had caught a glimpse in the bathroom mirror in the terminal and said to myself, “Yikes, I’m disheveled. Good thing I don’t know anyone here!” As I turned around, I saw Krista Hoffman, a librarian from UWO, who introduced me to Courtney. Librarians are everywhere….
So, Courtney, this interview is the first to be published exclusively online as part of the new, rebranded OLA online publication, Open Shelf. What are your thoughts right now on the death of paper?
I feel a bit like I’m caught between generations. I’m fairly traditional in my approach and I don’t like reading on a device. It’s tricky because I think there are many more questions than answers right now. I can’t say it’s a terrible thing, at least not for serials and meeting user expectations for electronic access, but I do have concerns about the openness of that access, as well as questions about online preservation as it relates to things like government information. I don’t think I mourn the death of paper though because I’m not convinced that that paper is dying, at least not completely for books yet.
My last interview with Laura Newton Miller ends with “Don’t forget to ask Courtney how she met her husband!”
We met excavating a cemetery. I’m from North Carolina, but was living in Houston, Texas working as a contract archaeologist and I drove up to Delaware for this job. John was living in the hotel room next door and the Texans and Canadians tended to bond very quickly—maybe it’s an independent spirit and huge landscape that we have in common. We then moved to St Catharines, where he’s from, and worked in Buffalo for a while, and I’ve been at Western Libraries for almost ten years now.
How did you switch from archaeology to librarianship?
Even as I was finishing graduate school in Biological Anthropology, I was already thinking about librarianship. I enjoyed cultural resource management archaeology, but it’s demanding on your body and it’s not a stable career. The draw of librarianship is that I’m interested in all kinds of academic disciplines from the sciences and humanities, and like cultural resources management archaeology, librarianship is a public service so it felt like a natural transition.
Could you describe your surroundings right now?
I’m at the library in a meeting room and I’m looking out onto the concrete beach on campus. There’s dim lighting and it’s good for people watching out the window.
Anywhere you’d rather be?
Honestly? On a road trip with no destination in mind. I’d just drive and see where the road took me. I’d head south or west—anywhere where it’s a little bit warmer.
What kind of snacks would you take along?
Salty snacks. I like my chips and popcorn. I guess I’d also need a drink. Water, and Coca Cola. I have a love-hate relationship with Coke, which errs on the side of deep and abiding love.
I saw that you recently collaborated on a presentation about the value of informal networks for librarians. That seems like a topic that is precisely what this column is about. Tell me more.
Informal communication between colleagues is just as important as formal communication, and in fact, sometimes our formal structures don’t allow for meaningful, organic conversations to take place. We need to make time for these deeper conversations about issues and allow for serendipitous opportunities and connections to happen, and not just among librarians, but with other colleagues on campus too.
So how do you do that?
Personal relationships are very important to me. I’m part of a semi-regular (about twice a month) gathering after work at the Grad Club, and for those that can’t make it, I try as often as I can to go for coffee with colleagues. I’ve met faculty through my formal liaison role, but I’ve also formed some true personal relationships with some and got to know them in a different way. We have lunch together, and we get to know each others’ shared interests on Facebook.When I’m in their classes for library instruction, I approach things at a personal level. I’m a very open book kind of person.
What role do randomness and chance play in your life?
A lot. Serendipity played a tremendous role in how I met my husband. There had to be a bizarre alignment of factors for that scenario to happen. The best relationships in my life have happened because of chance. Think of browsing—and just being open to new things. I am reading a lot about mindfulness and how being in the moment opens you up to chance encounters and new connections.
What are you most pleased and proud of in your life?
My children. I have two kids (ages 6 and 2 ½) and I have to say that I can’t imagine my life without them. I am so pleased that they are turning out to be happy, well adjusted kids. So far so good.
What’s the scariest thing about being a librarian?
The scariest thing? Well, large crowds of people at conferences can be unnerving.
And I don’t know if I would call it scary, but the uncertainty in the way that librarians roles are changing and the rapid changes in the information landscape produce that kind of roller coaster anxiety that combines fear of the unknown, total excitement for what’s to come, and periodic bouts of nausea for good measure! I suppose I sometimes wonder how relevant my own personal work will be, or how I can make it more relevant, but I don’t question the future of librarianship.
How important is “librarian” to your identity?
It’s near the top of the list of how I would describe myself. My professional identity has always been important to me. Librarianship aligns with my personal values of social justice and activism. I look at librarianship as a social movement, though I didn’t expect that. I work at a fairly conservative university, and although activism occurs on some level, I think we could do more to challenge the status quo. I see libraries as a force that can move things forward. There is a trend in higher education toward corporate management and accountability which is in tension with some core values of libraries like upholding freedom, and open access. But libraries and librarians can also be a bridge to bring these things together.
If you were to get a librarian tattoo, what would it be and where would you put it?
Well, I wear glasses, and that’s kind of stereotypical of librarians, so a think I would tattoo an extremely tiny pair of glasses onto my pinky toe. I’m not really a tattoo person. I totally appreciate it as an art form but I’ll let other people do it and I’ll appreciate it from afar.
The last two questions are courtesy of Laura Newton Miller, whom you met in library school, and who selected you for this interview. Question Number 1: Tell me about a brush with celebrity. Question Number 2: Tell me about your favourite meal ever.
I was once on a flight with Colin Mochrie. I didn’t talk to him, but when we got off the plane, I pointed him out to my husband and said, “He’s the guy from This Hour has 22 Minutes!” And here’s a geek moment. On another flight I sat next to the historian, David McCullough—he’s written a biography of Truman and the Johnstown flood. I told him how much I liked his work. There’s a lame librarian brush with celebrity! As for food, I love food, and though I do follow food blogs, I wouldn’t call myself a foodie. I would have to say my favourite meal is down home comfort food, something like a Southern breakfast buffet with biscuits, gravy, grits, and grease.
Can you give us a teaser about the next OLA member you’ve picked to be interviewed for this column?
Lorna Rourke. I have only met Lorna once at the Canadian Association of University Teachers conference but we’ve become Facebook friends and I have learned through that relationship that we share a lot of common interests. I would like to know more about her!
Robin Bergart is a User Experience Librarian at the University of Guelph Library. The Random Library Generator column interviews OLA members; the current interviewee was selected by the previous interviewee.