An Interview with Karen Sheldon, DelVal’s Quintessential Librarian

By Molly K. Lichtner, 5/10/17

Being a librarian runs in Karen Sheldon’s blood.  She comes from a family of librarians:  “My grandfather was the director of the Salt Lake City public library, my uncle is the director of  the Newark public library…I never thought that I would become a librarian, because they all do.”  When she started her senior year of college at the University of Delaware, she wasn’t sure what she should do with her Bachelor of the Arts in Italian Literature.  Things fell into place (just as they often do), and Karen found herself at Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus, studying for a Master’s degree in library science.

It turned out to be a perfect fit, especially because of her love of research.  When asked which search engine for researching was, Karen didn’t hesitate: ““…I have a soft spot for JSTOR because it has so much humanities stuff and so much weird stuff.  It goes back to like the 1700s…That’s one of the ones I flip through.  I don’t really flip through the databases all that often.”  She really loves to learn, especially about things she knows little to nothing about.  “…Every semester there’s just something that catches my interest.  Earlier I was learning all about gharials…Maggie [Ligouri] was telling me about it, so for a couple days I read everything about them that I could.”  For those that aren’t sure what a gharials are, imagine a crocodile with a long, skinny snout.  They have limited habitat and are dying at an alarming rate, but luckily because of research and databases, their existence won’t be gone for good.

For anyone that’s ever written a research paper, you know how specific some articles need to be.  Karen has also helped students with things a little bit out of the ordinary, like strawberry juice, but that’s part of the fun.  “…When I was at Rutgers I worked in the business library, and I basically only got MBA students…they always had these ridiculous projects and somebody came in and they wanted to know about the strawberry juice industry in France, but not the public industry—private companies.”  She was eventually able to find something for the student to use (it was in French, but still, that’s dedication).  Karen believes that what makes DelVal’s library special is the service they provide to everyone on campus.

“Unlike a big school, somewhere like Rutgers, you really don’t get a lot of time to spend with students.  Somebody comes up to the reference desk, you give them their article, you move them along.  Here, we can kind of check back in with the students, we see them, we know what kind of topics they’re interested in.  We buy books specifically because we’ve seen someone and see —oh, the sierra mountain frog, or the Sierra Nevada mountain frog—I know somebody wrote about that last year.  I’m going to buy this book because somebody might need it in the future. Or we’re always buying equine business stuff because there’s so many equine people.  It’s based on exactly what we see the students doing.  It’s really nice to be able to connect what you do, not just to the faculty research but to the student.”

Karen’s love of the library and its patrons is obvious, especially when it comes to ending librarian stereotypes.  She’s not one to shush, and would rather encourage students to talk and learn together.

“I hate shushing people.  At my old job, that was the worst part.  I hated shushing people.  It was  at a community college and the floor that the reference desk was on was a silent floor, but it was the only floor with big tables, so it was the only place on campus that groups could meet.  It was just bad design.”

Karen is excited about everything in the library, even the fact that it may be haunted, although she doesn’t believe those rumors.  Rumor has it that Rabbi Krauskopf’s ghost still lurks in his office and around the memorial room.  Karen has another theory for that.  “I think it’s that the air conditioning in the memorial room is the best functioning so that one gets the coldest…I figure that if he haunts the place, it’s because he loves it.”

DelVal is exceedingly lucky to have such a passionate and devoted librarian on campus.  Who knows, maybe someday Karen’s ghost will haunt her old office too!

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