For my LIS program, this summer I’ve been interning at the United States Military Academy (USMA) Library at West Point. The library is situated on an undergraduate collegiate campus and United States Military base about 60 miles north of New York City.
For this month’s Library Friday post, I interviewed Heather Seminelli, the Assistant Director for Communications and Assessment at West Point. Heather is an alum of West Point and received her MLS from Pratt Institute. She’s about one year into her library career. I really admire Heather’s perspective on how librarians can best serve military and veteran populations. But first, I would like to share some of my internship experience at the USMA Library.
My Library Internship at West Point
My experience at West Point has been unique because West Point does not fit into any one library category. The USMA Library is an academic library, while also being a military library and a special library. Since West Point has its own record group in the National Archives and Records Affiliation (NARA), group 404, it is also considered an affiliated archive. The library was the first affiliated archive with NARA in 1953. Its Special Collections and Archives are available for the public to view.
I have been working alongside the digital initiatives librarian, Nick Olijnyk, to help build and enhance the USMA Library’s digital collections, specifically the Pointer View collection. The Pointer View is the official newsletter of USMA.
When I am not working on the digital collections, I shadow library staff from different departments to learn about their varying roles and responsibilities. Excitingly, I’ve gotten a taste of library budgeting, preservation, acquisitions, user services, social media and marketing, liaison duties, and so much more.
Interview with Heather Seminelli, Assistant Director for Communications and Assessment at West Point
What attracted you to the library and information field?
I chose the library and information field because I enjoy teaching, research, academia, and archives. I knew I could combine those areas by working in an academic library.
What is your day to day work like as Assistant Director of Communications and Assessment at the USMA Library?
Most days are different, which is part of what I like about my job. I have some battle rhythm activities, such as attending meetings here in the library and watching what is going on at West Point to see if or how the Library can support USMA, but most of my work is projects.
As an example, today I attended a meeting in the Math Department where I am a liaison, came back to the library to attend training on ConnectNY, went back to my desk prepare some social media posts, worked on our Annual Program Review, submitted the printing request to print the Program Review, attended a meeting where we coordinated our plan for the digital signage when the academic year starts and finalized the coordination for a “Math on the Plain” tour that library staff will be participating in next week. It varies!
What are your favorite and most challenging parts of your work?
One of the more rewarding and challenging parts of my work is to try to determine how we can be most useful to cadets and faculty. I was a cadet, and many of my classmates are junior faculty. I try to place myself in their shoes to find ways that we can support them without adding any burden.
What was your experience like as a cadet at West Point? What was/is your experience like as a member of the U.S. Army?
I majored in Mechanical Engineering with an Aeronautical Engineering focus, and after graduation, I branched Aviation. I moved to Ft. Rucker, Alabama, where I learned how to fly UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. I was in the Army for a little over 8 years. Most of my jobs were planning, training, and assessing so those skills apply to what I am doing now.
How does your relationship to West Point and the U.S. Army inform your practice as a librarian at the USMA Library?
I think that my experiences at West Point and in the Army make my approach as a librarian more practical. When a cadet comes in to find a book for a paper that is due in two days, I understand. I remember being in that situation.
I also understand how research skills and critical thinking are critical for their future profession. So I am always thinking about how we can build a foundation for them use those skills again. For example, they need to know how to research primary sources for a history paper and critically think about those sources. That same skill will apply later when they are assigned to be the investigating officer for a lost piece of property. They will have to research regulations and apply those regulations to recommend what actions should be taken.
What would be your advice to librarians who serve military and veteran populations, who do not have much knowledge about military culture?
Treat them as you would treat anyone else (non-military populations).
As a newer librarian, what would be your advice to library students, and library student graduates who are in their first full-time library position (or soon will be)?
I would suggest talking to as many people working in different types of libraries as possible. Different types of libraries have different personalities. You may discover that you don’t want to do something. Or you might love something you never thought to look into.
Most librarians want to help students. Use that to your advantage to talk to someone you would not necessarily be able to talk to otherwise. Go on trips and take workshops that your school offers. Use your professors to help proofread your resume – especially if you have experience outside of libraries that are applicable but needs to be translated into library language.
Once you get a job, be ready to learn, but also don’t be afraid or hesitant to share your experience when it applies.