Ph.D./MLIP Candidate Student: Alexia Hudson-Ward

February 10, 2014

"I always had a desire to help people become knowledgeable, productive, and impactful. Becoming an academic librarian was a way for me to do work that mattered."

Although Simmons GSLIS Ph.D. /MLIP student Alexia Hudson-Ward had a lucrative marketing career at the Coca-Cola Company before she became a librarian, the events surrounding September 11, 2001, motivated her to follow her passion. "I was scheduled to get on an airplane that day, but it was canceled. During the next several months, I began thinking about my work's impact on the world," said Hudson-Ward. "I always had a desire to help people become knowledgeable, productive, and impactful. Becoming an academic librarian was a way for me to do work that mattered."

Fast-forward a decade later and Hudson-Ward is a Library Journal Mover and Shaker, a leader on the American Library Association's (ALA) National Executive Board, and a tenured associate librarian of reference and instruction at the Penn State Abington library, which serves 3,700 undergraduates. She is the past-president of the Pennsylvania African-American Library Association (2008-2009), and held leadership positions at the Pennsylvania Library Association. She received an "Emerging Leader" award from ALA and accolades from Penn State for her research and teaching efforts. Colleagues suggested that she attend the Simmons GSLIS PhD/MLIP. doctoral program after she discussed her desire to become a library director or dean. "The program has stretched my perspective about how to look at and approach issues. The shift in my perspective has allowed me to have a different level of conversation with colleagues," said Hudson-Ward.

Hudson-Ward's marketing savvy, journalism expertise, and passion for the library profession also won her a seat at the first White House Twitter Town Hall TweetUp with President Barack Obama. When a call for participation in the TweetUp, which is a live, real-time gathering of Twitter participants to discuss topics, was distributed to the White House's Twitter followers, Hudson-Ward cleverly articulated why a librarian should be present in a 140 characters: "Librarians R rarely invited in2 the political discourse altho we R champions of equitable access 2 information I wld be honored 2 participate."

Beyond White House events, Hudson-Ward's talents and skills have transformed library instruction and services at Penn State Abington, where she has worked since 2008. The university's mantra, "One campus geographically dispersed," also applies to the institution's 36 libraries. Penn State Abington "prides itself on being the most diverse of the university's campuses. We believe that forty languages are spoken every day here," said Hudson-Ward.

Having worked at the Penn State Great Valley School of Professional Studies for two years prior to transferring to Penn State Abington, Hudson-Ward knew that needs and service differ based on the population served. To test assumptions about mobile technology use, Hudson-Ward conducted a campus-wide study in 2009 about user needs and wants, with an emphasis on examining how cultural diversity influences mobile technology use. Her research results dispelled assumptions about "high touch versus high technology use," said Hudson-Ward. While undergraduate students may have been raised as "digital natives," they sought interactive engagement from the library and did not want authentication systems restricting their access to library support. In addition, she found that white males requested to be included in all diversity studies since "many males feel left behind and neglected in higher education," said Hudson-Ward.

The findings led to the creation of a Facebook page and Twitter account used by the undergraduate community to facilitate instantaneous communication. "My Twitter postings about The Walking Dead show lead to the library's plan to increase our graphic novel collection. Twitter's micro-blogging opportunities allow personal conversations to have professional applications," said Hudson-Ward.

She also noticed how students' social media preferences mature over time. "After some students graduated, they began connecting with me on LinkedIn instead of Facebook," she remarked. ALA/RUSA RSS Reference Research Review recognized Hudson-Ward's research as one of the top nationwide reference studies for measuring the impact of cultural diversity on desired mobile reference services.

To "show students how to govern themselves online," Hudson-Ward developed a seminar, Managing Your Online Identity, geared towards first-year students. The seminar was the library's most highly attended first-year-engagement workshop by students for the past 4 years. The Penn State Abington administration became alarmed about inappropriate social media use among students. While Hudson-Ward emphasized the informational, networking, and enjoyable benefits of social media, she also discussed how the students' digital footprints "are extensions of themselves." "With more than 200 social media platforms available, we guide students to choose platforms that benefit them," said Hudson-Ward.

In addition to covering privacy issues, such as how Facebook amalgamates and sells photos posted on the site without permission, she also addressed how inappropriate content can violate the university's code of conduct for students. After she earned high marks in student evaluations for presentation skills and content, some students invited Hudson-Ward to "study breaks," which she later discovered were keg parties in disguise. As expected, she had to give an impromptu presentation about the codes of conduct surrounding alcoholic beverages.

When Hudson-Ward is not providing social media and marketing counsel, she pursues her other passion, preserving African-American cultural heritage. As an undergraduate double major in African-American Studies and English at Temple University, Hudson-Ward travelled many miles to find primary source material to write research papers. As a hobby, she later compiled her own resources guides about African-American history by taking trips and gathering information from the Library of Congress, Smithsonian, and other archives.

With Penn State University Libraries support, she initiated and facilitated the Emilie Davis Diaries Digital Preservation Project, a first-time 10-year collaboration between Penn State University Libraries and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The diaries of Emilie Davis, a freeborn African American woman who lived and worked in Civil War era Philadelphia, were digitized, preserved, and made available through open access on the Penn State University Libraries website. The three handwritten pocket diaries include details about the funeral processional of Abraham Lincoln, the Battle of Gettysburg, the New York Draft Riots, the civilian impact of large-scale and minor battles of the Civil War, and a lecture by abolitionist Frederick Douglass. "Making the archival material available digitally is part of our jobs as librarians to make it easier for people to have access to this information," said Hudson-Ward. She has presented research about the project at the Library of Congress and other professional library association meetings, and published peer-reviewed papers. She is creating a project plan to develop a multimedia educational website and a K-12 teacher's guide.

In her spare time, Hudson-Ward is currently refining her Simmons GSLIS doctoral research proposals. One study explores how library leaders refine their leadership skills through community leadership activities. The other study examines how minority female library directors use informal networks for professional success. Simmons GSLIS can expect to hear about Hudson-Ward's achievements in the future.

By Dean's Editorial Fellow Jennifer Moyer