Graduation Interview with our Graduate Assistants

It is the end of the Spring Semester, and for everyone in their final semester, it means Graduation! That is certainly what it means for three of our graduate assistants at the Scholarly Commons. While it is a bittersweet moment for us at the Scholarly Commons to see our colleagues go, we are happy and excited about the great things they will achieve in their chosen profession.  This week, we interviewed three of our graduating graduate assistants Zhaneille Green, Ryan Yoakum and Nora Davies who have been a major asset to the Scholarly Commons. Over the past two years they have added immeasurable value to our department and in our interview with them, they all had amazing things to say about their experience at the Scholarly Commons. Here are some highlights from our interview with them.

How would you describe your GA experience to others?

Zhaneille: My experience has been eclectic. I joined the Scholarly Commons during a time of change, and it continues to evolve. I’ve learned so much about instruction, media, collection development, and service and service-point communication.

Ryan: My role comprises of three major parts. First, I am responsible for supervising both the Help Desk in room 220 as well as the Loanable Technology desk and ensuring that the student employees have everything they need to support the library patrons. Outside those desk hours, I am also responsible for designing workshops, supporting events hosted in the space, and hosting consultations related to optical character recognition and ABBYY FineReader. The third aspect of my work are internal projects related to the unit. Without going into specifics, these basically require me to have a basic understanding of data analysis and library policy creation.

Nora: I’d describe it as a great opportunity to get experience working in an academic library. I had a great team to work with and I truly wish that I could stay longer. I learned a lot about library services beyond my experience with public libraries and I had fun collaborating on projects with my fellow GA’s.

What accomplishments are you most proud of working with Scholarly Commons?

Zhaneille: I am most proud of the GIS (Geographic Information Science) Savvy Researcher workshops I taught with my GIS supervisor. It led to members of the University of Illinois community reaching out to learn more and allowed me and a fellow GA to take on big projects. I’m even getting experience with grant writing because of my GIS expertise.

Ryan: I am really proud of the Image of Research competitions during my two years with the Scholarly Commons. The students who have taken their time and effort to participate do a really great job each year, and it is incredibly rewarding to help out with this event each year. I am also really proud of the ways I have gotten to help others in the unit internally, whether it was designing the training session for the undergraduate student workers or assisting a full-time staff member on one of their projects. 

Nora: I’m proud of running a Savvy Researcher Workshop on Accessible E-Learning with Zhaneille. I was able to broaden my instruction experience and practice lesson planning and it was great to be able to share our knowledge with others.

What do you believe is the next step in your career path?

Zhaneille: After two years as a GA in an academic library, I don’t want to leave academic librarianship, for now. I will continue to pursue a career in technical services, specifically e-resources.

Ryan: I am currently looking into positions related to instruction and digital technology. These two aspects of librarianship have played a key role in my development, so those positions are the most appealing to me in the job market. In the long term, I would love to focus on something more administrative and policy base, as it is an aspect of librarianship that has just started to grow on me.

Nora: I’ll still be here during the summer, so I don’t have that next step quite figured out yet. I’m beginning to apply in earnest to jobs that begin in the Fall and, because of my experience, I have a lot of different places I could go. I’ll be looking for positions in Archives & Special Collections or Reference Services, with a focus on my technology skills. I don’t have any particular preference between Academic and Public Libraries and I have the experience to apply for both.

Do you have any advice for any GA starting out?

Zhaneille: Take a moment to learn about what the department and the wider university needs and have to offer. A graduate assistantship is rewarding because even though your projects and duties are a part of the job, you learn so much in the process. I’m graduating and still wish I had taken more LinkedIn courses or met more people.

Ryan: Do not be intimidated by all of the technology if that is brand new to you. There are so many opportunities to grow in the Scholarly Commons to learn these tools naturally. I would also encourage exploring aspects of librarianship you are interested in during your GA’ship. Since collaboration is a crucial aspect of our identity, there are so many opportunities to work with colleagues in other units related to areas of librarianship you are curious about, and the Scholarly Commons GA’ship gives you that flexibility to do that.

Nora: Don’t be afraid to check in with your supervisors. They’re there to help you succeed! If you feel lost on a project, need more work, or want to get experience working with something specific your supervisor should have some ideas.

There you have it guys!  While goodbyes are hard, it is a necessity to welcome new beginnings. We are glad to see how the Scholarly Commons have impacted the growth of our graduate assistants. We know they are all going to continue to make outstanding contributions and change in their future endeavors. We celebrate you Zhaneille, Ryan and Nora and Congratulations on your graduation!

Meet Our Graduate Assistants: Precious Olalere

Precious headshot

What is your educational and/or professional background? 

My undergraduate degree was in Library and Information Science at the University of Ilorin in Nigeria, West Africa. In my prior experience, I worked in a research library where I was able to help researchers and students get access to the right information, I absolutely loved doing this and then I went on to work for Scholars Academy where I gathered some data analytics experience and helped students and researchers with data related questions. 

What led you to your field? 

One key factor that influenced my choice of this field is my ardent love for helping people. Connecting people to the information they are looking for has always been something I enjoyed. Then I realized the philosophies that libraries represent for the people in their communities and how they influence the success of people, which can, in turn, birth a strong nation; all of these are what drove me to the field. 

What are your research interests? 

While I have a broad interest, I am particularly interested in information organization and management, digital libraries, data, and learning analytics. 

What is your specialty within the Scholarly Commons? 

I will be focusing on the data side of things at the Scholarly Commons such as data analysis and data visualization. 

Describe a favorite project you’ve worked on.

This is a hard one because I have enjoyed all the projects I have worked on, particularly the one where I created a small database for a particular library collection. The library had a handwritten manual inventory book used to locate items. To save the amount of time in locating items; I designed a simple inventory database to make access to information faster and easier. 

What Scholarly Commons resource are you most excited to learn about?  

I am really looking forward to learning about room 308 studio booths, I have always loved music and so maybe I will get to record my imaginary music album in it – haha! 

What do you hope to do after graduation? 

While I am still undecided on what I would like to do after graduation, I am really interested in data librarianship and working in the academic sphere.  

Meet Our Graduate Assistants: Jason Smith

Jason selfie

What is your educational and/or professional background? 

I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor’s in History and Cognitive Psychology and a minor in Music. While an undergrad, I worked at the Music and Performing Arts Library (MPAL) on campus, which is where I developed my interest in librarianship. While working there, I was responsible for the circulation desk, reference desk, shelving, and had some experience with special collections.  

What led you to your field?

I actually never thought much about librarianship until I reached my undergraduate years. A combination of working at MPAL, doing research for history courses, and a love for learning made me realize that a Library and Information Science (LIS) pathway was a perfect fit for me. I reached this thought in my freshman year of college, so over the course of 4 years, that passion did not change!

What is your specialty within the Scholarly Commons? 

I am one of the weekend and evening shift supervisors. I am responsible for supervising the undergraduate student assistants and ensuring the smooth operation of the Scholarly Commons and loanable tech during times when full-time staff are not working. I also do some work on our LibGuides, have created signs for the 220 space, and am hoping to pursue more data or audio/visual (AV)-related projects.

What Scholarly Commons resource are you most excited to learn about? 

I am really excited for the A/V booths! Since I have a background in music, I spent a lot of time in studios and recording spaces. I love being in them and being able to have a space to perform and record music. I would love to set up my equipment one day when I am not working and just spend some time in there! 

What do you hope to do after graduation? 

I am mostly undecided as to what I want to do after graduation! However, I am very interested in archives, special collections, and museums. I am hoping to explore courses relating to these and pursue whichever field that I think I will enjoy most!

Meet Our Graduate Assistants: Hannah Meyer

Photo of Hannah in front of Main Library

What is your educational and/or professional background? 

I went to Elon University for my undergraduate degree, where I majored in psychology with minors in teaching & learning and literature. While at Elon, I worked at their library which cemented my desire to work at a library. Other professional experiences have included working at local bookstores during the summer.  

What led you to your field? 

I grew up going to my local public library. I have always loved reading and knew I could not picture a future where I did not spend my workday surrounded by books. I enjoy doing research and helping patrons find what they are looking for.  

What is your specialty within the Scholarly Commons? 

I am a shift supervisor at Scholarly Commons. I supervise student assistants during weekend and evening hours. I also work on various projects within the department including working on LibGuides and scheduling. 

What Scholarly Commons resource are you most excited to learn about? 

I am most excited about learning about all the loanable technology that Scholarly Commons has to offer! It has been interesting getting to see the different options for equipment to check out and to learn the difference between them.  

What do you hope to do after graduation? 

I am still undecided on what kind of library I would like to work at after graduation. Right now, I am considering working at either an academic, community college or public library.  

Meet Our Graduate Assistants: Nora Davies

Nora headshot

What is your educational and/or professional background?

I graduated with an English degree from Beloit College in Wisconsin. Afterwards, I worked at the Circulation Desk and then at the Reference Desk at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin, IL. I also had a second job in Materials Services and then later Cataloging at the Poplar Creek Public Library in Streamwood, IL. 

What led you to your field?

I ended up in the library world unintentionally. As an undergraduate, I worked a campus job at the college library so I could avoid cafeteria work. Then, once I moved back to my hometown, I used that experience to apply for a job at my local public library. I ended up really enjoying the atmosphere of the reference desk and worked there for five years. I like the odd out-of-the-box questions I get at the desk and enjoy helping people with their research, their genealogy hunt, or their email accounts. Libraries do a whole lot more than I’d ever realized.

What are your research interests?

I’m interested in equitable and accessible library services, social work in libraries, and open educational resources (OER). I’m also interested in art and design.

What is your specialty within the Scholarly Commons?

I’m working as a Digital Projects Assistant at Scholarly Commons and the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. I work on our social media accounts, our newsletter, and I create graphics or instructions as needed.

Describe a favorite project you’ve worked on.

In my previous position, I was given free rein to work on mini posters for a bunch of tri-sided stands to advertise different library services. I enjoy being able to make creative graphics and designs.

What Scholarly Commons resource are you most excited to learn about?

I’m excited to learn more about our studio cameras and how to take professional-looking photos.  

What do you hope to do after graduation?

I’m still undecided as to what kind of librarianship I’d like to pursue after I graduate. I think I’d like to work as a research librarian at a college or university.

Meet Our Graduate Assistants: Apollo Uhlenbruck

This semester, the Scholarly Commons is onboarding five new GAs! In order to help you get to know all the new faces, we will be asking them to answer a few questions, and posting their responses throughout the fall. 

First up, we have Apollo Uhlenbruck. 

Apollo headshot

What is your educational and/or professional background? 

I got my undergraduate degree from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where I studied media arts. Afterwards, I moved back to my hometown of Missoula, Montana and worked a wide variety of jobs: first, I was a production assistant on a Gold Rush spin-off, then I spent a little over a year as a bookseller at an independent bookstore as well as providing in-home care for people with developmental disabilities. Then, after a brief stint as an administrative assistant at the University of Montana, I finally worked in shelter animal care at the Humane Society of Western Montana before packing up my bags and moving to Illinois! 

What led you to your field? 

My hometown’s public library was a staple of my childhood. I was one of those kids that got in trouble for reading during class, and the library was more than happy to feed my voracious appetite. I also joined the library’s teen writers’ group, which helped me grow as a writer and a person. In my work after graduation, I’ve found that I really enjoy working with and helping people, so I aim to combine my love of books with my love of people by going into library and information science. 

What are your research interests? 

I would say that my interests are very broad. I’m primarily interested in how libraries can better serve marginalized groups, but I’m also curious about UX design, gamification, mythology, and diverse representation in youth literature. 

What is your specialty within the Scholarly Commons? 

I’m wearing multiple hats here at the Scholarly Commons, focusing on both GIS and Web and Media. Part of that involves helping to run this blog! 

Describe a favorite project you’ve worked on. 

Moon tarot card

For one of my undergraduate courses, I created a major arcana tarot deck comprised of photos featuring queer and gender-nonconforming individuals, emphasizing the magic that is present in everyday life. The photo series was an interpretation of the Major Arcana informed by the traditional symbolism and meanings and viewed through a queer feminist lens. The project involved research into the history of Tarot as well as the relationship between witchcraft and feminism. 

What Scholarly Commons resource are you most excited to learn about? 

The new studio space in 308! It’s still in the works, but as soon as it’s up and running I think it’ll be a great space in which to experiment with lighting and photo/video equipment, and I can’t wait to see what kinds of projects people create!  

What do you hope to do after graduation? 

After graduating from the MSLIS program here at Illinois, I hope to go into public librarianship and youth services. 

Meet Our Graduate Assistants: Ryan Yoakum

In this interview series, we ask our graduate assistants questions for our readers to get to know them better. Our first interview this year is with Ryan Yoakum!

This is a headshot of Ryan Yoakum.

What is your background education and work experience?

I came to graduate school directly after receiving my bachelor’s degree in May 2021 in History and Religion here at the University of Illinois. During my undergraduate, I had taken a role working for the University of Illinois Residence Hall Libraries (which was super convenient as I lived in the same building I worked in!) and absolutely loved helping patrons find resources they were interested in. I eventually took a second position with them as a processing assistant, which gave me a taste for working on the back end as I primarily prepared materials bought to be shelved at each of the libraries within the system. I really loved my work with the Residence Hall Libraries and wanted to shift my career to working in a library of some form, which has led me here today!

What are your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

I have really enjoyed projects where I have gotten to work with data (both for patrons as well as internal data). Such projects have allowed me to explore my growing interest in data science (which is the last thing I would have initially expected when I began the master’s program in August 2021). I have also really enjoyed teaching some of the Savvy Researcher workshops, which have included ones on optical character recognition (OCR) and creative commons licensing!

What are some of your favorite underutilized Scholarly Commons resources that you would

The two that come to mind are the software on our lab computers as well as our consultation services. If I were still in history, using ABBYY FineReader for OCR would have been a tremendous help as well as supplementing that with qualitative data analysis tools such as ATLAS.ti. I also appreciate the expertise of the many talented people who work here in the library. Carissa Phillips and Sandi Caldrone, for example, have been very influential in helping me explore my interests in data. Likewise, Wenjie Wang, JP Goguen, and Jess Hagman (all of whom now have drop-in consultation hours) have all guided me in working with software related to their specific interests, and I have benefitted greatly by bringing my questions to each of them.

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

I currently have two competing job interests in mind. The first is that I would love to work in a theological library. The theological library could be either in a seminary or an academic library focusing on religious studies. Pursuing the MSLIS has also shifted my interests in working with data, so I would also love to work a job where I can manage, analyze, and visualize data!

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

Library and Information science is not a field limited to working in the stereotypical way society pictures what a librarian’s work looks like (there was a good satirical article recently on this). It is also far from being a dead field (and one that will likely gain more relevance over time). As part of the program, I am slowly gaining skills that have prepared me for working in data which can apply in any field. There are so many job opportunities for MSLIS students that I strongly encourage people to join the field if they are interested in library and information science but have doubts about its career prospects!

Meet our Graduate Assistants: Michael Steffen


I graduated from the University of Iowa in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and two minors in Informatics and Museum Studies. As an undergraduate, I had several student jobs related to the LIS field, including an Exhibit Preparation Assistant, a Digital Library Aide, and I worked in the university’s Special Collections Department. Across those positions, my work included assisting patrons at the service desk, updating metadata for the library’s catalog and finding aids, and contributed to the development of workflows related to the digital preservation of collections. I’ve also had several internships with various federal agencies, including the National Archives and Records Administration, Library of Congress, and Department of Transportation. 


As a History major, I’ve always been interested in the maintenance and organization of archives, libraries, and other information repositories. During my sophomore year, I developed my own research project with the University of Iowa Archives in which I examined the archive’s LGBTQ+ special collections. From this investigation, I learned about the different skills and tools it takes to build, maintain, preserve, and digitize archival collections. Over the next few years, I worked with the University Archivist to collect more records for the archives, establish relationships with LGBTQ+ student organizations, and increase community engagement with the collections. By the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to have a career in the LIS field and work in a profession that, at its best, emphasizes accessibility, collaboration, and innovation. 


My research interests are pretty broad. Right now, I am writing a first-year graduate paper about the development of LGBTQ+ community archives in the United States. While I anticipate this project to mainly revolve around community engagement and collection development policies, a large portion of the paper is dedicated to challenges in cataloging, metadata creation, and digital accessibility. As I delve further into my studies, these are all areas that I hope to do more research in. Additionally, I have a strong interest in the digital humanities field. Digital humanities is a fairly broad category, but I think the more work LIS professionals do to bridge the gap between technology, digital preservation, digital publication, and the humanities, the more accessible and interdisciplinary research becomes. 


I think our Library Guides are a great tool for patrons who are unfamiliar with the Scholarly Commons and want to learn more about what we do. Our resource guides talk about everything from digital humanities to geocoding to how to make a research poster, to how to manage your scholarly presence online. If you’re a student or scholar doing research in the digital age, our LibGuides are a great entry point for several important tools. 


When I graduate, I hope to have a career in federal librarianship. Information accessibility and community engagement are the cornerstones of the LIS profession. To me, being able to promote those ideals at the federal level means connecting citizens with invaluable information about how the government operates and how narratives within our national history are formed. Federal information repositories comprise some of the world’s most comprehensive records of human creativity and knowledge. By connecting those records with the general public, and by working with the general public to insert a more diverse range of knowledge and experiences into the collections, it makes our histories richer, more complex, and more interesting to study and preserve.

Meet our Graduate Assistants: Ben Ostermeier

What is your background education and work experience?

I graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville with a Bachelor of Arts in History, with a minor in Computer Science. I was also the first SIUE student to receive an additional minor in Digital Humanities and Social Sciences. In undergrad I worked on a variety of digital humanities projects with the IRIS Center for the digital humanities, and after graduating I was hired as the technician for the IRIS Center. In that role, I was responsible for supporting the technical needs of digital humanities projects affiliated with the IRIS Center and provided guidance to professors and students starting their own digital scholarship projects.

What led you to your field?

I have been drawn to applied humanities, particularly history, since high school, and I have long enjoyed tinkering with software and making information available online. When I was young this usually manifested in reading and writing information on fan wikis. More recently, I have particularly enjoyed working on digital archives that focus on local community history, such as the SIUE Madison Historical project at

What are your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

While working for the Scholarly Commons, I have had the opportunity to work with my fellow graduate assistant Mallory Untch to publish our new podcast, It Takes a Campus, on iTunes and other popular podcast libraries. Recently, I recorded and published an episode with Dr. Ted Underwood. Mallory and I also created an interactive timeline showcasing the history of the Scholarly Commons for the unit’s tenth anniversary last fall.

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

We offer consultations to patrons looking for in-depth assistance with their digital scholarship. You can request a consultation through our online form!

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

I would love to work as a Digital Archivist in some form, responsible for ensuring the long term preservation of digital artifacts, as well as the best way to make these objects accessible to users. It is especially important to me that these digital spaces relate to and are accessible to the people and cultures represented in the items, so I hope I am able to make these sorts of community connections wherever I end up working.

Meet Michelle Reed: New Head of The Scholarly Commons

Head shot of Michelle Reed from the chest up

It is an exciting time for our unit because we finally have a new head of the Scholarly Commons, Michelle Reed! We want to give our readers a chance to learn more about Michelle and her career in this blog post.

Before joining us, Michelle worked as Associate Librarian and Director of Open Educational Resources at the University of Texas at Arlington Libraries. In that role Michelle led efforts to support the adoption, modification, and creation of open educational resources (OER). She oversaw the university’s financial investment in OER, managed the OER publishing activities of Mavs Open Press, and collaborated with UTA faculty to secure external grant funding for OER development, including a $582,322 grant from the U.S. Department of Education to create a series of transportation resources.

Michelle Reed giving a presentation at a podium

Prior to joining UTA, Michelle supported both information literacy and scholarly communication at the University of Kansas Libraries. She also worked as a technical writer and editor for a Department of Energy waste management center and a small research and manufacturing business specializing in neurophysiological research tools.

In her new role as the head of the Scholarly Commons she hopes to build collaborative relationships with partners from within the library and across campus to support the use and exploration of digital tools, broaden access to scholarship, and enhance the university’s research output.

To learn more about Michelle, you can visit her website