Alumnae/i Feature

Kate Leppanen '04MS on the Lasting Impact of the Pandemic in Libraries

What inspired you to pursue a career in library science?

Headshot of Kate Leppanen

After graduating from Bowdoin College in 2001 with a degree in classical archaeology, I decided that the path to becoming an archaeologist was not for me. I spent the next two years working as staff for the College in both the Library and IT Departments and realized that my strengths and interests focused strongly upon research, organization, and technology. With the ever-changing nature of library science in the 21st century and my love of research, library science seemed like a perfect fit.

Why did you decide to attend Simmons?

Many of my colleagues from my time working at Bowdoin’s Hawthorne-Longfellow Library had attended Simmons and recommended the University very highly. With my background working in a college library and my degree in archaeology, I intended to pursue a career in archives or university reference — institutions of which there is a wealth of in Boston. While I did not end up in archives or a college library, the archives internship I had at Simmons was one of my best educational experiences there.

Tell us about your position at Cary Memorial Library before the pandemic started.

My role at Cary Memorial Library has dramatically changed in the nearly fourteen years that I’ve been here. I was initially hired as the Public Services Librarian, working in both Reference and Technology, based not on my knowledge of technology, but on my willingness to try, fail, and learn. Over the years, I’ve moved into my current role as Systems Manager managing multiple networks, hundreds of devices, and technology purchasing, while still working with the public at our busy Reference desk. 

Tell us about how your work has changed since the pandemic began. 

One of the most significant changes in my role has been adapting to the pace at which the world is changing. Prior to March, I’d carefully research any new service, technology, or software, and I’d ensure that my staff had adequate training before its release. Since the pandemic, we’re having to adapt a lot more rapidly, select and purchase emerging technology and software, and learn on the fly.  

How has your library adapted to meet the needs of the community during the pandemic?

Our staff has been so willing and versatile in adapting to the needs of the community. Almost immediately, we were able to bring our Adult and Youth Services programming online using tools like YouTube and Zoom. Our Reference Department pivoted to providing robust email reference services and a wealth of online instructional videos on how to use electronic resources. Soon after the quarantine measures eased in Massachusetts, Cary Library launched curbside pick-up services, which required almost daily adjustments to workflow in its initial days.

Do you think the pandemic will bring lasting change to libraries?

The pandemic will surely have a lasting effect on all libraries and every job dealing with technology. In these last few months, we’ve learned just how much can be done online and just how powerful connecting in person can be. I think that a lot of services such as programming, reference, and reader’s advisory are going to be offered both in-person and digitally. My role in technology and reference will continue to evolve as even more products and services are launched to assist libraries in re-opening.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

For me, the most rewarding aspect of my work is the connection with the public. While I hope that someday soon I'll safely sit across from someone at the Reference Desk and recommend the next book I know they’ll love, it’s been a joy to see my patrons’ masked faces at curbside pick-up and reconnect in a limited way.

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