University of Wisconsin–Madison

Alumni Profile: Janet Tom (MA’99)

iSchool alumna Janet Tom (MA’99) was one of ten librarians across the country to be awarded ALA’s 2019 “I Love My Librarian Award” for her work at the San Francisco Public Library. Co-workers and patrons nominated Tom for her excellent reference skills and her dedication to the San Francisco community through unique educational programming and service. Tom was particularly successful with the “Death and Dying” discussion series hosted by SFPL to help people prepare for death in a healthy, comprehensive manner. Tom lauds libraries for their ability to create discussion and educate: “Most of all, I’ve learned that a lot of people, especially our growing population of baby boomers, (and I am among them) want to come together to a place like the library, because it provides a safe and welcoming place to learn about this often-viewed-as-taboo subject, something that will happen to each and every one of us.”

Some of Tom’s other programming projects at SFPL have included topics such as housing, alternative medicine, nourishing diets, and healthy living. The employees at SFPL have built such a diverse and service-oriented institution, the library was awarded the Gale/LJ Library of the Year in 2018 for its community partnerships and programs. In addition to bringing relevant and diverse programming to her patrons at SFPL, Tom loves helping individual patrons find the exact information they need through reference work. “When I can find the right resource to answer the right patron’s question at the right time, it’s sheer joy.”

Tom works to create community wherever she goes. When she returned to school to earn her MLIS at the iSchool, she was in her forties. Tom established a group for other women over forty to study together and discuss shared struggles and interests. She still uses this skill to form groups to inform her library work today. “I’ve found that getting together with small groups generates great discussions. I still do that now, i.e. get together with a group of colleagues, friends or library patrons to discuss their interests, what they’re reading and what kind of programs they’d like to see at the library.”

Curiosity and passion are at the heart of Tom’s advice for current or future iSchool students. She hopes that iSchool students cultivate curiosity and try a number of ways to use their library degrees so that they stay interested and passionate about their work, no matter what their field is. Tom attributes Joseph Campbell’s following words as her guide to living life: “Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you.”

Janet welcomes connecting with other alumni and friends. Her email address is janet.tom@gmail.com