Annette Vadnais '99 helps students in and out of the library
By Anna-Maria Goossens | Tuesday, April 7, 2020
By Anna-Maria Goossens
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Ask Annette Vadnais ’99 why she’s a librarian, and she happily admits she’s drawn to the job for the students.
“It’s not necessarily ‘library’ — I just like helping people,” she said.
She feels so strongly about that aspect of her job, in fact, that she’s putting her personal brand on the line. Vadnais, a theater alum who is known on campus as The Purple-Haired Librarian, is the face of the Library’s fundraiser for the Student Care and Emergency Response Fund (SCERF) to assist students affected by the Coronavirus. She has promised to shave her famous lavender locks if $5000 is donated by Monday, April 13.
In the video explaining the library’s aims, Vadnais explains that she was a first-generation, low-income student and wants to help students who find themselves in financial straits. While financial aid helps students with tuition expenses, SCERF helps students struggling to afford food, housing, childcare, and other important needs — needs that may become even more critical during this time.
You can learn more about the fund or donate at https://minutefund.umass.edu/project/20761
Empathy for students
Much of what drives Vadnais, both in this fundraising endeavor and in her job as Student Success and Outreach Librarian, is empathy for students, which grew out of her own experiences at UMass as a theater major and student employee at the library.
“As a student, I worked at the library, but I never asked for help. It’s like, don’t be me, ask for all the help you’re paying for!” she said, admitting she was intimidated by the building and the employees at the time. “For the people who have library anxiety, I want just to be the fun aunt, if you will.”
Vadnais became a theater major because she liked the way it brought people together.
“Part of why I choose theater as major was my hometown was not a very diverse place, and yet when we did our senior play, everyone came together — the uncool kids, the cool kids. It levelled the playing field, so even if the cliques existed outside the theater … within it they didn’t,” she said.
The UMass Department of Theater is a liberal arts program, meaning students must gain experience in all areas of theater.
“I really enjoyed this particular program and that you had to learn all aspects — although for me the acting part was very scary. You had to learn an appreciation of what everyone does, not just your particular thing that you’re interested in, so you do get to see, acting isn’t easy, lighting isn’t easy,” Vadnais said.
There are still aspects of her theater training in her work, Vadnais noted, whether it’s in the way she presents herself as she gives tours, the opportunities she seeks out for creativity in her work (she made a falcon costume in tribute to the falcons who nest at the top of the library building a few years ago), or the way the collaborative element of theater is reflected in the way her job is about connecting students to the people and resources the library has to offer.
Part-time job to fullfilling career
Vadnais worked at the library part-time to put herself through school. After graduation, she spent some time helping out with her old high school’s drama production, then doing data entry at UMass admissions — “not my jam, I need to talk and do stuff!” — before finding her way to a position at the library.
Working with the reference librarians inspired her to go get a library science degree. About five years ago, she became an outreach librarian, and the job has been a good fit.
It’s a fairly new area in the field, and as Vadnais explains it, it essentially focuses on making sure that students know about, and take full advantage of, what the library has to offer. Many think the place is just full of books, but Vadnais lists other resources such as digital media labs, 3D printers, green screen rooms, production equipment. As the liaison specifically to the Department of Theater, she also hopes to point students in the direction of things like a costume database and equipment that can help with design work.
Also, of course, she hopes they get comfortable talking to the library staff.
“My tagline is always ‘work smarter not harder’,” she said. “That’s sort of the point of libraries vs Google. If you call Google and tell them you didn’t find anything, I don’t know what they’ll tell you, but if you call us and say you didn’t find anything, as librarians we want to find you the things. All the things!”
She talks to incoming students at orientation, she leads tours, she gives information to residential life staff and to parents. She also reaches out to high schools — in fact, being introduced at one school by a man who could not stop marveling at her hair color inspired her to lean into the “purple-haired librarian” brand with specialized business cards, highlighters and even a unique emoji signature.
She especially loves connecting with students one-on-one.
“I love working with students. Their lives are so much more interesting than mine,” she said.