Brenna Wade has been a librarian at heart all her life.
“I can peg it back to third grade,” said Wade, Hillsdale College’s public services librarian. “We had a dinosaur trivia question every day. The goal was to answer the most trivia questions.”
At the beginning of the project, the teacher pointed to a pile of books and told the students that all the answers could be found somewhere within those pages. One day, a particularly hard question came down the line. Fortunately, Wade knew just where to look.
“I looked at that, and I said, ‘What book would that question have come from?’ And I went to the book, and I found the answer. I submitted the answer, and I got it right.
Wade continued to love books, and it was in high school when she realized she wanted to be a librarian.
“It was my junior year,” she said. “I grew up in a small rural town, and a bookstore donated a bunch of books to my high school. I helped organize and sort the books, I spent my study halls in that library, working on where things should go, giving book recommendations to my fellow classmates.”
A teacher recommended that she consider being a librarian, and Wade knew it was the right thing.
“The light bulb just went off,” Wade said. “The type of librarian has changed, but the desire to be a librarian never changed.”
Wade came to Hillsdale College in 2004, where she majored in English with a minor in history. She also completed the education program while it was still an accredited program at Hillsdale, because she thought she would like to be a school librarian. Only later did she realize that the school librarian is a dying breed, and many of the remaining school librarians do more teaching than library work.
While a student at Hillsdale, she worked in the library. Librarian Linda Moore was one of her supervisors.
“She got hired in January of her freshman year,” Moore said, “and then worked three and a half years. During that time she worked circulation desk, and then reference desk as she got older.”
After graduating in 2008, Wade planned on attending school for a master’s degree in library science, a degree necessary for full-time library work. Unfortunately, she only applied to one school and wasn’t accepted. Librarian Dan Knoch offered her a job for a year while she waited until she could apply again.
“At the end of her senior year, I asked her if she wanted to stay on and work full time as the Carus Coin Collection coordinator,” Knoch remembered.
Wade took the job.
“It was an amazing experience,” Wade said. “I was cataloging the collection and putting the images into the database, researching, coming up with metadata, and putting it into the record.”
A year later, Wade began attending Indiana University. While there, she worked with a puzzle collection at the Lilly Library, a library devoted to rare books and special librarians. She also oversaw pages at the local public library, a job that made her want to go into that field.
“I had always been in rural areas; I did not know how good a public library could be,” Wade said. “Then I worked in a very large public library system. I was a reference intern there, and I really enjoyed helping people, I felt very useful, I felt very helpful, I saw it was a great service to the community, so I was poised to go into that aspect — and then a job opened up at Hillsdale, which sent me back into academic libraries, because I really wanted to come back here.”
Knoch remembered her interview, writing in an email.
“When Ms. Wade came for her professional librarian interview on Monday, February 21, 2011, the college was closed due to an ice storm,” Knoch said.” She had arrived the day before, ahead of the ice storm, so we librarians decided to interview her even without power and heat. We sat in the Heritage Room, next to the large windows where the light was best. The interview required a presentation as well. Under the less than optimum circumstances, Ms. Wade did very, very well in both the interview and her presentation, even though the lack of power did not permit her to use the PowerPoint presentation she had prepared. We had a nice lunch at the Hunt Club, which was the only restaurant open that Monday due to the storm.”
At Hillsdale, Wade works with technology services, inter-library loans, and research work. Helping students and faculty research has brought her to many difficult situations.
“We’ve found wrong citations,” she said. “We’ve found works that didn’t actually exist.”
Her work in research has led her to contact universities around the country, and even sources in foreign nations, in the quest to help students find the information they need. She recalls the hardest question she ever tackled. A professor wanted more information on a certain scholar.
“There was the smallest obituary I’ve ever seen, with just the bare minimum,” Wade said. “I couldn’t find out anything about her. I contacted the universities in her area. I contacted the historical society to see if they could find me a more complete obituary. They put their researchers to work and extensively looked for an obituary, and there was nothing more. They found mention of her husband in a phone book. That’s the only piece of information I could pass on to the researcher. I said, ‘I found this. Good luck.’ That was the hardest reference question, because this person did very much exist, but there was no internet trail.”
Wade also teaches a one-credit course called “Information and Research Skills.” The class is designed to teach students how to research and use the tools available to them, discerning the best scholarship.
“Because some of these tools are so easy to use,” she said, “I think it gets us into a false sense of security, where we think, ‘Oh yeah, I know how to research,’ but it really takes a lot more thought and it takes a lot more skills to really do it well. I try to help give the skills to interact with our information era.”
Another part of her job is working with library outreach. This includes book talks, activities for students, and the Mossey Madness each March.
Wade has taken her place in the library, an integral part of its inner workings.
“She’s always coming up with ideas,” Knoch said. “I’m just really pleased to have her here. She continues to be innovative and come up with great ideas on how to make the library better and how to help the students and faculty.”
Moore said that Wade has “kind of a boundless enthusiasm for the job.”
Wade said she enjoys it herself.
“I like working here,” Wade said. “In a small academic library, you get to do a lot. You wear a lot of hats. In a larger university, you do one or two things, and that’s all you do, and you’re very good at them, and you have a very deep knowledge of your little space. But here, you get to do a little bit of everything. That’s fun for me because every day’s different. I don’t know who’s going to walk through my office. I don’t know what kind of questions I’m going to get. I don’t know who’s going to call me on the phone.”