Our Graduate Assistants: Michael Cummings

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 Cummings!

What is your background education and work experience?
I earned my BA in anthropology and political science at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. During my time at Grinnell, I spent a semester working in the archives at the Drake Community Library, the public library in town, after which I was hired to work at the College library in Government Documents and Circulation. I also got some introductory instruction experience in my senior year, working as a writing mentor for a first-year tutorial course. I have been in my current position as a GA in the Scholarly Commons for the past year, and I plan to graduate from Illinois with my Masters in Library and Information Science this coming May.

What led you to your field?
I started to contemplate librarianship as a career path while I was in college. After working a few jobs in different parts of the library, and getting to know several librarians, I found that I really enjoyed the variety of work that goes into good library service. I had been interested in academia for a while, but I wasn’t sure if a traditional professor job was right for me. I’ve found that academic library work encompasses everything I would want from an academic job but is much more my style than professorship.

What are your research interests?
Combining my background in anthropology with library science, I am interested in how societies create, use, and understand information and what sociocultural factors go into those processes. The nature of librarianship is constantly changing as our society’s relationship to information changes, for instance with the advent of the internet age. I’ve also long been interested in mapping and cartography, in particular the politics of mapmaking and how maps, which are often thought of as neutral, actually represent the cultural biases of the mapmakers. (Check out this West Wing clip for more on that.).

What are your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
I’ve recently started doing a number of consultations getting researchers started with using GIS. There’s something really gratifying about one-on-one consultations; it feels good to be able to either help someone complete their work or get them started and then connect them with someone else who can. That’s one of the big reasons I wanted to be a librarian in the first place, so that I can provide that level of support to people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get it. Sure, there are lots of books you can read and videos you can watch to help answer the questions people come to me for, but I don’t think there’s any substitute for one-on-one sessions.

What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend?
Our Lib Guides! The Scholarly Commons maintains guides on just about every subject area that we offer support on, and we’re constantly updating them to improve the quality of our service. Check them out on our website!

When you graduate, what would your ideal job position look like?
I would be good with a number of different kinds of jobs in an academic library setting. I’m definitely looking into lots of digital scholarship positions that would allow me to continue the type of work that I’ve been doing here in the Scholarly Commons, but I’m also looking into some good old-fashioned reference jobs as well! I’m currently taking a class on metadata, and the thought of applying for some metadata librarian jobs has recently been floating across my mind, but I think I’d better wait to see how I end up doing in that class before applying for any of those…

What is the one thing you would want people to know about your field?
We’re here to help! Even when students come to the Scholarly Commons with a specific question that they want help with, they often seem surprised at just how willing we are to provide support to them. But that’s what we’re here for! None of us would have entered the field of librarianship if we didn’t have a commitment to providing high quality help to our patrons, so please stop by and ask us all of your questions!