Friday, July 24, 2009

Meet Laura Jacobi

Without much preamble, we're going to meet Laura Jacobi today. Laura is actually kind of a bigwig. Her official title is Manager of Instruction & Reference Services, which means she's my supervisor. Bureaucratic considerations aside, though, she's also a hard-working librarian like Jane, Diana, and Patrick, someone who has to be quick on her feet and with her wits. She's also spent some time in prison and may, in fact, be an extraterrestrial. Read on to find out more!

1) Where are you from, anyway?
My heart is in the Klaatu Nebula, but I'm also a proud daughter of the Garden State (Exit 135 on the Parkway). I now live in Takoma Park, aka Berkeley East. I occasionally see other Gallaudet faculty and staff members as we get our exercise in Sligo Creek Park.

2) How did you get here?
Usually by car (ask me anything about the Jersey Turnpike) or Amtrak. I came to attend what was then called Trinity College, hung around to work here, went to graduate school at Catholic U, and married a local guy. I thought I'd work for a business, but instead started out as a children's librarian. I worked for many years in a variety of jobs in a variety of branches of the Prince George's County public library. I also worked for Prince George's Community College. My other jobs have included: clerk, dictation typist (ask your grandparents what a typewriter is), and -- very briefly -- maximum security prison librarian. Anyhow, eventually it was time for a new challenge, and I certainly found it here!

3) How long have you worked here, and can you give me an idea of some of the more interesting things you've seen in your tenure at Gallaudet?
I've been here since 1993. The biggest change is that the Internet has become so absolutely an essential part of our lives. As a librarian, I think it's fun to find (not search for) information, and the web has expanded our ability to find stuff easily, far beyond anything I ever imagined. Technology for deaf people has changed too -- I used to think ttys were high tech. It’s always neat to see students start out as freshman, advance to senior year, march in their caps and gowns, and come back as grad students or with their spouses and children. And of course it's been very interesting to watch Gallaudet politics over the years.

4) I don't think a lot of people know that the librarians here at Gallaudet tend to specialize in specific subjects. What are your specialties?
A cool part of my job is deciding which books, journals, and online sources to buy for my specialties -- Reference and “Human Relations.” Reference books are designed to be used to find specific information very quickly. Now people usually prefer web resources to books for quick information, so we buy lots of online reference sources. They’re available in the ALADIN computer system. “Human Relations” refers to the disciplines of Communication Studies, Counseling, Psychology, Social Work, and Sociology. I pick books, journals, and databases for them too. And until you came along, I used to have the fun of selecting pleasure reading and viewing books and videos – I miss that! I regularly ask the faculty in my disciplines to tell me what I should buy, and I like to get suggestions from students too.

5) What can you do for students or faculty in these fields?
First, I try to make sure we have what students and faculty need before they even know they need it. Also, we have cool new software called “LibGuides,” and I’m writing some guides on different subjects and, I hope, for specific courses – faculty and student suggestions are welcome! I can go to classes or do workshops in the Library to help students research particular topics, and anyone can make an appointment to work with me in private without interruptions.

6) Can you list some of the resources that you use the most in working with students and faculty? Why are they good resources to use?
This is a hard question, because ALADIN has 60+ databases. I particularly like ERIC and PsycINFO, which are two education and psychology databases, because you can use their built-in thesauri to do very specific searches for very complex topics. One example might be: How can I find quantitative research reports on psychological services for disadvantaged minority deaf-blind people? Another nifty database, mostly created by former Gallaudet librarian Tom Harrington, is the Gallaudet University Library Guide to Deaf Biographies. Have there ever been any deaf totem pole carvers? That’s the place to find out.

7) What do you like the most about working here?
Wow, I have a long list! I work with some really smart librarians who know a lot more than I do and like to share information too. I love it when my help transforms a student from confused or frustrated to satisfied and confident. I never know what people are going to ask next. And they’re going to ask it in sign language! (I learned to sign pretty late in life, and it’s still a thrill to understand and be understood.) Because we’re a fairly small library, I do a lot of different things -- checking out books, making schedules, learning new databases, trying to figure out how to explain complex things simply –- so there’s always something fun or challenging to do. And I get to learn for a living.

8) There's been some talk about a new library building in the works over the next few years. What's the one thing you'd most like to see included in the new one?
Long before I decided to become a librarian, I always loved the feeling of walking into a library – a spacious, serene place full of things to be discovered, and they were there for me. Whatever the physical space is like, as long as the space and staff inspire that feeling in students, it will be all right.

9) Last question, I promise: What's your favorite color?
Blue, but then there’s green, and they’re best in contrast to red and yellow …

Good grief. That finishes off all the librarians in the public eye (including me). There are actually a few others on staff, but they're kind of more behind the scenes, and although they will be profiled later, I ... I feel like I've been collecting trading cards or collectibles and just finished the set. What am I going to do now?

This has plunged me into a funk. Just ... read the Question of the Week and I'll see you next week, when we start on a series of What Arriving Students Need to Know ...


Question of the Week
I'm a new freshman and I just arrived for Jump Start. I went to the Library and asked the person behind the Desk how I could start checking out books and movies, but they said I wasn't in the system yet. Why not? How does the Library get me into the system?
Through the Registrar's Office. Our system only allows students at all levels (undergraduate, graduate, doctoral) to check out items from the Library if they're registered for the current semester, and this is accomplished by an injection of student data from the Registrar every few days. It takes a little bit of time (especially during the crunch that happens before the Fall semester begins), but both the Library and the Registrar do everything we can to get everyone who should be in the system into the system as soon as possible. If you are registered for the current term, but that information isn't showing on your record, let us know about the problem and we'll do our best to find out where the hangup is and fix it.

In the meantime, you are more than welcome to pull books or magazines (Vogue,The Amazing Spider-Man, Hot Rod, whatever) from the shelves and hang out in the Library to read and relax. You can also check out DVDs and videotapes for up to 2 hours in exchange for a photo ID and watch them in the Library -- we have tons of TVs, VCRs, and DVD players. My personal recommendation is room 1220, the Deaf Library Study Center; you can either use the 55-inch flat-panel through the computer that's hooked up to it, or one of the wall-mounted TV/DVD/VCR booths. There are comfortable chairs in there that you can pull up to one of the booths and lounge in with snacks and a refreshing beverage. The only stipulation is that the stuff you're looking at isn't allowed to leave the building. Otherwise, feel free to make yourself at home (so to speak).


  1. Great Q&A! Always good to see the quirky side of a fellow Gallaudet staff member.

  2. Thanks, Rhea ... no shortage of quirks here!


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