Academic Movers 2014: In Depth with Sarah Sagmoen

Movers2014webBigSagmoenb Academic Movers 2014: In Depth with Sarah Sagmoen

In the latest of our In-Depth Interviews with Library Journal Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, sponsored by SAGE, we spoke with Sarah Sagmoen, learning commons and user services librarian at the University of Illinois Springfield’s Brookens Library. Hired as a visiting instructional librarian in 2009, Sagmoen was managing the reference desk and public computers by the end of her first year. In her third year at Brookens, her work inspired the library to create the position she now occupies. Between her academic duties and a lively student outreach program, she is busy building a strong community both inside the library and out. Photo by Janelle Gurnsey.

LJ: How did you jump into a job at an academic library straight out of library school?

Sarah Sagmoen: This was my first full-time librarian position. I was hired for a ten-month visiting position only. I looked at it as an opportunity to get my foot in the door, so mostly my focus was on getting as much experience as I could. And then I never left! We ended up being put into a hiring freeze, so the few of us who were hired on in visiting positions were allowed to get a second, and in my case a third, visiting contract.

In this interview series, sponsored by SAGELJ goes in depth with this year’s Movers & Shakers from academic libraries, delving into just how and why they pulled off the projects that brought them recognition as innovators, change agents, and more.

You wear a lot of different hats within the library and on campus, and you manage it all well. How do you prioritize everything so successfully?

I’m glad it looks that way! For me, it’s about just knowing that if I come to work and I’m productive all day, some days that’s the best I can do. It might not be what I intended to be productive on, but so long as I’ve taken advantage of the day to the best of my abilities, I just have to be happy with that.

Before I leave at the end of the day I make a to-do list for myself for the next day that has a variety of short, quick things I can do. That way if I find myself with ten to 15 minutes here and there I have a couple of little tasks I can knock out, whereas otherwise those little gaps can get wasted because you look at them and think ”that’s not enough time to get anything done.”

Also, it’s so important to take lunch. Get out of your office and don’t eat at your desk!

What projects do you have going on right now?

Right now we’re in the midst of a large project we started in summer [2013], where we completely revamped our student employment model. Previously we looked at student employees as a benefit for the library—they help us keep our doors open, they staff our major desks—and we turned it around to make it an opportunity for us to really teach them some things. We created two student manager positions, and we created a three-tiered circulation training module to train them to do basic reference. We’ve empowered them quite a bit and we expect more out of them. It’s exciting to see students taking on much more responsibility than they previously had, and the skills we’re teaching them are making them better students. They’re learning how to do research better to help other students at the desk, but they also take it back into the classroom.

You participated in the most recent Knight News Challenge for libraries—how was that experience?

I enjoyed it a lot. We’re in desperate need of a larger, more sophisticated classroom in our library. Our classroom only seats 20-25 comfortably and it’s not a lab—there are no computers, other than the computer and projector in the front, and it’s just not working for us. It seemed like a good opportunity for me to really work through how we would go about acquiring a classroom of the size we would need, and think about what technology we would need, what the process would be—because I work for the state we have to work with state contracts, and I can’t just work with any company I want to. I spent a day in my office and hung Post-it notes all over the walls and brainstormed.

Even [though my proposal wasn’t] selected, it was a good activity for me because we’re actually going to put some of those plans in place, at least the initial stages of allocating the funding. It was fun, and I feel that any time you’re forced to do something like that it’s useful. It’s like conference proposals—even if your proposal doesn’t get submitted it’s a nice activity to work through what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and whether or not it’s working. We don’t often reflect enough critically about what we do because we’re all just so busy.

How do you feel about the literacy skills in the students you teach?

That’s an interesting question because yesterday I and two of my colleagues did a faculty development session entitled “Getting Better Research from Your Students.” It was geared to the idea that the expectations college professors have aren’t matching what our freshmen are coming in with—due to a lot of factors, but mostly because school libraries are getting cut across the nation. There’s this expectation that college freshmen understand the difference, for example, between a scholarly and a popular journal. But they just don’t. It’s not any fault of the students’, it’s that the system has failed them in this way. We were presenting yesterday about creating better research assignment handouts to help students bridge that gap.

Who are the mentors who made a difference for you?

I have a really supportive group here, but most importantly, I work for a boss, Jane Treadwell, who’s very supportive of me—just having that person I know I can ask for quick advice on little things or big things, and also the knowledge that I don’t have to check everything with her. She trusts what I do, she trusts my decisions. I’ve been empowered from day one as very young, new librarian. She’s been more than instrumental in my career at this point.

What changes would you like to see at your library?

A chunk of my job is redesigning and managing the spaces within the library, and I would like to see better funding so we can get this [renovation] that we so desperately need—from little things like not enough outlets to bringing in technology and collaborative spaces, being prepared to serve our ever-growing population. I’d like to see us build that classroom so that we can really show what we do on a much larger scale—I think it would have a big impact on our campus. It would certainly have a big impact on us here within the building. It would be a good way to refresh and get excited about little things again. When you’re doing instruction in a new, cool space, it helps you imagine larger, cooler, more meaningful activities.

What would you tell someone starting out who wants to be a library leader?

I would say follow your passion. It’s more likely that you’re going to find something awesome to do if you’re passionate about it. Too often people think that those things have to be flashy or outside of the box. But they don’t have to be—they just have to be something you feel very strongly about, whether it’s helping incoming freshmen bridge that gap through information literacy, or creating collaborations outside your library building. That’s the thing that I’ve found I’m really passionate about, and that I just kind of fell into. I had a teaching background and I came in thinking that instruction was going to be my thing, and it wasn’t. I still love being in the classroom and doing instruction but I don’t do tons of it, or at least not as much as I used to, because I’ve moved into the outreach/partnership area. This opportunity fell in my lap and I took advantage of it.

As young librarians, so often we’re told we have to have these five-year plans, but the reality is you just don’t know what’s coming down the pipeline. Keep your eyes and ears open, and if something that you think is cool—or that you’re excited about—happens in front of you, take advantage of it, just roll with it and see where it goes. (This article was taken from Library Journal – online).

This article was featured in Library Journal‘s Academic Newswire enewsletter.  See the original article.

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Annual Dinner Reservations

There is still time to make your reservation to the Friends of Brookens Library Annual Dinner & Book Exchange scheduled for Wednesday, June 4, 2014. Please contact Bethany Burbridge by email at: or by calling 217-206-6597.

Friends Annual Dinner_2014 Invitation


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Annual Dinner, Book Exchange and Film Screening – June 4th

Friends Annual Dinner_2014 InvitationDear Friends,

We have a different but very special annual dinner planned for this year—instead of a speaker we will have a film screening of a new documentary about Jens Jensen, Living Green.  Because Jensen designed Lincoln Memorial Garden and some of the film was shot at the garden, Lincoln Memorial Garden is a co-sponsor of the film screening and we have invited interested LMG members to join us for dinner as well.  Since the film screening is at 7:00, the business meeting will be held before dinner.  Cocktail hour begins at 5:00 in the Sangamon Auditorium Lobby.

I should also mention that the filmmaker, Carey Lundin, will be here for dinner and the screening and will be discussing the film and taking questions after the screening.  I hope that you can join us for what should be a very interesting evening!

Jane Treadwell
University Librarian & Dean, Library Instructional Services
Chair, OCLC Americas Regional Council, 2013/2014



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Tea with Katherine Boo – RSVP today!

SPECIAL INVITE: Tea with Author Katherine Boo (4/1/14, 4:30 pm)

We are pleased to send you an exclusive invitation to a tea reception with author Katherine Boo scheduled to take place at 4:30 pm in the PAC Restaurant prior to her lecture and discussion on April 1, 2014. You will have a unique opportunity to meet the award-winning author of “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” in an intimate environment. Tickets are available on a first come, first serve basis at the cost of $25.

Reservations can be made with Bethany Burbridge by emailing: or by calling 217-206-6597. Please R.S.V.P by Friday, March 28th.

Tea with the Author_Boo_2014 Faculty_W

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Re-envisioning Services: A Peer-to-Peer Model

Some of you may have noticed the new sign that says “Get Help Here” at what was formerly known as the Information Desk.  The sign represents a change in the way that the Brookens Library provides reference services, one that empowers student assistants to take more responsibility and that recognizes the myriad responsibilities of a twenty-first century librarian.

As you may be aware, several years ago the Information Desk moved to a shared space with the Circulation Desk.  However, the two groups of staff did not share responsibilities and it was not uncommon for a patron to be directed from one part of the desk to the other.  In the intervening years, the number of in-depth consultations provided by librarians increased.  These consultations with an individual student typically lasted 15 minutes or longer, consuming an ever increasing amount of the librarians’ time.

To allow librarians more time for individual consultations and other instructional responsibilities, the library moved to a truly shared desk.  The librarian and the student assistant sit on the same level and a patron can be “handed over” easily from one to the other.  Also, for part of each day, the desk is staffed *only* by student assistants.  During these time periods, one librarian is on call and if a question goes beyond the basic level, the student assistant will call the librarian to the desk.  However, students have been trained to answer the less challenging reference questions.  In turn, reference librarians have been trained in circulation policies and procedures so that if the desk is busy they can help check out books.

When the question arose of what to call the merged desk, the student assistants suggested “get help here,” not realizing that was the name of the reference desk in the early days of Brookens Library.    So while there have been some changes at the desk, its purpose remains the same: we are here to help.

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SJ-R Article on Katherine Boo Appearance

By Chris Dettro
Staff Writer
Posted Mar. 9, 2014 @ 8:57 pm

Those who participated in the University of Illinois Springfield’s “One Book, One UIS” initiative last fall may want to refresh their memories. Katherine Boo, author of the award-winning book “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” is speaking at UIS April 1 after having been unable to appear last fall during the group book-read.

The background
The concept of a community reading project originated with the Washington Center for the Book in the late 1990s. The idea is to bring together people from varied backgrounds through the reading and discussion of a common book. Jane Treadwell, UIS librarian and dean of library instructional services, came up with the idea for the “one book” initiative at UIS.

She solicited ideas from the Friends of Brookens Library and the campus and Springfield communities before deciding on Boo’s “Behind the Beautiful Forevers.” The book won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2012, was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, and appeared on many best-book lists that year.

The book follows several inhabitants of Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai, India, that sits in the shadows of luxury hotels and the international airport. Boo examined the lives of four of these residents as the global economic downturn in 2008 and 2009 added to the tensions that already existed over issues of religion, caste and gender. Her portraits provide insight into globalization at the personal level.

Boo is a staff writer at The New Yorker magazine and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. Over the years, her reporting from disadvantaged communities has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur “genius” grant and a National Magazine Award for feature writing.

Panel discussions and other activities were held in conjunction with “One Book, One UIS” last year, and Boo was scheduled to be a guest and speak at the keynote event on Oct. 7. However, a health problem made it impossible for her to travel last fall.

What’s next?
Boo’s appearance has been rescheduled for 7 p.m. April 1 in Brookens Auditorium on the lower level of Brookens Library. The event is free and open to the public. “We were hoping to have her here for Women’s History Month (March) because she often writes about strong women,” Treadwell said. “We almost made it.” Treadwell said she hopes people who participated in “One Book, One UIS” will come to hear Boo speak in the smaller venue that doesn’t require reservations. The event was scheduled last fall in Sangamon Auditorium.

The “One Book, One UIS” initiative is being coordinated by Brookens Library and is supported by funding from Friends of Brookens Library, the Chancellor’s Office, the Diversity Center and the ECCE Speakers Series.

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Archives/Special Collections Receives Historic Postcard Collection

Recently, the Archives/Special Collections in Brookens Library received a gift of 500 historic postcards from Tierney Rasheed of Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. The cards were collected by Eva Humphrey Lacey (1883-1964), who received them from family and friends from the years 1906 to 1913. Many feature photographic scenes from towns and cities around Illinois and other parts of the United States, but there are also a variety of greeting cards with romantic, humorous, and holiday themes.

Eva M. Humphrey was born in 1883 in Bath, Illinois, the daughter of John G. and Margaret Humphrey. She grew up in an apartment above her father’s butcher shop. As a young woman she lived at various times in Athens, Bath, and Chandlerville.  In 1912 she married Pascal (“Pack”) Lacey and after her father died 1931 she and Pack turned his butcher shop in Bath and the floor above into their new home. They didn’t install electricity in the house until 1953. Pack had a fourth grade education and was a fishing and hunting guide. Eva had a high school education and worked as a nanny and volunteer nurse. Hemophilia ran in her family, so she avoided having children for fear of passing the disease onto them

Eva and Pack lived near Ernest and Helen Fletcher, the grandparents of Tierney Cima Rasheed (the donor of the collection). The Fletchers had ten children, including Tierney’s mother, Charlotte Donelda. At one point Donelda was very ill and could not keep food down. The childless Eva Lacey took Donelda into her home to take pressure off of Helen Fletcher, who was pregnant and had three toddlers and two dying children to take care of. Eva cured Donelda with unpasteurized milk and kept her in her home for four years. Eva retained the role of a foster parent to Donelda after she returned home to her parents. Donelda’s daughter Tierney also spent much time with Eva and Pack growing up, regarding them as foster grandparents.

When Eva Lacey died in 1964, Pack Lacey asked Tierney to choose some items to commemorate Eva. She chose this postcard collection, which now is preserved in Brookens Library.

lacey_0001 lacey_0002 lacey_0003

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