True Librarian — Interviews with UWM Libraries Staff: Linda Kopecky

Linda Kopecky. Photo by Christina DeSpears.

Linda Kopecky. Photo by Christina DeSpears.

Linda Kopecky leads the UWM Libraries’ Research Services team, helping to support an exceptional community of scholars and researchers: UWM is ranked as one of the nation’s 115 Research I universities. She and her team members work proactively with faculty and graduate students to ensure that their research needs are being met, providing course instruction, individualized research consultation, and workshops on scholarly publishing.

In addition to her dedicated assistance to the UWM community and her support of UWM’s strategic directive of research excellence, Linda has impacted her profession nationally.

She has contributed to librarianship’s progress for more than 30 years, serving on over 60 national boards, committees, working groups, panels, and sections, not to mention her numerous state and campus appointments.

Linda is currently an American Library Association (ALA) Councilor at Large, and was an Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) Director at Large from 2008 to 2012.

She credits her extraordinary service record to a work ethic learned in her childhood home: “Why am I answering email from a desperate doctoral student while I am on vacation at two in the morning? Because if you can help, of course you are going to help: that was our family philosophy.”

Q: Did you always want to be a librarian?

Linda: Everyone supposedly picks a career as a freshman in college, or at least a major. But I had no clue. What I did know was that I liked to do research, so I chose English because I thought there would be a lot of reading and writing. What I later realized was that I loved researching the paper but I was not big on writing it. So becoming a librarian was perfect because you are helping people with their research, the fascinating part of it: digging up background and putting the pieces together.

Q: You began your career working with government documents. How did that come about?

Linda: I totally fell into it. As an undergrad, I interviewed for work study jobs at Northern Illinois University’s library and was hired in the Government Publications Department. I was all set to go to graduate school at UNC Chapel Hill, when my boss said, “Hey, if you stay here you could be my graduate assistant for government docs, we pay $10 an hour, and your tuition is free.” So, I was like, “OK, I’m staying!”

Q: Your first job was at the University of Illinois-Chicago library, after a residency there?

Linda: Yes. At UI-C and then at my second job at the University of Illinois-Springfield library, I was a faculty member (I was tenured at UI-S and served on the faculty senate), so early in my career I acquired an academic background and mindset, which has made me a strong advocate for UWM’s faculty and researchers, and grounded my own service philosophy—faculty are faculty 24/7.

Q: When did you begin your national service?

Linda: That started during my UI-C residency. UI-C had a strong history of professional involvement, and on Day One, our mentors said, “Pick what you are going to be involved with. You need to be on a national committee by your second year, and if you are not chairing a national committee by your third year, then you are not really trying.”

Q: All your years of service, does that equate to a lot of travel?

Linda: Yes, as we barely had email when I began, most of my early committee work was face to face, very intense. If you were on a Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) committee, the odds were you were up until midnight in hotel suites working on legislation issues, things that were going to the ALA Council in the morning. GODORT members are the legislative specialists, so when something comes before Congress that is going to affect all libraries, ALA looks to the people who speak the language of legislation and asks us, “What does this really mean?” When the Baby Bells were breaking up and Congress was deciding on legislation for phone companies and access, that was huge. The whole idea of net neutrality—that everybody should have access to the same internet at the same speed—was championed by GODORT early on. That is still playing out, of course.

Q: One of your more recent appointments was to the ACRL Value of Academic Libraries Committee.

Linda: That is the group that spearheaded Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success—an initiative to train librarians to evaluate and then promote the value of their libraries to their academic community. Here at the UWM Libraries, we used this evidence-based strategy to look at the impact that employment in the library and hands-on mentoring has had on our interns after they graduate and enter the profession. And what we found was that internships did indeed make a difference in landing a first position and being fully prepared to succeed in it.