UVA Library student worker Sarah Hesler is off to the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies (UMD iSchool) this fall to get her masters in library and information science. While there, she will serve as a Graduate Assistant in the Preservation Department of the University of Maryland Library, following in the footsteps of her current boss, Director of Preservation Kara McClurken. McClurken served as a graduate assistant in that same department nearly twenty years ago and credits her experience there as the reason she chose to focus on preservation for her library career.
McClurken couldn’t be more proud—of her student, or the mentoring program of the UVA Library Preservation Department. “The preservation of our cultural history is generally not a subject that is known to most students as they are growing up—so few high school students imagine this as a possible career. I know I didn’t. We have worked hard in this department to support both potential and early career librarians and conservators so that we can ensure the good stewardship of our cultural history in the next generation.” For McClurken, the fact that Hesler is not only going on to her alma mater, but will be working in the same department that launched her own career, is heartwarming: “Sarah is one of those students that you can see right away has so much to contribute to the world—she is hardworking, enthusiastic, and eager to learn. I couldn’t be happier for Sarah or for my colleagues at Maryland.
We sat down to talk with Sarah about her current job and her plans for the future.
Where is your hometown? Virginia Beach, VA
What is your major? Astronomy major with a pre-medical track
What made you want to apply for your current job? While searching for a job for Summer 2018, I found the listing for Summer Preservation Student Assistant on Handshake and after reading the description, I immediately knew it was the job I wanted to do. After working there for the summer, I stayed for the school year because I enjoyed it so much.
What do you like about your current job, and what have you learned? I like the combination of critical thinking, creativity, hand-eye coordination, precision, and attention to detail required for preservation. I’ve learned so many concrete skills for making protective enclosures and mending multiple kinds of material, but I have also developed my own intuition when it comes to taking measurements or deciding how to best approach a project.
What made you decide to go to library school? After working at Preservation for several months, I realized that I enjoy working in Preservation and in the Library in general even more than I thought I would. My original plan to pursue medicine no longer excited me like it used to, and I realized that it wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore. Working at Preservation has been one of my favorite experiences at UVA. While working here, I heard a lot about Rare Book School at UVA, and I eventually expanded on my involvement with the Library by applying for RBS’s Presswork Fellowship. My experience with RBS just increased my love for working with books and the Library, and I realized at some point during all of this that I should pursue what I really love—preservation. I decided that the best first step for this would be to attend graduate school for a Masters in Library Science, as this would increase my qualification for working in a library and provide the opportunity to learn more skills in an academic and professional setting. I’m hoping to expand my skills with rare or abnormal materials as I gain more education and experience.
Do you know what you want to study and/or specialize in? My favorite aspect of library work is preservation/conservation, and I am interested in collections management as well, so I intend to focus on Archives and Digital Curation. I also really enjoy dealing with rare books and materials, so I am hoping to have some involvement with that as well.
What excites you about the UMD program and the Graduate Assistantship? I am so excited to be able to work in the Preservation Department while I attend UMD. I have loved working with UVA’s collections, and I am very excited to see what the collection looks like at another school. The close proximity of UMD to Washington D.C. gives easy access to a huge amount of museums and libraries that I am hoping to build relationships with while at UMD. The UMD Graduate School places a lot of emphasis on balancing “a strong theoretical foundation with hands-on experience”, which I believe is extremely valuable for someone hoping to enter the library field as a career.
What else should we know about you? I have a strange major and background for someone entering the library field, but I think my different experiences will give me an interesting perspective on challenges presented to me. I also feel as though the people I work with at UVA’s Preservation Department have made my learning and working experience so fun. I learn from my bosses and fellow student employees every day. They inspire me and they are the best part of UVA. I’m looking forward to seeing where this path takes me.