Mary Jane Petrowski (MSLS ’78) receives 2018 SILS Distinguished Alumni Award

May 16, 2018

Mary Jane Petrowski (MSLS ’78) started library school at UNC-Chapel Hill with the intention of becoming a rare book librarian, but a few courses into the curriculum, she began to doubt her decision. Then, through an internship with the EPA-RTP Library and a part-time position with the UNC Health Sciences Library, Petrowski learned how much she enjoyed academic and research librarianship.

Mary Jane Petrowski and Gary Marchionini standing in front of Manning Hall
Mary Jane Petrowski (MSLS ’78) and SILS Dean Gary Marchionini
before the SILS Spring Commencement on May 13.

“That’s one of the strengths of the program at UNC,” Petrowski said. “You have so many opportunities for hands-on experiences, which can really make a difference for students like me who had never worked in a library before starting the degree program.”

After completing her degree, Petrowski launched a career that has included appointments with the U.S. Department of Defense in Turkey, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Colgate University in New York. Today, she is Associate Director at the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), the largest division of the American Library Association, representing more than 10,500 members from across the nation.

Though her career has taken her far and away from Chapel Hill, she has maintained a close connection to the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS), and is now a member of the SILS Campaign Committee, helping to lead the School’s efforts as part of the University’s historic Campaign for Carolina.

At the 2018 SILS Spring Commencement, the SILS Alumni Association (SILSAA) recognized Petrowski’ s professional achievements and service to the School by naming her the 63rd recipient of the SILS Distinguished Alumni Award. 

After accepting the framed certificate from SILSAA President Doug Diesenhaus, Petrowski offered the class of 2018 a glowing endorsement and some words of advice.

“Your degree is one of the best investments that you’ll every make,” she said. “I think you’ve chosen a very rewarding career, and one that is going to allow you to work in many kinds of institutions, not just in the U.S. but all over the world.”

Petrowski encouraged students to give back to the School to ensure that future students would have the same opportunities and experiences that they have enjoyed. She also recommended they join a professional organization as a way to further expand their knowledge and expertise and find ways to make an impact on their fields.

“I know that SILS has fostered a strong feeling of community and congeniality, and a professional association can help you continue to grow,” she said.

Petrowski closed by saying that if the graduates were ever in Chicago, she would welcome them to stop in for a visit at the ALA headquarters to learn more about its various professional associations. 

Not long after Petrowski completed her MSLS in 1978, she was hired over the phone to run a small military library on a U.S. Army intelligence base in Sinop, Turkey. After seven years, the Turkish military began to censor the library collection, especially materials related to the Armenian genocide, prompting Petrowski to find a new position at the NATO Command Library in Ramstein, West Germany.

Just before the Berlin Wall fell, she returned to the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana (UIUC) to work on a Certificate of Advance Study in library science. While there, she joined the library faculty of the University Library and worked in the Undergraduate Library. She then left Illinois for snowy upstate New York where she worked at Colgate University for 10 years

Since 2002, Petrowski has been Associate Director at the ACRL, where she serves as chief operating officer, manages the Academic Library Trends and Statistics program, ACRL fundraising, membership, and liaison support for numerous division-level committees.