It has been fifteen years since Allison Kaplan joined the iSchool. In that time, she taught classes, advised students, and created a name for herself as the person with all the answers about the school library media program. She is now ready to retire and relax, and we asked her a few questions about her career before she left.
Describe the career path that led you to the iSchool.
Like many people in the library profession, my route was circuitous. As an undergraduate, I worked the science library evening shift at California State University, Northridge. After graduation, I entered UCLA graduate school to be an anthropologist studying the cultural aspects of dance; not a librarian. In graduate school (way before Google), my colleagues and I had problems finding the smaller specialty journals we needed because they were not being indexed in the usual reference sources. For some reason, my advisor sent me over to the library school for help (instead of sending me to the library!) and the next thing I knew, I was completing a double master’s degree: library and information science and dance!
Fast forward about six years – I was working at the library for the School of Education on the University of Delaware campus as a part-time cataloger when the department chair initiated a distance program to train school librarians. My colleague and I were able to set up a satellite program and I became the coordinator of the School Library Media Specialist program for about 12 years. During that time, I became involved in the Delaware Library Association and its school library division. I worked my way up to leadership roles in the American Association of School Librarians and even contributed a chapter on cataloging in a book for education librarians that was edited by UW-Madison’s Jo Ann Carr (the former director of what is now called MERIT). I never thought of myself as a leader, but I think it was my curiosity that kept pushing me to participate in these professional activities. It was exciting to learn from those who had been in the profession for a long time and then later to find myself as the sage.
What actually brought me to the iSchool was more serendipity than anything else. My husband was recruited to teach in the Department of Educational Psychology and I was fortunate enough that the iSchool (SLIS at the time) needed someone to coordinate the school library concentration. The fact that I could also teach cataloging sort of sweetened the deal and I was hired in 2006.
What were your favorite classes to teach at the iSchool?
When I taught cataloging in the iSchool and as I continue to teach it for the UW System School Library Education Program (UWSSLEC) to school librarians, it was, and for school librarians still is, a required course. There is something daunting about teaching a course when you know a significant number of students would rather be anywhere else. I hope I have been able to make the topic fun and interesting. It is, after all, the backbone of the profession: understand how information is organized and you understand not just how to put information away but how to access it again. How cool is that!?
Children’s Literature is also a joy to teach in part because the students want to be there and in part because that is my research area. Children’s literature isn’t always a sweet endeavor. Discussions in that class have raised some really thorny issues, but that is also what I like about it. I like pushing boundaries, making students think, and moving people out of their comfort zone. By that I mean making the die-hard sci-fi reader explore board books, or having the student who only reads fiction discover that non-fiction doesn’t have to be dull. I like to go from table to table (physical or virtual) to listen to the discussions and to maybe throw in an idea that hadn’t been considered before.
Tell us about professional accomplishments that stand out to you.
At the University of Delaware, the School of Education had a private school, grades 1-8, for children with learning disabilities. When I started working in the library for the School of Education, I thought it would be fun to have those children come to the education library for story time and book checkout. There was one child who was absolutely non-verbal. I don’t know what she was like in her classes but when the classes came to the library, she would sit in the corner, suck her thumb and rock back and forth. This went on for maybe two years. Then one day I read a book about horses and when I finished, she took her thumb out of her mouth and asked if I would read it again. While the other children in her class checked out books, I read the book to just her and then she checked it out. When this girl graduated from the program, she wrote me a letter thanking me for reading good books. I guess that is what (children’s librarian) Anne Carroll Moore meant when she said the goal of the children’s librarian was to find the right book for the right child at the right time. So, for me, it is a personal and professional accomplishment.
In 2012, I was awarded the L&S Academic Staff Excellence Early Career Award. What made that so special is that the nomination came from the department; from Dorothea Salo actually. I didn’t know I was nominated but it wasn’t just the surprise and happiness of getting the award, but, rather, it was the fact that as busy as Dorothea was (and is!), she took the time to complete the nomination and get the necessary letters of support. I was truly touched and honored.
Any advice for new graduates?
Surround yourself with people smarter than you and never miss an opportunity to take an opportunity. Remember, you wouldn’t be asked to do something if the asker thought you couldn’t do it!
Some really exciting opportunities came to me through professional associations. I started at the state level and highly recommend that as a starting point. Find your state association and fill out the volunteer form. Know someone in the state association? Let them know you are interested in volunteering. The profession only moves forward with the efforts of the folks in the trenches. Don’t like the way the professional association is doing things? Get involved. Say “yes.” Find your voice. The iSchool has a proud heritage of creating leaders. We believe in you!
What will you miss about the iSchool?
I will miss the people. The students who challenged me and those whom I challenged. I will miss the faculty and staff who supported me over these last 15 years. I will miss sitting in my office and having someone tap on my door saying, “Do you have a minute to chat?”