Career Strategies for Librarians
My Job as Research Librarian at Monticello
by Bryan Craig
I am the Research Librarian at the Jefferson Library at Monticello (also known as the Thomas Jefferson
Foundation). This job is a special library position in a historical museum. As in any subject-specific
librarian position, I have found it is helpful to have a history background, because I can understand my
users needs like historiography and resources. So it is good to have at least a minor, but preferable to
have an undergraduate or advanced degree in history. In my particular case, I have been a history lover
since I was a child. I minored in history and then ended up getting a M.A. in history focusing on England.
However, Presidential history has always interested me and there was a running joke in library school
that I should apply for one of the presidential libraries. Just my luck, I read an ad for this job in the
Chronicle of Higher Education, applied and got the job. The Chronicle is a good place to find these
jobs. There are other sources like American Libraries or H-Net Jobs http://www.h-net.org/jobs/ but it
might be better to check out websites of the local museums directly.
Like most reference work, this job is focused on reference, instruction, and collection development
primarily on American and world history in the colonial and Early Republic period. In library school, I
focused on reference, instruction, and took a class on collection development. From these core
classes, I learned skills such as discerning authority and accuracy, searching databases and the
Internet, reference interview techniques, teaching skills, and using reference sources. However, as in
many special libraries, this is where the specialization stops.
You must be a generalist. It is helpful to know technology like HTML, FTP, Integrated Library Systems,
usability issues, and database design. You might need to learn Interlibrary Loan, metadata, general
cataloging principles, and administration, as well. The key is to continue taking workshops, electives,
and be aware of as many library functions as possible. As a generalist, if you have previous work
experience, it is good to be a sponge and soak everything in at any job, because you never know when
something could be useful down the road.
My primary patrons are staff members, the general public, scholars, and fellows who are part of the
International Center for Jefferson Studies at the Foundation. When I arrived on the scene, the library was
a small in-house research center. Now, it is a multi-service library with its own building. (We do support
seven departmental libraries such as Guides, Curatorial, and Archaeology.) As I alluded to earlier, I do a
number of things. I am the reference librarian; most of my questions come from email and walk-ins. It
took me a year to get comfortable with all the resources on Thomas Jefferson, and I am still learning. I
get a range of questions, but most deal with either Jefferson quotes or Jefferson family genealogy. With
quotes, most of Jefferson’s more than 18,000 letters are not searchable by keyword, so we can only
spend so much time trying to find needles in a haystack. The Jefferson Library also does not have a lot
of genealogical material, so I do what I can. I teach bibliographic instruction sessions on specific
databases, provide library orientation, offer training on our online catalog, the Jefferson Portal (http:
//tjportal.monticello.org/), and have just started offering Information Literacy sessions, as well. I handle
Interlibrary Loan, circulation, stack maintenance, and collection development. I also maintain the library’
s website (http://www.monticello.org/library/index.html). You get the picture: with a small staff, you do
everything from changing light bulbs to web design.
It has been a wonderful opportunity to learn so much in a short period of time. In the first year or so, I
designed a library website, helped choose a library system, aided in a Foundation-wide information
inventory, consulted on the building, and even did some cataloging. By the time we moved into our new
15,000 square foot facility near Monticello, the research library had been renamed the Jefferson Library,
and my boss and I began to market ourselves to our staff and the public more heavily. (This was usually
done through site visits and email.) When we moved in, I had to implement the library system and begin
to work on the policies and procedures for the building and the library system. By this time, we added a
paraprofessional; thus I became a supervisor. Six months later, we hired a full-time cataloger. You
might ask yourself how I survived without losing my mind? Good question. Besides a good sense of
humor, I really did rely on my library and information science education and previous work experience.
Also, it is great to have a good boss who has an open door and wants to discuss issues as they come
This job and the library itself are more mature now. However, there are many things still to do. There
are still building issues. We still need to market ourselves (as do all libraries) and label books in a few
more departmental libraries. However, it is the special projects that help make the library and my job
grow. Presently, I am working with our webmaster on a new database of questions and answers. With
this database online, a patron can search for an answer at his or her convenience, and it would cut down
on the reference time. This database can also act as an archive for those questions and answers,
because the paper files are an immense storage problem. We are stretching MARC to the limit here.
We are bringing in records of materials we actually don’t even own! For example, Jefferson had many
libraries in his lifetime and our goal is to find as many OCLC records for those books and include them
in our Portal with a series link indicating which library that book was in. We have no plans to purchase
these books, we can’t afford it, nor do we have the space, but a researcher can come to the Jefferson
Portal and find the information and go from there. Also, we are adding rich annotations from Frank
Shuffelton’s Thomas Jefferson: A Comprehensive, Annotated Bibliography of Writings about Him, 1826-
1997. (Dr. Shuffelton has gone beyond 1997 now.)
As I reflect back, I probably learned more about a library than I would have if I followed my original job
path, academic librarianship. I am proud to play a small role in making the Jefferson Library the world
headquarters for the life, times, and legacy of Thomas Jefferson.
About the Author:
Since 2000, Bryan Craig has the Research Librarian at Monticello. He received both his M.A. in history
and MLS from Kent State University.
Article published Nov 1, 2003; revised Nov 19, 2003
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.