Our Graduate Assistants: Michael Tahmasian

This interview is part of a new series introducing our graduate assistants to our online community. These are some of the people you will see when you visit our space, who will greet you with a smile and a willingness to help! Say hello to Michael Tahmasian!

What is your background education and work experience?

I have Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Kansas and for a long time I had no idea what I wanted to do with that. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I moved with a friend to Chicago for “the next big adventure.” At first, I was a security guard at an art museum. Then I was a substitute teacher in the public schools. Eventually, I ended up as a CyberNavigator in two different branches of the Chicago Public Library, where I worked with patrons to help build their digital skills.

What led you to your field?

I’ve always loved teaching people things, but I struggled to see myself teaching in a traditional classroom. It just never felt right for me. When I finally realized the huge role that instruction played in librarianship—in small moments at the reference desk or through programming and workshops—everything clicked for me. I could see myself as a part of that space. There are so few places people can go to these days to get help learn new things without having to give something in return. I’m truly so excited to be a part of that.

What are your research interests?

My main area of interest is instruction, but to me that includes both those formal and informal settings; both workshops and one-off questions at a reference desk. Currently, I’m interested in how feminist theories can help us understand and improve instruction in both places. Our profession is focused on helping people get the information they need—and while I believe in that I think sometimes we lose sight of the people we’re supposed to help and focus solely on the information itself. Feminist theories allow us to challenge our field’s traditional values and focus on the people involved, patrons and librarians alike. These theories help us highlight the often-overlooked effective aspects of librarianship and the amount of emotional labor that goes into it. Not only do I think that this work should be acknowledged and celebrated, but I believe effective qualities like empathy need to be fostered within librarians through education and training. I think how we work with patrons and students is just as important as the content we’re trying to teach them and empathy is integral to that, understanding their emotional processes in using the library is integral to that. So really I’m interested in exploring how empathy and something like the ethics of care can be incorporated not only into our instruction at the desk or in the classroom, but also in the training of librarians.

What are your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

My ongoing work in the Scholarly Commons revolves around undergraduate research here at the University of Illinois, which has taught me so much about collaboration between academic libraries and other units across campus. I’ve worked a lot on managing intake of undergraduate research work into IDEALS, our institution’s digital repository, and creating education materials around that for both students and faculty.

Additionally, I was able to spend time over the year designing and piloting a workshop on editing podcasts with the software Audacity. The workshop served as a collaboration between the Scholarly Commons’ Savvy Researcher workshop series and the Media Commons in the Undergraduate Library. It was a wonderful chance to learn about designing a workshop and the challenges that come with that, especially one so focused on technology. The process challenged me to think about the availability of the technology and how we could work with what we had; the role attendees of the workshop would have in actively contributing to their own learning; the accessibility of my lesson and materials; and, how to market it all. Getting to test it out this spring was incredibly rewarding. Overall it went really well and I was excited to get feedback to help improve it for the next time around!

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend?

My favorite underutilized resource in the Scholarly Commons might be the space itself! Although this will change sometime in the future, right now we’re tucked away on the third floor of the Main Library. I think people who use the space genuinely love it—we have a lot of regulars. The space is really open for people to make what they want of it. If they need a quiet hideaway, this is great. If they need a place to work collaborate with others, there’s room for that too. Physically being in the space also allows people to see some of our other available resources—like our specialized software or our collection of books on data, programming, and research.

When you graduate, what would your ideal job position look like?

After graduation I am hoping to work as a Reference and Instruction Librarian in an academic library. I just want to be able to keep teaching people things, keep learning things myself, and be comfortable enough wherever I end up to finally adopt a dog. That’s the dream.

What is the one thing you would want people to know about your field?

You should never feel bad asking a librarian a question! I know it can feel awkward or weird, I’ve felt it too and I work in libraries. But librarians truly just want to help you with your problems, no matter how big or small. Stop by, give us a call, or chat with us online! We’re here for you

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