The University of Missouri Libraries recently welcomed Joseph Askins as Head of Instructional Services. We are excited to have him on board. Get to know a little more about him in this quick interview.
Please tell us a little about your background and experience. What led you to the University of Missouri Libraries?
I grew up in Northwest Arkansas, not too far from the University of Arkansas and Walmart’s world headquarters, and moved to Columbia in 1999 to study Journalism. After graduating from the J-School in 2003, I spent a few years working for newspapers, magazines, and websites in Arkansas and Chicago. As I neared the end of my twenties, I decided to get a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois, even though I had never worked in a library at any point in my life. In 2011 I left Chicago and my job as an editor, moved back to Arkansas once again, and looked for any and every opportunity to work with libraries, archives, and museums around my hometown. In 2012 I took a job as a Reference and Instruction Librarian at NorthWest Arkansas Community College, in 2015 I moved to Columbia, SC, to become an Information Literacy Programs Librarian at the University of South Carolina, and this summer I traded in one Columbia for another and returned to Mizzou.
How did you come to be a librarian, and what do you find most interesting about library instruction?
By 2008 I was working as the managing editor of a small magazine and website that covered new residential construction in and around Chicago. The market collapsed that year, developers stopped placing ads in our publication (or, in one memorable instance, fled the country entirely), and construction in many neighborhoods ground to a halt. I realized at some point that tracking price cuts for imaginary condos in unbuilt high-rises was not my idea of a good time, and by early 2009 I was thinking a lot about what I did and didn’t enjoy about my career up to that point. What I realized was that I loved chasing facts, pulling files, sifting through records—I liked the research part of my job so much more than the storytelling part. So I started to brainstorm ways in which I could spend more time searching for information and solving mysteries about where a particular piece of data might be located, and I quickly latched onto librarianship as a career where I could do just that.
The very first LIS course I ever took, a full year before I entered school as a full-time grad student, was called Instruction & Assistance Systems. It was all about teaching in a library environment, and it was there where I first encountered terms like “information literacy” and “one-shots” and “flipped classrooms.” One of the things I realized as I went through that course was that I never really experienced that kind of instruction as a student; I tested out of my freshman composition class and didn’t recall any other instances in which I visited Ellis or the J-School library for formal instruction, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much better I would have performed as an undergraduate if I had felt more at ease with the library and its resources. So through the rest of library school and on into my career, I thought of my role as that of someone who could encourage and empower users, and help them develop the strategies and confidence necessary to use our collection to meet their needs.
What was your favorite book you were assigned to read in college, and what are you reading now?
I really enjoyed In Dubious Battle, which I read for an American Protest Lit class. It covers a lot of the same territory as The Grapes of Wrath, with its depiction of migrant workers and labor strikes, but it’s also a study of mob mentality—the way that humans, like other animals, behaved differently when grouped together than they would individually—which was a topic that interested Steinbeck greatly.
Right now I’m reading The Republic for Which It Stands, Richard White’s new book about the Reconstruction era and the Gilded Age. I’m also working my way through A New Literary History of America, an anthology of essays about works of American literature, co-edited by Greil Marcus, who’s always been good at relating rock music to seemingly unrelated works of art and folklore.