Outreach & Instruction Librarian, Special Collections, Librarian/Social Media Manager, University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City
MS, Information, University of Michigan School of Information, Ann Arbor, 2011
Photo by Bob Stefko
From Special to Supersocial
Digitization may have democratized the field, but not many special collections librarians actively promote to a general audience. University of Iowa librarian Colleen Theisen is the exception.
“The very first day that I needed to go to a special collection,” she says, “the door was closed. I went home because I was scared. [For] every library there’s a certain intimidation factor, but there’s an extra level when it comes to special collections.”
Even as an entry-level librarian in special collections, Theisen’s job included social media. “[I was] given a lot of freedom to do whatever I could think up.” Primarily, that has meant surfacing the library’s collections on Tumblr, on a page that has over 36,000 followers. Her content, such as the library’s fore-edge paintings (paintings on the edge of a book), has been picked up by Buzzfeed, Colossal, and the Atlantic, going viral in the process.
While starting with a solo endeavor, Theisen now has three graduate assistants working under her direction, as well as a network of specialized feeds for the schools’ map, women’s, and sf collections.
The other side of Theisen’s work is growing, too: the instructional program has doubled, she says. “My job [is] to bring the same excitement into the classroom as we have online.”
Meanwhile, Theisen is experimenting with Vine, an ultrashort video format that doesn’t need editing, to promote special collections. However, YouTube is still her main video home. “I like video’s ability to put a personal face on librarianship,” she says.
Connecting the two sides of her work, Theisen’s students have been transcribing documents on the university’s crowdsourced DIY History site, then making videos about them, and putting the results online “where everyone can see it, and be inspired by it.”