Guest Post: Violet Fox from UW’s Chapter of the SLA

For this post, MLIS student Violet Fox discusses the UW Chapter of the Special Library Association (SLA). Anna and I will be contributing a post for their blog in the near future. Thank you, Violet, for this invaluable contribution.

Most people who work under the title “librarian” work in a public, academic, or school library. But an MLIS opens doors to a wide variety of career possibilities. The Special Libraries Association is a professional organization serving information professionals working in non-traditional libraries or other settings, such as corporate, government, non-profit, technical, legal, and medical organizations.

The University of Washington chapter of SLA is dedicated to exposing iSchool students to careers in special libraries. In conjunction with the Pacific Northwest chapter of SLA, the UW chapter facilitates communication between students and professionals through events such as a holiday party (this year hosted at the Microsoft Library) and a student night held every spring. SLA-UW also hosts informational sessions and panels with local special librarians, providing career guidance and further opportunities to connect with experienced professionals.

As the 2012-2013 Vice Chairs of SLA-UW, Moriah Neils and I organize tours of Seattle-area special libraries. We contact librarians and ask them if they’d be willing to host 45 minute visits, consisting of a tour of their facility and some time for Q&A. Students are often interested in hearing about a day in the life of the librarian as well as what background students might need to get a similar position.

When we can, we like to combine tours of libraries that are close to each other into “crawls,” visiting two libraries in one afternoon. Tours are usually followed with a happy hour—a chance to talk about what we’ve seen and unwind from classes. As Vice Chairs we have a lot of leeway in which libraries we choose; we try to select libraries that represent diverse settings and that we think students will enjoy! We’ve been able to visit some fascinating places in the past year.

Brian Voss (Library Director) speaks to students at the NOAA Library

Students had to get security clearance to get to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) libraries located next to Magnuson Park in the Sand Point neighborhood, but they were rewarded by a beautiful view and a great tour. The NOAA Library Director, a recent iSchool graduate, showed us both the NOAA Library (focused on physical oceanography and atmospheric science) and the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) Library. Visiting the library at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was also a treat. The librarian there had been at the EPA for years and shared her reflections on the many changes she had seen implemented.

EPA Region 10 Library

Our crawl to the South Lake Union neighborhood took us to two very different but compelling libraries. The Arnold Library at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is staffed by a number of librarians who have graduated from the iSchool—it’s been encouraging to see recent graduates with jobs that they so obviously enjoy. The staff supports the cutting edge research that is done at Fred Hutch by maintaining databases as well as training and collaborating with scientists. The crawl continued at the Washington Talking Book & Braille Library (WTBBL), dedicated to serving those who are visually impaired or otherwise unable to read standard print books. At no cost to users they provide Braille and audio materials (both cassette and digital format), readers’ advisory services, and the Evergreen Radio Reading Service.

WTBBL Audiobook Equipment

We got the chance to explore the UW campus with two crawls, beginning in the fall with visits to the Foster Business Library and the Health Sciences Library. Although both are very much anchored in the academic world, they gave a glimpse into the types of knowledge and skills needed in a special library. In collaboration with another student group, iArts, we visited the Reed Collection Study Center at the Henry Art Gallery. We also toured the Built Environments Library, which serves the departments of architecture, landscape architecture, construction management, and urban design and planning. The visual art collections at the Henry Art Gallery and the Built Environments Library afforded insights into the challenges of organizing, preserving, and providing access to unconventional materials.

Callison Resource Design Center

Likewise, our trip to Callison Architecture included very unique materials. The Callison library was designed by a resourceful and enthusiastic librarian who serves a variety of people in a corporate setting. Upstairs, their Design Resource Center is a gallery of resources for interior design including materials and patterns for counters, walls, and floors. Imagine creating an organizational system for samples of marble tiles!

Shelves at the Seattle Metaphysical Library

It was a lot of fun to visit Ballard’s Seattle Metaphysical Library, which includes materials about a wide variety of esoteric subjects. Its quirky collection is obviously the result of a labor of love. We finished off the winter quarter by collaborating with the iSchool’s chapter of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) for a very popular tour; the tour of the  National Archives-Regional Archives (NARA) was attended by twenty students. Picture the very last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with a crate being wheeled into a giant government warehouse, and you’ll get an idea of the scale of this repository for Oregon, Idaho, and Washington’s government agencies’ paperwork.

NARA Stacks

Again and again, when we reached out to information professionals, they were incredibly generous in giving their time and energy to us. Speaking for myself, it was truly a pleasure experiencing how gracious and kind people in our profession were to students. It’s been immensely satisfying to indulge my love of libraries in this leadership role; I hope that the iSchool students who’ve attended a SLA-UW tour have been enlightened and perhaps inspired look for (or even create!) the career that works for them.

Violet Fox will be graduating from the iSchool in June. Ask her about the time she had a revelation about cataloging as the one true path at@VioletBFox or check out her portfolio in progress at


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