Interview with SALALM Scholarship Awardee: Lara Aase

When and where...

When and where did you attend the annual SALALM conference?

The scholarship (thanks, SALALM!) covered my Charlottesville conference attendance in 2016, and my second conference was last year in Ann Arbor.

What was the most interesting or unexpected thing that you learned at the conference?

At Charlottesville, I was thrilled to meet a group of like-minded colleagues who were both professionally driven and simpaticxs (not an easy combination to find in academic circles!). At Ann Arbor, even people I hadn't met before seemed like family.

How did you find out about the SALALM Scholarship?

At the beginning of my MLIS, I hunted down a professor with a great reputation as a mentor for prospective academic librarians and asked if she'd take me on. Her very first piece of advice was to join SALALM. Eventually I gathered my courage and the (minimal, student-rate) membership fee and joined, applying for the scholarship shortly after that.

Where did you earn your MLS/MLIS and what was your area of specialization?

I graduated from the iSchool at the University of Washington in 2016. The program didn't have separate specialization tracks, but I knew early on that I wanted to focus on rare books and special collections. UW is strong in theory, research, and technology training, so I was lucky to be able to enhance my old-school rare book knowledge with new ideas about web access, user experience, and digital humanities.

What drew you to the field of librarianship/archival studies?

When I was in high school, I took a career inventory test that told me to be a librarian, but I didn't listen until I'd been through two graduate programs in other fields and years of work as a freelance musician.

Despite having seven separate student jobs in university libraries, all along I thought I wanted to be a professor, because that's what you do with a PhD. I started my doctoral program in Spanish Literature to work with paleography and old books, but somehow it didn't occur to me until I was ABD that I was still hanging out in school because I liked libraries.

It took me another decade of library associate and technician jobs before I was ready to bite the bullet and get the MLIS. And then I discovered that I love finding information, organizing it, and getting it into the hands of people who need it. I used to think librarianship would be just a practical career choice, but now I'm continuously rediscovering that it's a fascinating discipline.

How did you become interested in Latin America/Iberia?

My first non-English languages were French in high school and Italian in undergrad, and when I needed to add another language for my MA in Comp Lit I learned Spanish. One of my first courses was in medieval Spanish literature, which got me interested in paleography, which led to a job at the Spanish Colonial Research Center at UNM and later at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto. Between graduate programs I lived in Costa Rica for a year. But I didn't get past my "high affective filter" until I worked at a public library in Illinois doing Spanish-language programming.

Have you worked with a Latin American/Iberian archival or library collection? In what capacity?

My job at the Spanish Colonial Research Center involved indexing personal names, place names, and other subjects from 16th- and 17th-century New Mexican documents. At the University of Toronto I did Romance-language cataloging, mostly with Spanish materials, and at the Fisher Rare Book Library I dealt with acquisitions and descriptions of early published books in Portuguese as well as Spanish "hojas sueltas." In Illinois I was the selector for Spanish and Latin American publications.

What is your current position?

I'm the solo librarian at the Center of Southwest Studies special collections library at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.

Was SALALM helpful in the development of your career? In what way?

Yes, both theoretically and practically. SALALM gave me something my MLIS program couldn't: connection to academic librarians and library workers who speak a language other than English, who are concerned with library users not best served by mainstream collections, who have a vision beyond the U.S. SALALM is also an excellent network for hearing about job possibilities.

Photo: Lara Aase (left) with Xelena Gonzalez at ALA Midwinter, 2018