University of Wisconsin–Madison

Alumni Profile: Rita Ormsby (MA’92)

It was not a straight road to librarianship and a 2020 induction into the Special Library Association (SLA) Hall of Fame for Rita Ormsby (MA’92). Rita’s career started with a journalism degree, editing the quarterly publication for the Center for Rural Affairs, and continued with twelve years as a legal assistant in Minnesota. After volunteering for the public library in Minneapolis, she decided to apply to the Masters in Library and Information Science program at UW-Madison in the early 1990s.

While studying in Madison, Rita focused on learning as much as she could about the variety within library and information professions. Reference practica under Michael Enyart of the Business Library and Ron Larson (MA’78) at the Madison newspapers, and working in interlibrary loan services and at UW Hospital libraries all helped Rita learn about the different shapes librarianship could take. She recalls, “I tried to take courses that helped develop practical skills, as I knew I wanted to do reference work. I found Louise Robbins, in her first year of director, as being very encouraging.” Additionally, being a student member of SLA provided contacts with Madison librarians and offered opportunities to gain experience with informal learning experiences.

After graduation, Rita moved to New York City and worked at the Brooklyn Public Library, Dibner Library at Brooklyn Polytechnic University, and Bobst Library at New York University. Eventually, Rita was hired by Baruch College. She began as an information services librarian at the William and Anita Newman Library, eventually achieving tenure and the rank of associate professor. It is here she realized the rewarding aspect of introducing students, who were often the first of their family to attend college, to information resources and watching them advance to pursue their own careers.

As for the SLA, Rita has been involved with the association since she attended the iSchool (SLIS at that time). She was co-president of the student chapter, and she attended New York chapter meetings while working at the Brooklyn Public Library. Over the years, she organized programs for the annual conference and contributed book reviews, leading her fellow information professionals to recognize her contributions by nominating her to the SLA Hall of Fame. In response, Rita states, “I spent most years in awe of the work and accomplishments of many members of the association and the New York chapter so I was surprised to receive the award.” She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in October 2020 at the (virtual) SLA Conference.

Through all of her years as an information professional, Rita hasn’t forgotten her time in Madison. Specifically, the lessons of the barbeques outside of Helen C. White Hall. “Although I worked diligently at my studies and my career, the barbecues were a reminder that there’s much more to life than studying in a library that one should experience.”