Melinda Sandkam has always had a heart for certain endeavors, including the education of children and youth, and also helping people find the answers they need. This has guided her career, which includes positions as a hotel concierge, church program director, and preschool director. So perhaps it’s not unusual that she decided to pursue information sciences and librarianship as the next branch of her career
“It has always been about seeking the right information, so it has come full circle,” she said.
She still has a passion for working with children, particularly with those who are underserved. That’s one reason she applied for the SIS Luigi Lemoncello Youth Services Scholarship, which she was awarded for the coming school year. This particular scholarship is a gift funded by University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Communication and Information alum Chris Grabenstein. Grabenstein is an author with many published works, both adult and children, but in particular he wrote the Mr. Lemoncello series. Funds from the sale of his book “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” go towards this scholarship.
“I love the concept, I was very moved when I read about him, that he was an alumni of UTK and decided to give back and that really inspires me that hopefully someday I would be able to pay it forward like this,” Sandkam said, noting she ordered the book series to read with her 10-year-old niece.
Sandkam said she initially chose the program at UT because of its Geographic Information Sciences pathway, but has found other areas of interest since starting the program in fall 2020.
“I’ve come around to public librarianship, specifically outreach and community engagement, everything from bookmobiles to book bikes, anything outside the four walls of the library,” she said.
She’s currently completing an independent study under the guidance of Dr. Wade Bishop that combines both of these passions: the creation of a mapping outreach toolkit. It’s intention is to provide instructions and free tools to outreach librarians so they can create data visualizations to accompany reporting and even grant applications. The idea is to aid those librarians in visualizing where their populations are, who they are, and how they can best serve them via outreach. Sandkam will be on a panel in the fall at the 2021 Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services conference to speak about her toolkit.
Sandkam has immersed herself in full-time studies and even began engaging with professional information sciences organizations such as the American Library Association prior to joining the program. She is currently an officer for the UT student chapter of the Special Libraries Association and plans on attending the Public Library Association conference in Portland next March.
“I have a passion for reaching under-served populations. That’s why outreach librarianship really speaks to me,” she said.
She said she’s incredibly grateful to be given the Lemoncello scholarship, which allows her to participate in professional opportunities while completing her degree.