10 Questions: Stefanie Maclin-Hurd
Novelist, poet, cook, librarian—Stefanie Maclin-Hurd has many outward personas, and each one reflects a small piece of her inner self.
By Stuart Hales
This article is published in the January-February 2017 issue of Information Outlook, SLA’s online magazine.
Stefanie Maclin-Hurd wasn’t alive in 1975 when American Express aired its first “Don’t Leave Home Without It” advertisement, but she would certainly identify with its message. The ads, which appear frequently on lists of the most memorable campaign slogans, promoted American Express traveler’s checks and credit cards by positioning them as a source of cachet for people whose fame couldn’t open doors (not to mention pay for meals) in restaurants or earn free tickets to a show.
In Boston, where she attended graduate school and worked for several years, Stefanie was well known within the library community and had a wide circle of friends and colleagues. But when she learned she would be losing her job, she and her husband decided that Boston had become too expensive, so she expanded her search to cities and states outside New England. Sure enough, she received a job offer in Pittsburgh—a city 800 miles away that she had never even visited.
But what she lacked in local knowledge, Stefanie more than made up for with her network—her SLA network, that is. She contacted a member of the Pittsburgh Chapter and quickly received recommendations about places to live and eat and local sites to visit. The information was invaluable to her and provided fresh proof of the value of SLA membership.
Information Outlook interviewed Stefanie in January, shortly after she had relocated to Pittsburgh and started her new job.
In December, you tweeted that you had just renewed your SLA membership: “At this juncture of my career—new job, new city—I feel my membership is more important!” What do you get out of your SLA membership that made you want to renew?Quite a few things, actually. One, I love the support of the community. When I first became a member, I was a new graduate from library school in Boston. The support of that community, the New England Chapter, was absolutely amazing. I credit the majority of my jobs after I got out of library school to knowing people in SLA. And then I got involved in chapter leadership.
So now I’ve moved to a new city—and prior to moving here, I’d never even been to Pittsburgh, so I knew absolutely nothing about it. I had e-mailed one of the officers of the Pittsburgh Chapter for advice on where to live and what to look for, and immediately I got answers. Coming to a city where I don’t know anyone and had no concept of the city itself, being involved in SLA is very important because everyone is so open and so welcoming. We really are a community that helps each other and supports each other. In a new position and a new city, that’s really very important to me—not to mention being able to move ahead in my career through the support that SLA offers.
Your new job is in the Pittsburgh area, which is about 800 miles away from Boston, where you previously lived and worked. Clearly, you didn’t feel constrained by geographical limits! How did you go about your job search, and what did you learn from it?
I’d lived in Boston about 15 years—I moved there for college the week before 9/11 happened. It was very interesting being an 18-year-old in Boston when that happened.
Then I went to grad school there and met my husband there, and I made a number of friends there as well. When I knew I was going to be looking for a new job, I sat down with my husband and we sort of discussed where we were willing to live. And what we came up with was that, in a lot of ways, Boston was getting too expensive. We had a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Boston the last three years we lived there, and we really needed more space. But if we were going to stay in Boston, we couldn’t afford it.
So when I started looking for a new job, we used it as an opportunity to open up the geography. I think it was very helpful that we were both willing to go on a new adventure; we were both willing to take that risk. So I was looking in a lot of different places, and Pittsburgh just so happened to be where we ended up.
I put my résumé up on a couple of different job sites, including Indeed and Monster, which are not traditional library sites. But I got a phone call from someone who had seen my résumé on Monster saying that they had an opportunity for a corporate library position, and would I be interested? So it all sort of worked out.
Boston is known for its beautiful libraries—the Boston Public Library, the Athenaeum, the Bapst Art Library at Boston College, and the Widener Library at Harvard. Have you had a chance to check out any libraries in Pittsburgh yet?I’ve been in Pittsburgh for about six weeks, and I’ve really only gotten to my local library branches. I’ve joined a knitting group at my local library, on Saturday mornings, so I get over there a few Saturdays a month.
I’ve checked out some really gorgeous museums so far—my husband and I have been making it a point to explore the city. I have to say, the one library I’ve checked out in downtown Pittsburgh—it’s over near Carnegie-Mellon University—was quite spectacular. So far I’ve not found anything quite on par with the Athenaeum; hopefully, as I get to know people in Pittsburgh, they’ll be able to tell me where to go for libraries. But right now, I’m still exploring the city.
Speaking of libraries, what made you decide to become a librarian? Is it something you always wanted to do, or a decision you arrived at later in life?
I don’t know if there was any one thing that made me decide to become a librarian. I was always a voracious reader when I was growing up—I was the kid who knew how to read before starting kindergarten. So books have always been a thing for me. I could read pretty much anything I wanted as a kid (within reason, of course). I mean, I was reading authors like Tolkien when I was eight.
And then I volunteered at my local library in high school. My high school had a mandatory community service requirement for graduation, and I had been going to the town library for story hour since I was a toddler. I knew most of the circulation and reference librarians there, so it was just natural for me to go there and fulfill my volunteer requirement.
Then I went to college and majored in English and creative writing, and I thought I wanted to be a writer. But then I sorta’ realized that I would probably never eat again if I went for my MFA. So I still didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. My first job out of college was actually doing accounting work for a moving company, and I think no one was surprised when it turned out not to be a good fit.
I left that job and I was kind of at a loss for what to do. And then something in my head got triggered, and I thought, you did all this volunteer work in a library and you really enjoyed it. One of my parents’ good friends was the children’s librarian at the town library I had gone to as a kid and a teenager, so I talked to her and to some of the other librarians and I was like, yeah, this actually sounds like something I’d really want to do. I had enjoyed my time working there, and I liked the idea of working with the public and helping them find information and kind of preserving the idea of public history and public materials.
So I applied to library school, and specifically I studied archive management within library science at Simmons College in Boston. And the entire time, a lot of people were looking at me like, why are you becoming a librarian, and I thought, why not? And it probably ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve never regretted it at any point.
So you became a librarian, but one of your passions is still creative writing. Which is the more accurate description of you—a librarian who dabbles in poetry and urban fantasy novels, or a poet and writer who works a day job as a librarian to pay the bills?
I think if you had asked me when I first entered library school, I would have said I was a writer who worked a day job as a librarian. I think that answer is different now—I’m a librarian who also happens to be a writer.I think the reason it changed is that my being a librarian very much influences my writing. As I mentioned, I was an English and creative writing major in college. I have a number of poems and a few short stories published on the web, and I can definitely see the subtle differences between some of my earlier poetry and what I’ve written since becoming a librarian. Working in an archive, working with original documents, working with students in an academic library, coming across people I wouldn’t have interacted with outside the academic library—those have all very much influenced my writing.
There was actually a very significant period of time, relatively recently, where I was producing very little work. One of my goals for this year is actually to start writing more. And in this urban fantasy novel that I’m writing, one of the main characters is a librarian of sorts. Actually, a better description would probably be that she’s a collector of information. And her character has very much stemmed from my own experiences and knowledge of librarians and archives and being a librarian.
I was wondering where you get your inspirations for poetry and writing—whether your works draw on your own experiences, or whether you’re creating the life you secretly wish you had lived. It sounds like the former.
I don’t know if I’ve ever created a character and thought, I wish I could be this character. All of my characters, I think, have little, tiny pieces of me. There are some writers who say they write characters that are absolutely nothing like them. That’s not the type of writer I am—as I said, every character I create has a tiny inkling of who I am, even the characters who are the complete opposite of me. There’s like this tiny kernel that comes from my life. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but that’s just the way I write.
Another one of your interests is cooking. If you were planning a dinner party for librarians—given what you know about them, and considering your cooking skills—what would you serve, and why?
I would probably do a breakfast party—one, because breakfast is my favorite meal to cook, and two, there’s a lot of versatility involved with breakfast foods, so there’s something that can be done for almost every taste.
I think with librarians and information professionals being such a diverse group of people, the diversity within breakfast foods would be a lot of fun to play with. So I could do a number of different egg dishes, and there could be a course with crisps and cobblers, and I have a few pancake and French toast recipes. I think I have at least two cookbooks that are dedicated to just breakfast food.
I think it’s something that would be a lot of fun, and it’s the kind of thing that could very easily become a sort of potluck idea, so that people could bring their own spin on it as well.
Turning back to SLA for a moment—you served as president of the SLA New England Chapter in 2015. What inspired you to run for office in the chapter, and do you see yourself doing the same with the Pittsburgh Chapter?
Getting involved with the New England Chapter was sort of a slow development. I joined SLA after I had graduated from library school, and getting involved in the chapter was a way to get to know people and attend events.
I actually started out as a social media volunteer—I live tweeted a lot of events, and I would comb the web for interesting links and topics that we would then put out on our social media sites. From there I became the chair of our Emerging Technologies Committee, so I was the one overseeing our social media sites. Then I started my presidential term, which ended last year.
It was all a great way to learn a lot about myself. Before I got involved with SLA, I really didn’t see myself as a leader. Getting involved proved to me that I am definitely capable of leading, which is something I will take with me into every future job I will have.
It was also a way to give to the chapter. As I said, when I graduated, the chapter was absolutely fantastic in helping me with job leads, in supporting me, in providing a library home now that I was no longer a library student. So, for me, it was a way to give something back to the chapter and hopefully be able to provide a voice of someone new to the profession and show to people just starting out within the chapter that they didn’t have to be a 20-year-plus veteran to lead. You can do it as a new professional.
With regard to getting involved with the Pittsburgh Chapter, ask me in, like, 2019. I’ve actually just agreed to be on the advisory council planning the SLA 2018 Annual Conference, and I’m also going to be managing the social media for the Academic Division going forward. I’m definitely looking forward to getting involved with the Pittsburgh Chapter, but I don’t know if necessarily becoming president of the chapter is in my immediate future.
A few years from now, someone doing what you did—moving from Boston to Pittsburgh—might be able to ride the entire way in a driverless car. They’ve been in the news a lot lately, along with drones and artificial intelligence. When you look into the future, what do you see as the next new technology to affect librarianship?
First, I’d like to have it on the record that I think driverless cars are utterly terrifying!
But in regard to librarianship, when I first graduated from library school, I took a lot of contract positions before I was able to find more steady employment. One of the positions I worked at was with the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts. They have a lot of home-bound patrons who are blind, deaf, or both or have a variety of other conditions that prevent them from going to the library physically, so the school would bring materials to their patrons.
This makes me think that with the way drones are developing, and with Amazon talking about delivering goods to their customers via drone, why can’t libraries use similar technology to bring items to their patrons who are not able to get to the library? That’s kind of what I would like to see—developing technology to help those patrons who want to use what the library has to offer, but may not be able to get there for whatever reason.
Speaking of the future, here’s your chance to use your writing ability to create your future. Finish this sentence: “On the eve of her 40th birthday, Stefanie Maclin-Hurd had a premonition that something highly unusual was about to happen to her: _________________________.”
Her somehow miraculously-completed novel has just been optioned for a movie, but they’ve completely changed all of the characters. The horror!
Stuart Hales is editor of Information Outlook and content director for SLA. He can be reached at email@example.com.