Leave it to Emily Drabinski to make librarian work look glamorous. It may be 2017, but libraries are as vital as ever, thanks to coordinators like Drabinski, who heads the instruction program at LIU Brooklyn. In this golden age of information, she helps students learn how to think about it, where it comes from and how it gets to the library. Through her line of work, Drabinski hopes librarians can continue to do what they’ve always done: connecting people to resources that enable them to change their lives and the world.
How and why did you become involved in your line of work in academia? I was working at LuckyMagazine in 2001 as a fact checker. Part of my job was to count the number of bargains in each issue for the cover line. When it said “186 great bargains inside!” that was an actual number counted by me. I remember sitting in my cubicle one day after counting bargains and realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to make a life that mattered for myself working in magazines. I started working at the New York Public Library and began a library program. It felt like home immediately. Libraries collect and organize the vastness of human knowledge, and then help people to connect to the parts of that knowledge infrastructure that matters to them. That’s work and a life that matters.
Tell us a little bit about your present work—the Cliffs Notes (pun intended) version of your day to day, and what is at stake. I coordinate the instruction program at LIU Brooklyn, home of the Blackbirds. That means I help students learn how to think about information, where it comes from and how it gets to the library, what voices are automatically included and which struggle to find a place in discourse. And I help students find five evidence-based practice research articles about wound care for their paper due this Friday. Knowing how to navigate information worlds to make your own meaning is always a critical life skill.
What do you find most fulling about being Coordinator of Library Instruction at LIU Brooklyn, given it’s such a diverse and lively campus? I love working with students, and LIU Brooklyn’s are the best. They come from all over the world and from the boroughs, a huge chunk from Brooklyn, and to the last are engaged and interested in themselves and their world.
I have been challenged in my teaching this year by an unprecedented lockout of the LIU Brooklyn faculty by LIU administration. In September, the faculty were fired en masse by an administration bent on dismantling the faculty union, just as other unions on campus have been dismantled one by one. We were locked out for eleven days, no health insurance or salary, no access to our offices or our emails, a strong-arm tactic that shocked me and everyone else working here. Organizing worker power has been a challenge, but I have learned a lot: we are more powerful standing together than we are on our own.
What do you hope changes or improves (or continues!) in your field in the future? I hope librarians can continue to do what we have always done, connecting people to resources that enable them to change their lives and the world. I also hope to use my experience as a locked out worker to help others organize their workplaces. Working across differences to fight against the boss is transformative, and I’d like other people to get to have that experience, too!
For fun, who would you nominate for this list? Doug Gordon of BrooklynSpoke.com! My dad was hit and killed by a truck while crossing the street in a crosswalk in December 2015. Since then, street safety has been at the top of my mind. The work Doug does for and with Transportation Alternatives makes my borough safer. And, he’s really pretty funny. We both ran the NYC marathon for TA this year—a fantastic time.