‘Librarians don’t sit around and read all day’: Behind-the-scenes with three dynamic Honnold Mudd Librarians

Librarians Nazia Islam and Katie Kohn stand in front of the Honnold-Mudd Library.
Arts and Humanities Librarian Kendra Macomber, Interdisciplinary Librarian Nazia Islam and STEM Librarian Katie Kohn hold a variety of responsibilities, including researching, working on personal projects, assisting students, and advertising resources. (Cecilia Ransburg • The Student Life)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a student that hasn’t spent late nights studying at the Honnold/Mudd Library. With finals around the corner, working underneath the fluorescent lights on the fourth floor has become a staple in many students’ lives. 

However, Honnold/Mudd is more than just a convenient place to meet for group projects or stay up until 1 a.m. without bothering your roommates — it’s run by a number of brilliant librarians specializing in different academic areas and research processes. 

TSL reached out to three via email about their experiences becoming college librarians: Arts and Humanities Librarian Kendra Macomber, Interdisciplinary Librarian Nazia Islam and STEM Librarian Katie Kohn. 

Macomber always knew she wanted to be a librarian. 

“I am one of the lucky ones,” she said. “I knew what I wanted to do from a young age … During recess in elementary school, I would shelve books instead of going out to the playground.” 

However, this isn’t everyone’s path — Kohn decided to pursue librarianship in the midst of her dissertation research, after having previously decided to pursue being a chemistry professor, and Islam’s interest began with a job at her school’s library while pursuing her first master’s degree.

Though the three became interested in their career path at different times in their lives, one factor was consistent: a lot of time spent in academic spaces. 

“It is not uncommon for librarians in higher education to have multiple graduate degrees,” Macomber said. 

At the Claremont Colleges Library, Macomber provides research assistance related to art, English and media studies; Islam assists with social sciences and humanities, with a special interest in anthropology; and Kohn supports astronomy, biology, chemistry, engineering, math, neuroscience and physics.

Though some may stereotype librarianship as a solitary endeavor, the three librarians all highlighted interacting with others as one of their favorite parts of their job. 

“The best part of my day is when I’m visiting a class to discuss research strategies or meeting with students or faculty 1:1 to talk about their research,” Macomber said. 

Islam revealed that working with students on their research often comes with learning a thing or two herself. 

“The most rewarding part of my job is being able to help students with their research and learning so much from them in return.” —Nazia Islam

“The most rewarding part of my job is being able to help students with their research and learning so much from them in return,” she said. “I find out new things constantly with all the wonderful work our students are doing.” 

Kohn felt similarly. 

“As a librarian, I’m constantly learning about research that I would never have encountered otherwise,” she said. 

However, Kohn added that advertising the scope of personal resources and one-on-one support the librarians offer to the 5C community can be challenging. 

“I love helping people solve problems [and] teaching them about resources and skills that they can use going forward. And yet, one of my main challenges is making people aware of the many ways that librarians can do just that,” Kohn said. “I’m always looking for new ways to reach out to students and faculty, so that they don’t hesitate to reach out to me when they need help.” 

Outreach isn’t the only challenge that comes with being a librarian. Honnold/Mudd is a large library, serving all 7Cs, which can be difficult to navigate. 

“A healthy challenge I have is keeping track of everything going on at all the different colleges,” Islam said. 

Scholarly sources can be uniquely complex to work with as well. 

“A lot of times, libraries are at the mercy of publishers for pricing and what they make available to libraries. For example, publishers will raise prices of materials at a faster pace than inflation or make many books not available to libraries as e-books, like textbooks,” Macomber said. “One of my biggest goals as a librarian is to facilitate access to information for people, so navigating these hurdles can be a challenge.” 

Outside of research support, Honnold/Mudd librarians engage in their own research and personal projects. Macomber and Islam curate the library’s zine collection together, which Macomber listed as one of her favorite endeavors. 

“Our zine collection at the Library focuses primarily on work by people of color, LGBTQ people, women and Claremont Colleges students,” Macomber said. “It’s always a highlight in the semester when we get new zine donations from students, or I get to visit classes and talk about zines.” 

These personal projects extend beyond curation — they can involve research or event organizing as well. 

“I’m working with a few colleagues on inclusive metadata where we are thinking about ways of having our library catalog and archival descriptions be inclusive … ” Islam said. 

Kohn, for her part, works with Claremont Discourse, a seminar series hosted by The Claremont Colleges Library which centers on 7C faculty’s academic work. 

“These lectures are meant to be accessible to a wide audience and encourage conversation across disciplinary contexts,” she said. “My favorite part of college was attending seminars, usually on topics completely unrelated to my degree, but it can be hard to keep track of everything going on across all the departments, programs and colleges here … I love that we highlight that diversity of research all in one place.” 

There is a fairly dominant mental stereotype of what it means to work at a library, one implanted perhaps by childhood media or a particularly memorable middle-school librarian. 

“I think librarianship comes with a lot of stereotypes of shushing people, wearing cardigans and having cats,” Macomber said. 

However, especially at the college level, these stereotypes are simply untrue. 

“Librarians don’t sit around and read all day,” Islam said, and it appears that she is right: From just these three samples, it is clear that being a librarian means engaging deeply with research, academia and student interests, with a whole lot of passion and intellect. 

“As a subject librarian, my job is as much about people as it is about information resources,” Kohn said.

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