Jewell Porter, ‘16: So, where are you from? Melissa Engleman: It’s actually pretty complicated. I was born in Dayton, Ohio, but we left when I was two, so I grew up in the Kentucky State Park System. We moved around a lot. Then my husband and I moved to Minnesota. We’ve also lived in Wisconsin and now back in Ohio.
J: Cool, where did you receive your degrees from and in what fields?
M: I have a B.A. in creative writing with a minor in biology from Murray State University –– that’s in Kentucky [and] an M.A. in literature from the same University. A few years later, I went to library school at the University of Kentucky, where I earned a Master’s in Library Science.
J: And what’s your new title here at Denison?
M: Assistant Director for Education and Research.
J: So, what does that mean?
M: That means a few things. I’m providing oversight for Circulation. I’m also working with the liaisons through the instruction program and working with Reference. Basically, I see my position here as doing all I can to assist in facilitating library services. So, my job is to help others do their jobs.
J: Awesome! What made you apply for this job in particular?
M: I really like the small liberal arts focus [and] working with students at this point in their lives. It’s very transitional. It’s very chaotic. I feel like, as a librarian, I can help them make sense of some of the chaos. The other thing – and this showed in the interview – was the library staff. They’re really knowledgeable and very friendly, and they’re happy with what they do. I wanted to join the group.
J: What do you like most about being a librarian?
M: Helping people, because that’s essentially what we do. We help them access information, locate it, make sense of it… I really like seeing the “Aha!” moment that people have when they’re researching.
I also like to help people reduce their anxiety and stress levels when it comes to information… A lot of students will come [for help], and they’re frantic and they’re stressed, they’ve got an assignment due, they can’t find anything relevant, and it’s great helping them [and] watching them breathe out a sigh of relief.
J: You were a team leader for an ACRL assessment project that focused on demonstrating the value of academic libraries. What are some ways that academic libraries are commonly undervalued?
M: People assume that academic libraries are the same creatures they were 10-20 years ago. They’ve changed dramatically … Instruction is a good example of that.
Many people I’ve worked with in the past thought library instruction meant “bibliographic instruction.” I always end up visibly cringing when I hear that term. I think this assumption that library instruction is what it was a decade or more ago has led to a misunderstanding about information literacy. Many people outside library land assume we mean old school instruction… We, of course, still give students the how-tos when it comes to accessing our catalogs, databases, archives, etc.
But information literacy goes beyond that to convey the ways in which information is created, packaged, accessed, managed. All the layers and details of plagiarism, including the importance of student voices. The Why, not just the How.
The most rewarding IL experience I ever had was teaching a 3 credit IL course in Kentucky. It was amazing. The students and I spent a semester exploring history, communication, technology, visual literacy, information ethics, cultural views on plagiarism, critical thinking, and more. Some campuses I’ve worked at really supported librarians as teachers (faculty retreats, professional development in pedagogical strategies, support for research and scholarship in teaching and learning, etc.), and it created a wonderful collaborative culture. I think that’s key in overcoming any undervaluing of academic library services - seeing the library as an equal in student learning, engagement, and success.
J: What do you wish more college students knew about libraries?
M: That you’re not bothering us when you ask us for help! I see that at reference desks everywhere … Students walk up to the reference desk and go “I’m sorry to bother you, but I need some help.” We want you to ask us for help.
I want students to know that if they want to knock on my office door, they’re more than welcome to do that. And it’s not just about students asking us for help. If a student has an idea … come up to the desk and talk to me!
J: Other than librarianship and education, what are some other interests that you have?
M: Anybody who knows me for more than five minutes knows that my husband and I have three fur babies. We have two cats, and I love them dearly, but the baby of the family and the one I dote on the most is a Corgi named Pixie Dust… I take her to parks because she likes to go swinging. Seriously, I have a picture! She’s great.
I’m also really fond of sci-fi, anime, comic realms, fantasy. Anything along those lines. They help me decompress outside of work.
J: Being new to Denison, what are some things that you like about it?
M: I really like the sense of community. Every staff member I’ve met, the faculty members I’ve met, the librarians I’ve met, up to President Weinberg… Everybody cares about making sure that the students are engaged and that they want to be here and that they’re mentored and that we give them a positive educational experience.
J: Is there anything else that you want the community to know about you?
M: I really like … hearing what people are thinking. I’m a communicator. I like to have conversations. If students, faculty, staff see me around campus or around town and they want to stop me and chat, please feel free!