Meet the new IACRL Secretary/Treasurer: Elena Carrillo

Illinois Association of College & Research Libraries Forum (IACRL)

September 23, 2021

Interviewed by Jill Harper, Heartland Community College

Elena Carrillo, Clinical Assistant Professor & Head, Access Services at the University of Illinois, Chicago has been keeping a full schedule since returning from lockdown. We caught up with her to find out what she has been up to and where she thinks the state of academic libraries are heading.

Incoming IACRL Secretary/Treasurer Elena Carrillo, University of Illinois, Chicago

Incoming IACRL Secretary/Treasurer Elena Carrillo, University of Illinois, Chicago

What does your typical day look like in your position and how has this evolved through the current health situation?

As Head of Access Services at UIC, COVID has had a huge impact on the services we're running, but I've still been coming in 5 days a week since we emerged from lockdown July 2020. The pandemic added a lot of health safety management to my plate, but I have great colleagues to share the duties and an excellent department team who has been agile enough to handle everything that's been thrown at us so far! The thing I like best about my job is there is kind of no "typical" day. I might come in and have a half dozen meetings one day and none the next. I might have a bursting email box, or there could be crickets. Sometimes I help at the service points, other times I'm in the background working on projects, planning, and a bunch of other things. Yesterday we had a water emergency when some pipes broke. It's never a dull moment.

 What made you decide to be a librarian? 


I had an absolutely brilliant grade school librarian and passionately wanted to follow in her footsteps, but my high school and university library experiences were not only dismal, but downright traumatic. So, I ended up taking another path and had the wonderful opportunity to work as a writing teacher, a scriptwriter and ADR (voice-recording) producer, and in the high-tech world before the bubble burst. After the burst, I returned to school and got a second Masters in Library and Information Science, and though I originally wanted to be an archivist, I am pleased where I ended up.


What do you think are going to be the greatest challenges facing academic libraries in the next few years?


Balancing the need to serve students with space while also meeting their needs for materials. Collection costs are through the roof (especially e-resources), but even though (like in our situation) physical materials aren't the huge demand, study space, computers, and other equipment and in-person services are, Libraries have been making this transformation for years, but tension in the budgets may be putting more pressure than ever to shrink the physical footprint and "go remote". I think we would really not be serving our constituents if this were to become the primary way of interacting, and yet the pandemic seems to have convinced many libraries that it could work. All libraries are different and patrons have distinct needs. From my perspective at UIC, I think it would be a disservice to our undergraduate population especially to reduce our physical presence in any way post-pandemic.


Through the years, which library organization or committee has enriched your professional life the most?


I have had the privilege to work on a lot of committees and with a lot of organizations since beginning to work in the Libraries. It's hard to point to any single experience. The opportunity to work with Ex Libris as an early Alma adopter when I worked in Minnesota was incredible in expanding my understanding of library systems and working collaboratively, but I have also been greatly enriched by more recent work as a member of a DEI Design Team at UIC and as part of the CARLI Alma Vanguard (and now the Resource Sharing Committee). I also want to say that involvement in IACRL has helped me to network and learn about the state of Illinois since I arrived here in 2016 ~ I think I'd still be floundering to figure it all out were it not for the opportunities this organization has provided.


What do you find most rewarding about working with access services?


The most important thing to me is having meaningful work, and with access services I feel like there is never any doubt in my mind that what we do is essential to the scholastic success of our students. Even if means just making sure a student has a quiet space to read. Even if it means making sure a student has a noisy space to work on a class project with their friends. Even if it means just pointing a brand-new freshman to the printing station. Reflecting back on my incredibly negative experiences of the Library as an undergraduate, I know how that first (or even second or third) interaction can mean the difference between a student wanting to return, having the confidence to ask for assistance, or even checking out a book. I also know that sometimes the Library is the only place a student knows to go when they don't know where the food pantry is or the tutoring center (or even that those things exist). During the pandemic, we were considered an essential service and that's what gets me up in the morning!


As an academic librarian, which skills or personality traits do you frequently use?


I have scathing shushing skills (requisite librarian joke). As the Head of the Department, I sometimes have to be the one to deliver the bad news to patrons that they can't renew x or have y (for whatever reason), but I like to hope I manage this with equity and fairness. I also have a large staff to manage, but many of them have been here longer than me and they know the work very well, so I hope I am a good advocate and stay out of their way for the most part! I also hope I have a good sense of humor (coupled with a good sense of proportion), so not a lot really rattles me.

iREAD Summer Reading Programs

Since 1981, iREAD provides high quality, low-cost resources and products that enable local library staff to motivate children, young adults, and adults to read.

Visit the iREAD website »

Latest Library JobLine Listings

Browse all JobLine listings »