The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Information and Library Science (SILS) Alumni Association has named Karen Ciccone (MSLS '97) as a featured alumna. After graduating with a B.S. in Physics from Rhodes College, Ciccone received her master's degree from SILS in 1997. She now holds the title of director of the Natural Resources Library at North Carolina State University (NCSU).
The following are Ciccone’s responses to questions asked by Karen Sobel (MSLS ’07), communications director for the SILSAA executive committee.
Q: Tell us a little about your job. What are you working on now?
A: As director of the Natural Resources Library, one of the branch libraries in the North Carolina State University Libraries system, I work closely with four departments: Marine, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences; Forestry and Environmental Resources; Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management; and Forest Biomaterials. The most wonderful thing about my job is working with these researchers and instructors, all of whom are doing fascinating and important work to better understand and improve our world. The variety inherent in my job keeps things interesting: in addition to building collections and providing research and instructional services supporting all of the different programs in the above departments, I manage the library’s personnel and facilities projects, such as our current proposed renovation to add new group study rooms to the library.
At present, I am chairing the NCSU Libraries’ Summon/Reference Linking Product Team, the group that explores, implements and evaluates changes to our discovery service and reference linking products. I am also chairing the NCSU Libraries’ Community Service Committee, which is charged with providing opportunities for library staff members to work together on community service projects. In the past year we’ve done activities as diverse as volunteer cataloging for the Raleigh City Museum, inventorying the education collection of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and gleaning collards and peppers for the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle.
Q: Yours is the first natural resources library I've come across at a university. What are some of the interesting resources that you have to offer? What kinds of students and faculty do you assist?
A: We have rock kits on reserve for geology classes – that is something you won’t find in most libraries. Our books and journals span a broad range of topics – from dinosaur biology to biofuels to sports management. In addition, we have a small collection of documentary videos. A growing number of our materials are now available only electronically.
The students and faculty we assist are very passionate about understanding and improving the world they live in. They are working to understand climate change, solve natural resources policy issues, restore native ecosystems, reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and create healthier communities through outdoor recreation. I am inspired by their work every day.
Q: How did SILS help prepare you for your career?
A: The most valuable aspect of my SILS education was the many opportunities it provided to work with librarians in academic library settings. I worked and did course projects, field experiences and my thesis research in the Botany Section of the Couch Biology Library (subsequently merged into the Kenan Science Library) and the Photographic Archives of the North Carolina Collection. Bill Burk, Jeffery Beam and Jerry Cotten were wonderful mentors.
Q: I see that you hold a degree in physics as well. What can library science programs do to help attract more scientists to LIS programs?
A: I think librarianship as a career option – both the variety of job opportunities available, and how one gets there – is still a well-kept secret. I would not have considered a library career if not for the bookmobile librarian who regularly parked in the grocery store parking lot across the street from my apartment. This man was wonderful and once gave me a book on a very obscure topic I’d mentioned the week before. I asked him how one gets to drive the bookmobile, and he said, “Well, you need a master’s degree.”
There are many people who love science but realize at some point in their education that they aren’t interested in the day-to-day work of doing scientific research. Science librarianship lets you keep learning about science while supporting the endeavor of scientific research. That is a great option for science generalists like me. LIS programs could do a better job of advertising alongside other graduate schools within science departments. A poster targeted to science graduates would undoubtedly draw interest here in my own building.
Q: Looking at your list of publications, it appears that you’ve been designing online library tools for quite a while. What do you think will be the most valuable online resources libraries can offer students right now?
A: Our most valuable online resources will continue to be our collections: our digital collections, scholarly journal subscriptions, reference databases and books. These provide access to unique information needed by researchers that is still only affordable by libraries. Discovery tools that help students find and access information within these collections will continue to be very important, as will improved mobile apps for searching library collections and managing results.
In my career, I have found myself in the position multiple times of recommending the discontinuation of library support for online tools in which we’d invested – a Web site search engine, a metasearch tool, MyLibrary@NCState. Each was an innovative solution to a real problem in its time, but was supplanted by newer tools and changing habits. While we need to continually create or purchase or point to freely available new online tools for research, these are all in service of our larger mission to educate students to effectively find, evaluate and use information. I see that as the area in which librarians have the greatest contribution to make to learning in the years to come.
Along with her daily challenges, Ciccone also regularly takes courses offered within the departments she serves, which provides her insight into faculty and student perspectives, habits, information needs and use of library resources and services. The course work requires her to use library tools and resources for actual research, under deadline, and with a need to produce a final product - providing a user perspective of the systems. This type of information helps inform her library instruction and provides numerous authentic search examples for testing library tools and databases. She notes that being in the classroom helps build important personal connections and provides an ongoing advertisement for library resources and services.
Ciccone has written on a variety of topics, including providing subject access to images (for which she received the Theodore Calvin Pease Award), virtual reference services, library portals and information literacy instruction. She is currently working on a paper describing research undertaken for a geomorphology course on the Carolina Bays, shallow depressions that are a pervasive and enigmatic landscape feature of the Atlantic Coastal Plain.