Dr. Karen Brown (MA’77) is the recipient of the iSchool’s 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award. A longtime Badger, Dr. Brown first came to UW-Madison as an undergrad and proceeded to earn a master’s degree at the then named School of Library and Information Studies. Following, she moved on to pursue a doctorate in media ecology at New York University.
Dr. Brown knew pretty early on that she was headed for a career in libraries. “I saw it as a profession that opened up a world of possibilities,” she said. “On the first day of class, Professor Margaret Monroe entered the classroom, held up a book, and said, ‘Information is power. Remember that.’ I was hooked.” Drawn to the idea of connecting people with information and resources that could make a difference in their lives, Dr. Brown knew she had found her professional home in librarianship. She also found community in the iSchool program, which helped her build a strong network of colleagues—some of whom she’s known for 45 years.
In her professional practice, Dr. Brown works to tie research, theory, and practice together. Two projects in particular stood out to her as being the most meaningful: Assessment in Action, with the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), and CARLI Counts, with the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois, which both used action research as a means to investigate the impact of academic libraries on student learning and success. In addition, Dr. Brown credited her teaching experience at Dominican University, where she was a faculty member for 20 years, with providing plenty of opportunities for bridging theory and practice. “Before teaching any topic or issue in a course, I always ask myself, “What are the theories that provide grounding for this topic? How does LIS research inform our understanding of the topic?”
Teaching has been a continuous thread throughout Dr. Brown’s career, starting with a position at MERIT Library and continuing on to jobs at Bard College and Teachers College at Columbia University before landing at Dominican. Her favorite class to teach? Probably “Core Values, Ethics, and Issues in the Library and Information Professions,” in which, she explained, “Students come together in this initial course to study the historical roots of LIS and the core values that unite us as a profession.”
Asked for her advice for new graduates, Dr. Brown said, “Lean into uncertainty. Challenge assumptions. Ask questions. Find and enrich a professional community that feeds your passions.” She also encouraged welcoming the tenets of librarianship into other areas of life: “It’s so important to connect what we do with what’s happening in the world. Libraries don’t exist in a vacuum!”
Congratulations on your Distinguished Alumna Award, Dr. Karen Brown!
Dr. Brown was nominated by fellow alumna and 2014 Distinguished Alumna, Miriam Pollack (MA’78).