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MSIS Student Spotlight: Adam Hembree Pursues Interest in Public Librarianship and Archives Pathways

MSIS student Adam Hembree poses with donated collections in the basement of the Blount County Public Library, where he's doing a practicum this fall.

Featured student: Adam Hembree

Location: Knoxville, TN

Education: Bachelor’s in Spanish and interdisciplinary studies, Christopher Newport University, Newport News, Virginia; Master’s degree in applied linguistics from Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia.

Career/Background: After I did my undergrad, I worked my way up at Rosetta Stone to being an area manager in Hampton Roads, Virginia,where I’m from, and it got me really interested in linguistics and language learning – I was already interested in that, but that solidified it. I went back to school for linguistics and I ended up doing a concentration in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) so I could get a job right after I graduated.

I started working at the school I graduated from, Old Dominion University, and taught adult English for academic purposes, and what I did there led into me wanting to be a librarian. I mainly taught classes in our bridge program, which was for international students who were taking half of their classes at the university with the other half in our language center. I helped build the program’s curriculum, which included research and technology components to help students succeed in their university classes. I also worked with special programs with the Mexican military, where we would have groups of cadets and officers come over for immersive language and culture programs. This gave me the opportunity to have fun, getting students using new technologies and out exploring the area and its resources.

Why did you choose to study information sciences?

I loved teaching but hated being stuck in a classroom. I wanted to help people with learning and tech-related things in a more open and creative environment. I actually didn’t even think about going to library school until I asked one of my friends who was working at the ODU library whether she would go on to get a library degree. She told me that she couldn’t imagine herself working in a library forever, which help me realize right then that that would be the perfect environment for me!

Why did you choose the University of Tennessee Knoxville for your master’s degree in information sciences?

Being from Virginia, we had the Academic Common Market, which would let me get in-state tuition from certain schools, so I limited myself to that list and started with the ones that were highly ranked. I applied to two schools and the MSIS program at UT was more highly ranked, and after being accepted and offered an assistantship, tuition waiver, and stipend right off the bat, I jumped on it. I was also curious about the state and the local events that my friends who had visited told me about.

I wanted to make sure that the school I went to would be somewhat versatile because I like having the option to take different courses and follow my interests over sticking to a pre-defined set of courses.I saw that SIS had different tracks and a variety of courses that piqued my interest. I also have to say that talking with Dr. Fleming-May a few times about my background and goals really helped make the program more personable and inviting. That kind of interaction, and having someone tell me how the program would work for me, really helped.

Are you doing a practicum for your MSIS?

I’m doing my practicum at the Blount County Public Library in Maryville. The library got a huge donation from a local video production company that was owned by a well-known resident who passed away a few years ago. The collection has an enormous amount of local history, such as local commercials, interviews and testimonials from community members, chamber of commerce meetings, community events—and it was all just sitting in storage. The library wants to write a grant proposal to get the collection digitized, as well as make it available to the community. I was really excited and it’s taking me a long time to process the collection, but the potential value of this “snapshot” of local history from the ’80s to today can’t be underestimated. I will hopefully be continuing my work with the library in another practicum in the spring.

Do you know which SIS career pathway you’re hoping to follow?

I would stillsaythat my primary goal is to work in public libraries,but I’m really interested in the more archival work that they do, like local history collections. I’d like to eventually organize technology classes and workshops to help patrons learn how to use different technologies and also help them organize, digitize, and make accessible their own mounting piles of family history, such as photos, videos, and handwritten mementos.

After my grandpa died a few years ago, my dad digitized all of our own family photosand is relying on meto organize them, which made me realize that such a digitization project, even for just one family, got lots of people excited and interested in seeing what items each individual member of the family could contribute and have digitized.

What kind of graduate work have you done during your time in the MSIS program?

I have been working as a graduate assistant for Dr. Peiling Wang since August 2019 and have helped her with her research. In our recently published paper in “Scientometrics,” we looked at expert faculty recommendations on F1000Prime research articles and the article citation patterns.Now we are beginning to look at the language and communication style of reviewers of open access journals. This position has given me the chance to use my background in applied linguistics as well as work with use data analyticsthat I think will be useful later even in public libraries.

I’ve also been working at Hodges Library at the public service desk since February, where I work as a research assistant online and in-person with circulation and other patron needs.

What has your experience at SIS been like?

I’ve enjoyed my time in the program so far. You can tell that the professors really care about their students, often going out of their way to give you feedback and help you figure out something from class readings or lecturesand changing due dates or adjusting significant sections of assignments for students struggling to adapt to life and work during the COVID epidemic. I love that the professors are hands-on and really want to simulate tasks that you might encounter in the field, such as Dr. Awa’s assignments involving the creation of your own digital library on Omeka,or lecturer Emil Hoelter’s appraisal assignment, which lets you arrange a collection of digitized historical records from the Spanish-American War. These are just a few examples that show how professors try to prepare students in professions that are of interest to them.