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Librarians Tell Their Own Stories

Harvey S. Firestone Library, Princeton University. (Shutterstock.com)

As Libraries Write New Chapters

Compiled by Wendy Greenberg

Libraries, like most other organizations, have seen a decade adapting to new technology, to shutting down completely in the pandemic, taking on new community roles, and reopening, some with changes. Through it all, librarians have been steadfast leaders of their staffs and captains of their physical spaces.

An article in Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, notes that in a 2011-2016 Pew study of public libraries, “researchers found that trust in librarians remained high because of their proven ability to curate and share reliable knowledge.”

Thirty-three days after Jennifer Podolsky started as the Princeton Public Library’s executive director in 2020, she had to close the building.

“The world changed that week, and suddenly the story of 2020 for Princeton Public Library would be how we adapted to that change,” Podolsky recalls. “The library reinvented itself on the fly, finding new ways to serve its customers, and the greater Princeton community, while its physical space and collection were off-limits.”

But during that time, people realized “the library is more than just a building and physical objects,” she says. “It is about a dedicated staff, delivering all kinds of resources to help people realize their dreams.”

For Anne Jarvis, head of the Princeton University Library, “each day brought new challenges, but my colleagues stepped up to find innovative ways to provide library services and ensure access to our collections for teaching, learning, and research. It was both exhausting and exhilarating.”

With a history of being visible, and suddenly invisible, says Consuella Askew, Rutgers University librarian, “the pandemic forced many higher education institutions and their libraries to pivot to remote learning and service delivery.

“Academic libraries have been aware for some time of the changes in how students are using our spaces. We have conducted space usage studies to inform space programming to accommodate these changes. However, COVID added another wrinkle to this rather straightforward approach. When libraries were  closed during the pandemic, we had to find another way to support the ways our students study. We did so by creating a fourth space and providing a preponderance of library resources and many of our services online. We are now balancing our delivery of resources and services between these virtual and physical spaces.”

The theme of this year’s National Library Week (April 23-29) was “There’s More to the Story.” Here some of the area’s librarians reflect on their careers, and recommend a few books, as they show that there is indeed more to the story.

Anne Jarvis (Photo by Denise Applewhite)

Dean of Libraries and Robert H. Taylor 1930 University Librarian
Princeton University Library

As university librarian at Princeton University Library since 2016, Anne Jarvis oversees one of the world’s foremost research libraries, consisting of the Harvey S. Firestone Library and nine branch libraries. She came from the University of Cambridge, England, where she worked as deputy librarian and university librarian — the first female university librarian in Cambridge’s 800-year history.

A native of Ireland, Jarvis holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Trinity College Dublin, a postgraduate diploma in library and information studies from University College Dublin, a master’s degree in communication and cultural studies from Dublin City University, and a Master of Arts from the University of Cambridge.

Trinity, Cambridge, Princeton

“The major difference really is the longevity of the three extraordinary world-renowned libraries where I have been really fortunate to work: The Library of Trinity College Dublin (Ireland), Cambridge University Library (England), and more recently here at Princeton University Library,” says Jarvis. “Cambridge University dates back to 1209 and Trinity College Dublin was established by royal charter in 1592. Princeton is the youngster, having received its charter in 1746. While each library is unique in terms of its history and distinctive collections, more significant are their shared values, their commitment to great national and international scholarship, the democratization of information, service-ethos, and international reputations.”

On Becoming a Librarian

“I have always loved libraries and what they stand for. As a child, my Saturdays were spent at the local public library in Ireland — a place where I could explore new interests within the covers of the physical books. I also remember the multiple volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica arriving at our home with my mother saying to me and my brothers that we could now look up everything we wanted to know. It was an ‘Aladdin’s cave’ of information, the internet of the time. Having completed my BA in history at Trinity College Dublin, that involved constantly researching issues that I found interesting — doing the same work for other people seemed a natural progression. I was also fortunate to get an internship working in a special library in Dublin which gave me an insight into the many aspects of librarianship before I returned to college to get my master’s in library and information science.

“What I love about the profession is its focus on people. We connect with people and then we connect them with the information they are seeking or perhaps did not even know existed, in whatever format is available. Our daily working lives are about helping them discover, access, and use information to make informed decisions. This has always felt a uniquely important and rewarding role.”

Book Recommendations

“I come from a country of great writers and poets, so I make no apology for choosing three Irish authors,” says Jarvis.

We Don’t Know Ourselves by Fintan O’Toole: “A brilliant account of the extraordinary social and cultural transformation of Ireland since the 1950s.”

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan: “A remarkable exploration of secrecy and moral courage in small-town Ireland.”

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín: “An exquisitely-observed character portrait set in the County Wexford countryside of his youth.”

Consuella Askew (Photo courtesy of Consuella Askew)

Vice President for University Libraries and University Librarian
Rutgers University

Consuella Askew has a history of successfully guiding libraries through transformational change. She has published and presented on library leadership, developing a culture of assessment in academic libraries, and adapting library services to meet evolving user needs. In her previous role as associate university librarian at Rutgers University – Newark, she led the library through a multimillion-dollar renovation and an organizational restructuring, and was instrumental in bringing the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Center to Rutgers-Newark.

Askew is an active contributor to the academic library profession, serving on the executive board of the Historically Black College and University Libraries Alliance and other advisory groups. She was an associate dean for public services at Florida International University, where she earned a doctoral degree in higher education. Askew holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Spelman College and a master’s degree in library and information studies from the University of North Carolina.

Card Catalogs to Information Explosion

“As I look back over my 30-year career in librarianship, I realize that during this period I have been a part of perhaps the greatest evolution and proliferation of information and information technologies that took place during the 20th and 21st centuries,” says Askew. “The availability and adoption of the internet in the field of education, new mobile technologies, and the impact of COVID all contributed to changing the way by which library work is conducted, where the work happens, and how our spaces are used.

“When I was in library school, we used the old-fashioned dial-up handset combination to access electronic databases for our course assignments. One particular database (Dialog) was so expensive to use that students were not allowed to access it on their own. It was during my first professional job in the early-mid ’90s, as a school librarian for a public school system in North Carolina, when I was first introduced to the ‘North Carolina Information Highway,’ better known then as the World Wide Web, along with Alta Vista, the popular internet search engine at the time. My second professional position in an academic library was where I was introduced to databases on compact discs (CDs). Today, libraries provide access to these legacy databases, e-books, and streaming media seamlessly via the web; the internet is ubiquitous; and ‘google’ is an action verb.”

Proudest Accomplishment

“As the inaugural chief librarian and solo librarian for the Graduate School of Journalism, City University of New York (CUNY), now known as the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, I had the rare career opportunity to develop a library from blueprint to construction,” says Askew. “I was brought on board along with other key administrators for the school before it officially opened its doors. This opportunity afforded me the experience of creating a library from scratch. I developed policies and procedures, provided content, designed the library website, and selected collection materials. I also worked with the architect and design firm to complete the design of the space and select the furniture and security equipment, as well as other design features for the new library space. When we finally moved into the new space, I worked closely with the CUNY central library services division to set up our instance of the integrated library system, set up services such as circulation and ILL (interlibrary loan), establish new database subscriptions, and catalog and process its physical collections.

“I learned a lot from that experience, and thus far it remains the highlight of my career.”

Book Recommendations

Leading with Compassion: How to Make Leadership Authentic by Managing with Integrity by Gregory E. Worden.

The Six-Step Guide to Library Worker Engagement by Elaina Norlin.

Jenifer Gundry (Photo courtesy of Jenifer Gundry)

Director of Collection Services and Assessment, Theodore Sedgwick Wright Library, Princeton Theological Seminary

Jenifer Gundry holds a bachelor’s degree in English, a master’s degree in English, a master’s degree in library science, and a Ph.D. in history. She was a reference librarian at Bucks County Community College before joining the Seminary staff.

The History Connection

“My area of interest is broadly described as book history but is inclusive of all kinds of fascinating issues, such as the histories of print and digital publishing, authorship, reading, libraries, censorship, the rare book trade, and much more,” says Gundry. “Book history is an interesting leaping-off point, providing a wonderfully flexible framework for yoking together all kinds of disparate topics and methodological approaches. My research agenda at the moment focuses on the histories metadata and collaborative digital projects, the reception of early 20th century absurdist poetry, and the evolution of linguistic forensics.”

Meeting User Needs

 “The coming decade will see libraries continue to provide innovative access to — and digital and physical spaces to engage with — content collections, ideas, networks, and programming,” she says. “It’s also exciting to think about how libraries will morph to meet changing needs. One change we can expect is a reimaging of the relationship between patrons and libraries. If the future will be characterized by continually shifting educational models and a multiplicity of avenues for credentialing, certification, and autodidacticism inside and outside traditional colleges and universities, academic communities will be serving more people, differently. The academy will need to redefine pathways, roles, and services for new types of formal and informal institutional affiliation. This creates a lot of room for libraries to think about new patron relationships in terms of shared responsibility and active collaboration, potentially impacting collecting, preservation, and access.

“And, librarians will continue to communicate, to each generation, the message that research is not solely transactional and task-oriented. Research is a fine art: a joyful, creative endeavor, informed by skill and multi-dimensional imagining across a lifetime.”

Book Recommendations

Gundry says, “I love reading widely outside of my profession, scouting for ideas and perspectives that could be brought into librarianship. It is fascinating to learn how other spheres of work wrestle with big issues like formation and meaning.” 

Her current topics (stand-up comedy, emergency medicine, and disaster planning) may seem unconnected, she says, but “all are high-stakes, fast-moving fields that require superior facility with both the outrageous and the human heart.”

A Cultural History of Comedy in the Modern Age, edited by Louise Peacock.

When the Dust Settles: Stories of Love, Loss and Hope from an Expert in Disaster by Lucy Easthope.

Life in the Balance: A Doctor’s Stories of Intensive Care by Jim Down.

Dana Sheridan (Photo by Brandon Johnson)

Cotsen Education and Outreach Coordinator
Princeton University Library — Special Collections

With a Ph.D. in educational psychology from the University of Virginia, Dana Sheridan’s academic career focused on how children learn in informal, out-of-school environments. Her professional passion has been the design of dynamic hands-on programs for children. She has designed programs for patients at UVA Children’s Hospital, developed tours for the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library, and coordinated programs at the Virginia Discovery Museum and Pop Goes the Page (popgoesthepage.princeton.edu).

Pop Goes the Page

“Our Pop Goes the Page blog began in 2013,” says Sheridan. “It was the direct result of parents, caregivers, teachers, and youth services librarians asking us how we produced such creative story time projects. So we started posting step-by-step instructions, templates, supply lists, the works! As time passed, we expanded the posts to include our other programs, large-scale events, interviews, product tests, site visits — really anything that has a literacy connection, even an unusual one. Our mission is to spread creative literacy and library love.”

Cotsen Children’s Library

“Visitors to the Cotsen gallery will quickly see that it’s a fantastical landscape with a giant reading tree, comfortable couches, and a wishing well,” says Sheridan. “It’s meant to immerse you in an engaging and imaginative world, much like books. In this space dedicated to young readers, it’s our hope that they feel welcome, inspired, and validated in a library that was created exclusively for them. We have college students return to Cotsen and tell us how much it meant to them, growing up. Some even make it a special stop on cross-country trips. It’s magic.    

“Currently, we have two in-person programs: Bookscape Babies, our baby social hour for children 0-2 on Tuesdays at 11 a.m.; and Tiger Tales, our creative story time for children ages 3-5 on Fridays at 11 a.m. We also offer virtual programs that include five amazing escape rooms, a writing feedback program for children and teens, a primary source education resource for teachers, and this winter we launched Tolo, our first digital choose-your-own-path book. All of our programs are open to the public and free of charge.”

Learner-Centered

“The focus of both my master’s and Ph.D. were on individual differences in learning and how children learn in free choice, informal learning environments like libraries, museums, and community centers,” says Sheridan. “In many ways, I’m both librarian and museum educator, specializing in literacy, collections education, and intellectual discovery. I’m also an artist and a writer. I bring all that expertise to my work at Cotsen, which runs the full gamut of designing hands-on projects for kids, to interviewing children’s authors, to educating with our special collections, to working with young writers to develop their voices. I’ll also add that for me, literacy education encompasses both fiction and non-fiction, and all disciplines and topics. Art, science, history, mathematics, humanities — I research and develop programs from every angle, always mindful to keep it learner-centered and engaging.”

Book Recommendations

Cotsen has a webcast/podcast, BiblioFiles, in which Sheridan interviews children’s authors and graphic novelists “All of those books are amazing and highly recommended,” she says.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle: “A childhood favorite and hugely impactful.”

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead: “For its connection to my childhood favorite and best plot twist. EVER.” 

Constantia Constantinou (photo courtesy of Constantia Constantinou)

H. Carton Rogers III Vice Provost and Director
Penn Libraries at University of Pennsylvania

Constantia Constantinou has been a pioneer in developing digital, multimedia, and technology initiatives in large university library systems and in advancing partnerships among libraries, museums, and universities. As vice provost and director of libraries at Penn, Constantinou developed and launched a strategic plan for 2020-2025 — with an emphasis on delivering collections and services at point of need, anytime, anywhere — which carried Penn libraries through the pandemic. Under Constantinou’s leadership, the Penn libraries added distinctive collections to its holdings and embarked on partnerships, most recently the acquisition of the archives of The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Academy of Music, providing public access to materials that document nearly 175 years of Philadelphia’s rich musical history.  Before coming to Penn, Constantinou was dean of University Libraries and SUNY Distinguished Librarian at SUNY-Stony Brook and was the director of the Luce Library at SUNY-Maritime College. She began her career at New York University and has brought her focus on digital and multimedia technology to leadership positions at several other academic libraries.

She is an accomplished classical guitarist, who studied at the Royal School of Music in London before earning a bachelor’s degree in music and a master’s degree in music theory from Queens College of the City University of New York, where she also earned her Master of Library Science.

Music and Library Skills

“Musicians tend to be very organized, disciplined, and methodical; they bring order to sound in order to make and perform music, in much the same way as librarians bring order to library collections in order to facilitate the discovery of knowledge,” says Constantinou. “My training as a musician taught me how to animate a set of basic building blocks — tone, rhythm, dynamics — to achieve something that moves audiences. Practicing librarianship is very similar: at its core, my role is to empower my expert staff to activate our distinctive collections and dynamic resources in order to inspire creative inquiry and critical expression in our audience of students and scholars.    

“I discovered librarianship and libraries as a music student at Queens College of the City University of New York. I started working in the music library as a work-study student. The head of the music library, Dr. Joseph Ponte, became my mentor, opening my world to librarianship. It was here that I experienced the power and impact that the library has — in the life of students, in the life of the community that we serve, in the success that we bring to the university, and to the faculty and to research.  Music is wonderful to have in my life. But librarianship is my chosen profession.” 

Book Recommendations 

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, “my very first book given to me by the Red Cross at the age of 10 in a refugee camp.”

Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.

Odyssey by Homer. 

Captain Michalis by Nikos Kazantzakis. 

The poems of Constantine Cavafy, found in several translated volumes.

Jennifer Garcon (Photo by Brandon Johnson)

Librarian for Modern and Contemporary Special Collections, Firestone Library
Princeton University

Before joining Princeton in 2021, Jennifer Garcon was at the University of Pennsylvania, first as the Council on Library and Information Resources’ Bollinger Fellow in Public and Community Data Curation, and later as digital scholarship librarian. She began her career as collection development specialist at History Miami Museum, and was soon promoted to assistant curator, where she curated archival exhibits that responded to current social and political issues. Simultaneously, she was a research associate for the Radio Preservation Taskforce at the Library of Congress. In advancing her work more broadly, she has implemented the archiving process and practices as a steering committee member of Archives for Black Lives in Philadelphia. Garcon earned her master’s degree at Hunter College and her Ph.D. in history at the University of Miami, where her dissertation, “Haiti’s Resistant Press in the Age of Jean-Claude Duvalier, 1971–1986,” explored the role of the oppositional news media in the overthrow of a long dictatorship.

Role of Special Collections

“As the librarian for Modern and Contemporary Special Collections, I’m responsible for the curation and care of 20th- and 21st-century special collection materials, including rare books, manuscripts, and born-digital material,” says Garcon. “My collection area is quite broad and varies geographically, encompassing everything from manuscripts within the Toni Morrison papers, rare editions of F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Baldwin, documents pertaining to the First and Second World Wars and the U.S. civil rights movement, to material chronicling international independence movements in Latin America and the Caribbean through literature and historical documents. A part of my charge is to strategically envision and develop Princeton’s research and teaching collections in ways that will, for decades and centuries to come, be the basis of historical inquiry about our contemporary moment.”

As co-curator of the recent exhibition “Toni Morrison: Sites of Memory,” with lead curator Professor Autumn Womack and Rene Boatman, Garcon says it, “focused on exploring Morrison’s creative process, thinking critically and carefully about the architecture underlying many of her best-known masterpieces.”

Career Path

“I arrived to librarianship after a long and meandering career path, which thankfully enabled me to build varied expertise in a number of subject areas,” says Garcon. “I studied gender and Victorian literature as an undergraduate at Brown, and later earned advanced degrees in American literature, focused on antebellum print culture, and in global colonial history, focusing on age of revolution conflicts (think American, French, Haitian, and Mexican Revolutions). I received my Ph.D. in history, studying Cold War politics, dictatorship, and media. These multiple areas of expertise allow me to think expansively and critically about the kind of scholarly inquiry I might anticipate as I develop research and teaching collections. The interdisciplinary nature of my background also helps to highlight the intersections between multiple 20th-century flashpoints, meaning that the collection strengths are inevitably in conversation with one another, facilitating complex, multilayered inquiry that helps to both nuance and extend the research capacity of our collections.”

Book Recommendations (historical area of study)

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History by Michel-Rolph Trouillot.

Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala by Kirsten Weld.

Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World by Maya Jasanoff.

Holly Hatheway (Photo by Brandon Johnson)

Head, Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology Princeton University

As director of the Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology, which is among the oldest and most comprehensive academic art libraries, Holly Hatheway focuses on collection development, digital projects, and administration. Previously, she held library leadership positions at University of California, Berkeley, and the Haas Arts Library at Yale University. She earned a dual Master of Science/Master of Library Science in Art History from Pratt Institute. Her research interests include graphic arts and publication design, political propaganda, and historiography of art.
She has held similar positions at Yale and UC Berkeley.

The Art World

“Due to my broad exposure to all areas of art history as a liaison to the Art and Archaeology Department at Princeton, and one who continually builds an art history library collection, participating in the art world is my job,” says Hatheway. “Going to art museums and galleries, visiting architectural sites, and visiting other art libraries around the world is a practice of lifelong learning that is pure joy. Conferences and professional development opportunities in my profession are always strategically held in places that offer opportunities to visit unique art and visual culture offerings. As a result, over the last 25 years I have had the pleasure to see collections around the world at a scale much greater than most who work in the arts — and that includes seeing my personal favorite areas of art and architecture too!”

Art to Librarianship

“I studied studio art and art history as an undergraduate student and earned a master’s in art history,” says Hatheway. “Having a career that involved the visual arts was always my goal. I did not discover the option of art librarianship until well into working toward my art history master’s; and I then added on a second master’s in library and information science: MLS. Most of my art librarian colleagues also studied art history or studio art and it has been a wonderful experience working with this global group of colleagues for more than two decades. As a librarian I build collections and help students and faculty conduct research in the visual arts. This has allowed me to become more of a generalist art historian, as opposed to having a niche specialization. I am constantly exposed to the whole range of art history from cave paintings to contemporary art. It has proven to be an effective, and often fun, way to make use of an art history degree beyond teaching and art practice.”

Book Recommendations

Non-fiction art books:

A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the Nineteenth Century by Witold Rybczynski.

Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine De Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art by Mary Gabriel.

“And two delightful sequential novels that celebrate art provenance and horology,” says Hatheway, “A Case of Curiosities and The Grand Complication by Allen Kurzweil.”

Jeremy Wallace (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Wallace)

Assistant Director for Research and Public Services
Theodore Sedgewick Wright Library
Princeton Theological Seminary

Having lectured at several universities, Jeremy Wallace holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and religious studies from University of Tennessee-Knoxville, a master’s degree in information from Rutgers University, and a Ph.D. from the Princeton Theological Seminary in late antique history.

A Natural Environment

“I am a lifelong reader and found the library to be a natural place for me to spend my time and to work while in graduate school,” says Wallace. “The more time I spent in libraries, the more I realized that I wanted to become a librarian after graduation

. I believe books can change our lives and our perspectives, and I hope to match our researchers with the resources that will help them to further their scholarship.

“I love the idea that the answers to many of our questions can be found hidden in a book somewhere, if only we can locate it. I enjoy the order, structure, and comfort of the library, and the way in which it can be a doorway to information and transformation.”

Book Recommendations

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner.

Água Viva by Clarice Lispector.

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa.

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.

F.W. “Chip” Dobbs-Allsopp (Photo courtesy of Dobbs-Allsopp)

Princeton Theological Seminary Professor of Old Testament
James Lenox Librarian

F.W. “Chip” Dobbs-Allsopp’s research and teaching interests include the historical, philological, and literary study of biblical and ancient Near Eastern literature (with special focus on poetry, Northwest Semitic inscriptions) and exploring how new technologies can enhance the editing of ancient Semitic texts. A biblical scholar, epigrapher, and literary theorist, Dobbs-Allsopp has taught and written extensively on Semitic languages, the origins of alphabetic writing, biblical poetry, poetics, and literary criticism. He holds an M.Div. from the Princeton Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University, and a bachelor’s degree in history from Furman University. He served as a faculty member at Yale and visiting assistant professor in Ugaritic at the University of Pennsylvania. He is working on a monograph-length study of the poetry of Walt Whitman.

Dobbs-Allsopp has enjoyed exploring the benefits of new technologies. As he loses his sight from a degenerative disease, he has becomeincreasingly dependent on technologies. Through membership in HathiTrust, the Seminary was able to provide the campus with electronic access to more than 150,000 volumes during the pandemic when Wright Library was closed. The library is digitizing copyrighted materials and making them available through the Theological Commons and has pioneered a small controlled digital lending collection.

The “Aha” Moments

“Happily, philology is full of small and large ‘aha’ moments — one of the chief benefits of reading closely and in slow motion,” says Dobbs-Allsopp. “One example: Some years ago, I had a running conversation with my colleague Gord Hamilton (he wrote the book on this topic) about the evolution and development of the early alphabet — the shapes of the letters, their stances, the reduction in the number of letters to 22, etc. One of the insights that resulted from the discovery of what would turn out to be two of our earliest alphabetic inscriptions from the Wadi el-Hol (1850 BCE) was the importance of Egyptian hieratic (the cursive form of writing Egyptian on papyrus) alongside Egyptian hieroglyphs for understanding these questions — for most of the 20th century scholarly focus was only on the latter. It suddenly dawned on me that the reason that the linear alphabet in the eastern Mediterranean (Phoenician, Hebrew, Aramaic) was written right to left is because hieratic is written in that direction. Indeed, it was the only writing system at the time that wrote consistently in that direction. I asked Gord if anybody had noted this before. After a few days he got back to me and said no he didn’t think so, but he believed it was obviously true. It took me some time to pull the evide

nce together and it will appear in a forthcoming article. But the ‘aha’ happened because we started thinking about alphabetic origins with hieratic in mind. Not brilliant, but pretty cool!”

Scholars as Scribes

“As a textual scholar, I am keenly aware of how indebted we are to ancient scribes for much of our knowledge of the ancient world,” says Dobbs-Allsopp. “They collected this knowledge, wrote it down in durable materials, copied and recopied it, thereby preserving it and transmitting it to future generations — and ultimately to us. Scholars like to think of themselves as modern day scribes. And in the creation of knowledge, we are like ancient scribes. But most of the other work that ancient scribes did is more analogous to the work of professional librarians. Collecting, preserving, and disseminating knowledge is at the heart of what modern academic libraries are all about. This requires skills and expertise that only professionally-trained librarians have. Ensuring that what we know today will benefit future generations will depend in large part how well we support our libraries and librarians.”

The Joy of Whitman

Dobbs-Allsopp’s most recent book, On Biblical Poetry, is a collection of five essays on different aspects of biblical poetry.

“I get into the second chapter of that book, which makes the case for a free-verse analysis of biblical poetic rhythm, via Walt Whitman, that icon of American free verse,” he says. “And Whitman becomes the subject of my forthcoming book, Divine Style: Walt Whitman and the King James Bible. The book focuses on the style of the early Whitman (the Whitman of the first three editions of Leaves of Grass) and its debt to the King James Bible,” he says. “I ultimately inherited my love for Whitman though my mom who was an English professor. But my love for the poet was rekindled during my graduate student days, I was just beginning to read biblical poetry seriously. I picked up a used edition of Leaves and immediately began appreciating Whitman’s biblical sensibilities.”

Book Recommendations

“On biblical poetry, see Elaine James’ incisive and deliciously written An Invitation to Biblical Poetry,” says Dobbs-Allsopp. “There is more poetry available to American readers than ever before in history and I urge everybody to take advantage and start reading more poetry. There may be no better place to start than with the current poet laureate Ada Limòn’s new collection, The Hurting Kind.

“On the ongoing political relevance of Walt Whitman, see Mark Edmundson’s Song of Ourselves.

“The Gilgamesh epic is the ancient world’s greatest literary work. Check it out in the new translation by Sophus Helle.

“If narrative is more your thing, try longtime Princeton resident Laura Spence-Ash’s debut novel, Beyond That, the Sea — exquisite sentences, character-driven, and embedded dialogue, a stylistic trait that goes all the way back to the beginning of modern English prose and the first English translation of the Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek of William Tyndall.

“For a taste of the future of the printed word, check out Denis Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew — Le Neveu de Rameau: A Multi-Media Bilingual Edition, edited by Marian Hobson.”

Jennifer Podolsky (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Podolsky)

Executive Director
Princeton Public Library

   Jennifer Podolsky has been executive director of the Princeton Public Library since February 2020. Previously, she served as the director of the Eat Brunswick Public Library for three years, where she supervised a staff of nearly 100. Prior to her tenure at East Brunswick Public Library, Podolsky was the project specialist for business and technology outreach at the New Jersey State Library. With over 15 years of experience, Podolsky has served in management, research, and editorial positions in both publishing and libraries. She started her career as the senior research editor at Reed Elsevier, where she supervised a staff of researchers, managed various research assignments, conducted online database training, and assisted in collection development. Podolsky has worked as a youth services librarian for the Somerset County Library System and as a media specialist for Millburn Public Schools She holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature and anthropology and a master’s degree in library and information science, both from Rutgers University.

Digging Up Information

“I have had my nose in a book for as long as I can remember,” says Podolsky. “As a child and all the way into adulthood, I would visit libraries for fun and spend an inordinate amount of time in the stacks. There I most enjoyed wandering — looking for parts of the library that no one else seemed to pay attention to. I would pick books off the shelf randomly and just sit on the floor and read. At the time, working in a library never occurred to me — it was just a place to get lost. In college, I first studied English literature in the anticipation of becoming a classroom teacher. Halfway through my studies, however, I discovered a love of digging things up — specifically I became immersed in the field of archaeology. I double majored and after graduating was not at first certain how my two loves — stories and research/exploration — would align until I decided to pursue my master’s degree in library and information science. It was then that I realized that digging for information was as interesting as digging in the dirt. The rest, as they say, is history.”

The Library’s Future

“You know, the more things change, the more they stay the same,” says Podolsky. “Despite concerns to the contrary, libraries have benefited greatly from the evolution of technology used for library service. Technology has allowed libraries to streamline and expand our services to make them more accessible to our users. What has changed is that the pandemic forced many libraries — and other industries — to fast-track plans to make their services available to users no matter where they are. What continues to evolve is the idea that libraries are also community centers — the heart of every community, in fact. As library staff, this is something we have always known. What is beautiful is that now everyone else is realizing that as well. In the next decade, the evolution of libraries as the center of the community will continue, and technology will be a part of what allows us to do so. So, this is something that still impresses me. Libraries are quite successful at what they do — and what we do best is to figure out what our community needs most, and work endlessly to provide those things for you, both in person and remotely.

“When you go to the library you are treated with a large variety of programs, services, materials, and spaces to use in a variety of ways. If you want to stay home, we can also offer you the same thing — programs to enjoy from the comfort of home, materials that are accessible in print or digital format, and if you need to borrow technology or tools to get something done at home, you can borrow it from our Library of Things. Evolving technology makes this all possible and we embrace it. In the end, we have something to offer no matter where you are. Library technology will continue to evolve with the goal of ​making the library more accessible and convenient for all, making a more seamless transition to use our services from anywhere. At the same time, that same evolution of technology makes accessing materials and services in our physical space that much easier. Offering more self-service opportunities, for example, frees up staff to do more meaningful work and interact with library visitors. Ensuring that borrowing and renewing materials is a simple process frees both the library user and staff from spending their time on tedious tasks, giving them more time to enjoy all that the library has to offer.”

What I’m Currently Reading

“I love a good page-turning mystery. The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave is one of those books that, once started, you can’t put down. I am further intrigued because it was recently turned into a television series. I like to compare novels to their serialized counterparts and see if they measure up. This story is set against the backdrop of the houseboat community in Sausalito, Calif. As someone who really adores Sausalito, this only adds to the novel’s appeal.”

Book Recommendations by PPL Staff

An urgent read for all Americans: Poverty, By America by Matthew Desmond, a critically acclaimed, sweeping novel about hope, courage, and survival.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison’s award-winning novel about the life of Macon “Milkman” Dead III.

One of the most buzzed about books among our library visitors: All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Me by Patrick Bringley.

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