Reference Interview – Julie Biando Edwards, Associate Professor, Ethnic Studies Librarian, and Diversity Coordinator, University of Montana, USA
14 March 2016
Name: Julie Biando Edwards
Title: Associate Professor, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library
Institution: University of Montana, Missoula, United States
How long have you been at your current library and what do you do there?
I’ve been at the Mansfield Library for eight years now. It is a bit of a homecoming of sorts, as I was a student at the University of Montana in the late 1990s and worked as a student employee in circulation and interlibrary loan. Right now my title is Ethnic Studies Librarian and Diversity Coordinator, which means I handle teaching, research, reference and some collection work for many of the interdisciplinary subjects taught at the university and I am the library’s representative on diversity initiatives on campus.
Why did you decide to become a librarian?
I decided to become a librarian when I realized, while working in public libraries, that librarianship isn’t about information but about what people can do with information. I see librarianship as social justice work – I care most about how libraries connect people to information and to each other in ways that build individual and community capacity.
Tell us a bit about reference and information services at your library.
We have a busy reference desk and information services section! The desk is staffed with librarians and library technicians and we are available for research and reference help for anyone who walks into the building. We most often work with students on their research assignments and I spend a lot of time working with students in individual research consultations in my office hours. Many students will have me in a class and then come looking for more tailored research help – this is my favorite way to work with students because I get to know them one-on-one. We also have a busy circulation desk, technology support desk, and interlibrary loan desk. Our reference work is tightly tied to our classroom instruction. Subject liaison librarians are deeply involved in course integrated information literacy instruction and the reference desk is an extension of the classroom for many of us.
What do you think is the most important issue in reference and information services right now?
I think that the most important issue is always how people can use information to help them build individual or community capacity. I strive to talk to my students about information as a tool, not as an end in itself. I think that information literacy – more broadly defined as critical thinking and evaluative skills – is a major issue of importance not only for research but for citizenship and development. Reference services, obviously, play a key role in connecting people to information that can help them develop as individuals and citizens.