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I Am MLA: Janet Crum

Submitted by Janet Crum; edited by JJ Pionke.
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Institution: University of Arizona

Title: Director, Health Sciences Library

Brief description of responsibilities:

As the director, I oversee all operations of the Health Sciences Library, a unit of the University of Arizona Libraries. I directly supervise the associate director and a team of embedded liaison librarians.

Why is MLA important to you?

MLA is my professional home. I recently spent several years away from MLA, because I was working in a position that was not related to health sciences, and I missed the association so much. MLA offers excellent professional development and opportunities for professional networking and service, but more than that, it offers a supportive community of practitioners with whom to learn and grow.

Why did you become a librarian?

I’ve been a library rat since I was a little kid, and I worked in a library throughout my undergrad years. I planned to become a high school teacher, but student teaching convinced me that I was on the wrong path. One of the librarians I knew suggested I go to library school, and everything just clicked: I was meant to be a librarian.

What was your first library job or first professional position?

One summer when I was 12, my parents decided I shouldn’t spend all summer watching The Partridge Family and The Price is Right, so they suggested I volunteer at my local public library. I did. I shelved books, enrolled kids in the summer reading program, and had a blast.

What is your advice to someone taking on a new role in leadership in MLA or in some other capacity?

Get training and find mentors. Leadership, whether in an association or in a library, requires its own specialized skill set. We aren’t born knowing how to lead effectively, so we owe it to ourselves and those we lead to learn how to do it well.

What has been the most interesting project you have worked on?

There have been so many! My favorite was probably the Diversity and Inclusion Book and Film Club at City of Hope. The library partnered with HR to do an organization-wide read of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks—and then we brought members of the Lacks family to campus. The auditorium was full that day, with people from across all areas of the organization, and it was a privilege to meet Ms. Lacks’s descendants and hear from them how her story has impacted them. We even made the local news!

What do you consider to be the most pressing issues or trends in librarianship?

Funding. State support for higher education has been waning for a couple of decades, making state institutions more tuition dependent than they’ve ever been (at least during my career). Changing demographics are projected to create an “enrollment cliff”; in other words, there will be fewer college-age Americans and therefore fewer college enrollees. Libraries across the country, including many health sciences libraries, have experienced multiple rounds of funding cuts, limiting our ability to serve our constituents in the ways they need and requiring us to spend much of our time, energy, and creativity on cutting expenses rather than developing innovative programs. These changes are going to require new approaches and greater collaboration if we are to deliver on our missions successfully.

Bucket list:

Road tripping from Seattle to Anchorage, visiting Scotland and Ireland, and getting a novel published.

What do you do in your spare time?

Write fiction, garden, read, and travel when I can.

What is the best thing you’ve read/watched/listened to recently?

I don’t know about “best,” but I’ve gotten hooked on the TV show Lucifer. I’m not usually a big TV person, but that show has won me over.

Five words to describe you:

Nerdy, optimistic, loud, curious, goofball.

Is there anything about you that others might be surprised to know?

I’m an introvert. I just play an extrovert at work :-)

What are you most proud of?

Being a Jeopardy! contestant many years ago. I used to be terrified of any kind of public speaking, but I worked hard to get past it and found the courage to experience such a high-pressure, highly public situation—and have fun doing it. Spoiler alert: I lost. Cue up that Weird Al song.

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