by Jewell Porter, ‘16
Denison Libraries recently welcomed a new face to its roster of librarians. Amy Elliott, the new Humanities Liaison Librarian, is looking forward to engaging students by making research fun and interesting.
Amy received her master’s degree in English and American Literature from the University of Connecticut and another in Information Science from the University of Tennessee.
Before entering librarianship, Amy worked as an English professor at the University of Connecticut. Most recently, she worked in Dublin, Ohio, for the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) as a product analyst.
Jewell: So just for starters: where are you from?
Amy: I was born and raised in Piqua, Ohio. It’s about two hours west of Columbus and about an hour north of Dayton, but I’ve lived all over the country. I’ve been to Nashville, Knoxville, and Storrs, Connecticut for a while, Boise, Idaho, Atlanta, GA. Yeah, just all over.
J: Is there a reason for that?
A: I just like experiencing the cultures, and [I like] learning the different aspects of, you know, their local culture, and I love southern culture. I studied southern literature actually, and I fell in love with the south when I went to Tennessee the first time, and so I spent a good bit of time in the south just because I like it there, and I wanted to see what else was available. I like diversity; I like things that aren’t like me. I like learning what our similarities are, what our differences are, what we can learn from each other; so I tried to experience as much as I can.
J: What is your position title here at the library, and what does that entail?
A: I am the humanities liaison librarian, so I serve all the humanities departments on campus. For the job itself, I do instruction, reference, and collection development for all the different departments so modern languages, English, religion, philosophy, history, those are the big ones. Of course there’s all the languages. So, you know, they want an instruction session for students, they contact me if they have a book they want the library to own, they contact me. If a student has an in depth reference question about one of the humanities subjects, then I’m the person they come to. I serve as kind of a subject expert.
J: Oh, that’s awesome. What did you do before you came here?
A: Well, most immediately, I was at OCLC, where I was the product analyst for the knowledge base, which is a software. It’s basically a giant database of electronic resource metadata, so data about the electronic resources . . . Before that, I was an institutional repository manager at Georgia State… Before that, I was at Boise State, where I was a liaison librarian for math, music, gender studies, and government documents.
J: What made you interested in becoming a librarian?
A: I had been an English instructor before that. I taught freshman Composition while I was at the University of Connecticut, and I really loved literature, but the students didn’t because it was a composition class, and they just had to be there . . . but I really enjoyed working with students. Someone said ‘well, have you considered librarianship?’ So I checked it out, and it seemed like a really good deal because I still get to do instruction, I still get to work with students and be in academia, but I don’t have the grading pressures, so it’s like all the good stuff and none of the bad stuff.
J: Oh cool, so you started being a librarian a while ago?
A: In 2004, I went to library school, and I was working part time at the University of Tennessee’s library.
J: Did you come here with a family or by yourself?
A: I’m by myself. Well, I live with my two cats. They’re my furry children . . . The reason that I came back to Ohio [initially] was because my mother was diagnosed in 2011 with early onset Alzheimer’s disease, and I realized that I had a very short amount of time to spend with her because it is a terminal disease. Whether or not people describe it that way, it is. So I gave up my job in Georgia and moved to Ohio. Actually, I moved in with them for a few months while I tried to teach my dad to be a caregiver because he had never done that before. And then I found the job at OCLC, so I moved over to Columbus but was still going home quite a bit. And that lasted until last December when she passed away. Then I ended up leaving OCLC and really wanting to return to libraries again. So that’s a very complicated answer to a very simple question.
J: You took part in a documentary about mental health concerns in young professionals called Elephants in the Room. What is the documentary about in your own words?
A: Elephants in the Room is a documentary about brain and mental health in Columbus. It’s a project I got brought into because of my experience with my mom and my own experiences with anxiety and depression. The premiere screening will be next Wednesday, so I’m excited about that. The trailer has already gotten a really great response. We’re just hoping that it raises awareness about mental health issues.
J: What about the term “mental illness” causes such a stigma?
A: It’s because it’s sort of a negative thing, right. So it’s an illness. Nobody wants to talk about an illness or disease or be labeled as having an illness or disease. So it’s kind of like, I don’t know if you know anything about more inclusive terms in general, but a lot of people don’t like the term “disabled” because it’s the negative thing. I think they prefer to be labeled as otherly abled. There’s a stigma attached to it, so instead of mental illness, it’s mental health issues or mental health concerns.
J: What was your role in the documentary?
A: I wore many hats in the documentary. I was initially approached through an Alzheimer’s support group. They put out a call for people who had changed their lives in any significant way who were affected by the disease. . . I talked to the filmmakers, and they said that they absolutely wanted to include my story. Then I got involved with the committee that was making the film, so all through the process of filming, I was involved by helping make things happen. There were about 20 people in the group who were making this happen.
J: What do you hope people take away from it?
A: Well, I think it depends on who the people are. I hope that people who are suffering from a mental health issue see that they can start to talk about it, that we start to de-stigmatize mental health issues. . . Hopefully this film puts a normal face on [mental health issues] and makes people feel like it’s okay to talk about it; it’s okay to get help: there is help.
J: Do you plan to get involved with something like this while at Denison?
A: I didn’t plan it that way, but it’s where my life is going right now; so I’m just going with it. I think there’s been some talk about trying to do a screening of Elephant in the Room here. I know there’s a couple of groups on campus that are concerned with mental health issues. I’ll just have to wait and see what develops. It’s a cause that I’m passionate about and interested in.
J: Not long before arriving at Denison, a student took his own life. Did you hear about this, and what are your thoughts and feelings about it?
A: Actually, I did. I have a friend who graduated from Denison, and she had posted that Wendell was missing, and . . . the morning that I was looking for housing they had found him. It’s always disturbing to me. I’m a person who’s fairly sensitive. It’s saddening. I want to say particularly when it’s preventable, but it’s almost always preventable. That’s the thing. So I was certainly saddened by it, but at the same time not yet being a member of the community, I don’t know what my role really was. I still don’t know what my role is, except that maybe with my involvement and now being partnered with the community, I can start to be a driver in having these conversations that it looks like Denison is already starting to have.
J: What do you hope to bring to your position at Denison?
A: That’s a really good question! Some librarians can be very serious, and information is a serious thing . . . You want them to have access to good information and be information literate. But, let’s face it: life’s gotta be a little fun too or what’s the point? So hopefully, I can manage to help people learn what they need to know about information literacy in a fun way that’s accessible to them. You know, help us all enjoy life a little bit . . . I try to have a sense of humor, to make it lighter, to get students involved. That’s one of the things that I do.
J: What have you found that you like about Denison so far?
A: I love the liberal arts focus and that they’re really genuinely focused on the whole person. Not just the education, but preparing students to be adults. They come in as really kids. I mean, they’re 18, but they’re still kids. They haven’t known adult life, and they’re really trying to prepare students to be adults and to be informed citizens. I love that about Denison. And I love how friendly and welcoming everyone is. I love the diversity that seems to be here. It’s just a fantastic place.