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Making connections

By October 11, 2021September 16th, 2023No Comments

By Allison Campbell-Jensen

Carissa Tomlinson

Carissa Tomlinson

Carissa Tomlinson is a new member of the Friends of the University Libraries board. In some ways, this brings her back to her first job at a library, working with the Friends of the Minneapolis Public Library (now part of the Hennepin County Library).

There, she helped coordinate volunteers and also was able to meet people like their Friends board member Arvonne Fraser — a leader in women’s rights efforts and a political force in Minnesota, national, and international politics. The Dinkytown branch library now is named for her. That connection was “cool,” she remembers.

Now, Tomlinson — who is Director of Student Experience, Learning & Outreach at the Libraries — is making new connections on the Friends board.

Choosing library school

She did not start out intending to work in a library, however. Tomlinson’s major as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota was in Women’s Studies, with a minor in Global Studies. She hoped to find a position in the nonprofit world but when that didn’t work out, she looked at graduate school.

“I had a few things I was interested in: Urban planning, public health, or library science,” she says. “The library science program at St. Kate’s was the only one that didn’t require the GRE [Graduate Record Examination].” So she choose library science.

Initially, she planned to work in a public library. While in library school, she worked at the now-closed James J. Hill Library. It was a business-focused library located right next to the main St. Paul Library, where she spent a good amount of time.

Browsing at the public library, “I realized that I am not cut out to be a public librarian. I couldn’t be a social worker (trying to help people in need of housing, for instance). Thank goodness those people are there, but it wasn’t something I thought I could handle.”

Through her coursework, she became interested in teaching and decided to become an academic librarian instead.

Focused on students

“I saw how consequential the Friends could be, in terms of supporting the Libraries financially, in terms of programming, and in that case, in terms of getting volunteers to do a variety of things.”

—Carissa Tomlinson

During her first years out of library school, Tomlinson worked at Towson University in Baltimore, part of the University of Maryland system. She started as an emerging technologies librarian, then became a liaison to health professional students and then worked with nursing students in particular. She became the librarian for first-year experience for students, then the assistant university librarian for access and outreach services.

She very much enjoyed the focus on students and, after coming back to the University of Minnesota as Librarian for Physical Sciences and Engineering, she now is excited about her new position in Student Experience.

“As the director, I don’t get to work one-on-one with students very often but even just knowing that my folks are really focusing on students” is rewarding, she says. She has been taking part in student-focused activities, like Homecoming and a recent academic resources fair.

Focused on Friends

Tomlinson also is enthusiastic about joining the Friends of the Libraries. She’s interested partly because of her earlier experiences with the Minneapolis Library Friends.

“I saw how consequential the Friends could be, in terms of supporting the Libraries financially, in terms of programming, and in that case, in terms of getting volunteers to do a variety of things.”

The Friends of the University Libraries, she says, “allows us to showcase our resources and our expertise through our programming or events. It shows our value as the Libraries on a larger level, not just for our students, [but also] our faculty and researchers.”

Tomlinson has joined the Friends committee that decides which student employees and staff might receive awards. She looks forward to brainstorming with them and also giving them the insider information about how the Libraries work.

“I see myself as a connector between working in the Libraries and all these great supporters and Friends and all of their ideas,” she says.


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