Jennifer Duncan, Unit Head for Special Collections and Archives/Book Curator, Utah State University

Schae Richards, community editor

Jennifer Duncan is unlike any librarian you have met. Not only is she a “bookworm” by heart but she is a scholar that loves to help people.

Jennifer has been a professional librarian for 20 years, and has worked in some of the largest libraries in the country. Before she came to Utah, she worked as a librarian for Columbia University in New York and Texas Christian University in Ft. Worth, and was also an art librarian for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Queensborough Public Library in New York.

Jennifer is now the Unit Head for Special Collections and Archives/Book Curator for Utah State University and, before that, worked in the Library’s general collections for about 12 years.  As Unit Head for Special Collections, she spends a large portion of her day in meetings.

“… People don’t realize how many meetings librarians attend, which is actually kind of a joke in our profession,” she laughed. “Many people tell me they are jealous that I get to spend all day working with books, but, actually, I can go days without even touching a book.”

Aside from these regular meetings, Jennifer answers questions about the Library’s collections from people all over the country, and also teaches Utah State students and community members on how to utilize these collections as well.

Jennifer loves her job and, more importantly, her coworkers and the other people she gets to work with on a daily basis. She loves the diversity in the Library and the different projects she gets to work on and assist with.

“For example, during the last year I’ve been working with one colleague to collect oral histories to add to our holdings to document the voices of this community,” she said. “I also worked with a faculty member in an academic department to mount an exhibition of our special collections materials as a class project — in lieu of writing a research paper.  My job really involves bringing other people’s passions to life — and that’s fun.”

Jennifer’s diverse interests is what persuaded her to choose her profession. While attending college, she worked at the Sophia Smith Collections as a student archival processor and also started a master’s degree in history, which Jennifer said was hard at times because she had “too many interests” that she became distracted too often.

“I spent a few years working in bookstores and, while doing that, I realized that I was basically acting as a librarian, doing reader’s advisory work, or using the store to help people answer questions,” she said. “Something just clicked, and I figured out that the library world was the place for me to be able to work with materials, help people and participate in many different scholarly conversations about research.”

Jennifer’s favorite book is Pride and Prejudice  by Jane Austen which she reads often. She also enjoys non-fiction material like The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro. Jennifer said reading books has always been a big part of her life, and is something she has passed onto her daughter.

“I’m lucky because my daughter loves to read,” she said.  “I don’t have to badger her to do it at all — in fact, she’s usually the one badgering me to go get more books. She is just as nerdy as I am with her books — she has them cataloged in Library Thing and checks them out to friends with a little paper card system like they used in my elementary school.”

For kids who may be less motivated to read, Jennifer suggests using Little Free Libraries, a nationwide program that not only encourages kids to read but builds stronger communities through book exchanges in local neighborhoods.

“Research shows the best way to improve a child’s reading skills is to improve his or her access to books — yet up to 61 percent of low income families don’t have books in their homes,” Jennifer explained. “Of course our school districts and public libraries are always encouraging reading and making their collections available, but how great is it if a child can just run down the block and grab a book from a neighbor?  Plus, it just seems kind of fun — the books are constantly changing so the kids seem to love to stop and see what’s new.”

Jennifer said anyone can build a Little Free Library. People can build a library from their own materials, or purchase a kit from Cache County has eight registered Little Free Libraries, but there are several more libraries out there in the Valley. Visit the Cache Valley Little Free Libraries Facebook page to learn more.