Meet Sue Franzen, 2021 Illinois Academic Librarian of the Year

Illinois Association of College & Research Libraries Forum (IACRL)

September 23, 2021

Interviewed by Kim Tipton, McHenry County College

Sue Franzen, 2021 Illinois Academic Librarian of the Year

Sue Franzen, 2021 Illinois Academic Librarian of the Year

We congratulate Sue Franzen on being named ILA’s 2021 Academic Librarian of the Year. You may recognize Sue as IACRL President, but she is also the Nursing Librarian at Illinois State University’s Milner Library, ISU’s Interim Associate Dean of Public Services and Organizational Development, and a tenured professor.

IACRL: Congratulations on being named 2021 Illinois Academic Librarian of the Year! The journey through librarianship is so different for everyone. Can you talk about the path that led you to becoming a subject librarian in nursing?

Sue: Thank you so much! I am honored to have received the 2021 Illinois Academic Librarian of the Year and pleased to represent IACRL and ILA in this way. I am grateful to the many Illinois librarians who have served as my mentors over the years.

My path to librarianship is a circuitous one. I started as a high school English teacher. After a couple years, I wanted to a change, so I started working at Bloomington Public Library at the reference desk, in marketing, and on the bookmobile. I discovered I loved librarianship! However, I didn’t have an MLS, so I returned to teaching. I continued to yearn for library work, so I took the plunge and earned my degree from Dominican University. I worked for a few years as director at Hudson Public Library, but I missed the academic environment. I transitioned into academic librarianship by working parttime at Heartland Community College library until a full-time position opened up at Illinois Central College in Health Careers. I had never worked in the health field, but I was embraced by the faculty who worked with me as an embedded librarian. I loved working with healthcare professionals! I saw a strong connection between health fields, librarianship, and teaching, as they are all caring professions. When I started at Illinois State University as the Nursing & Health Sciences Librarian, I worked even more closely with faculty as a co-teacher, committee member, and co-author. Working with nurses and other health professionals is incredibly rewarding.

IACRL: Your work at Illinois State University and Milner Library is so varied! From working the reference desk to teaching doctorate courses, what is a typical day like for you?

Sue: My day-to-day work is very different now than it was six months ago! On June 1st, I became the Interim Associate Dean for Public Services and Organizational Development at Milner Library. The last four months, I’ve learned a great deal about administration, and I have been working with colleagues in many different ways. A typical day now consists of many meetings and lots of email! What I really enjoy about this new position is having a bigger picture of the university and the library. I enjoy meeting one-on-one with my colleagues and hearing about their amazing work. I can make connections between people and spread the news of my colleagues’ innovative, interesting initiatives. I am still new in this leadership role, so I am embracing the learning curve by asking lots of questions and listening more than talking.

IACRL: You've helped establish many new services and resources for librarians at the University and beyond. Can you tell me more about your work with ISU's College GROWTH Initiative?

Sue: GROWTH is an initiative of Illinois State University to increase professional development across campus. I was the Milner representative in the inaugural GROWTH cohort in 2020-2021. In the first year, I coordinated a variety of different programs for Milner on topics including microaggressions, privilege & power, implicit bias, student engagement, and cultural humility. The GROWTH events were delivered online in a variety of ways including workshops, presentations, journal clubs, and discussion groups. The second year of GROWTH I was joined by my colleague, Allison Rand, as Milner representatives. We are inviting a combination of speakers from the library, campus, and the community. We have presentations and workshops planned on accessibility, DEI in the library profession, and active learning.

IACRL: You helped coordinate the Spark: Connect and Get Fired Up online conference in May 2020. What prompted you to develop this unique event and what did it mean to you and to those who attended?

Sue: The first Spark event was held in May 2020 and was a group effort between myself as President Elect, then IACRL President Michelle Nielsen Ott, and the IACRL Conference & Continuing Education Committee. Since IACRL had not had its own conference for a number of years, the team wanted to create a professional development event during which librarians could both network and learn from each other. The COVID-19 pandemic increased the need for connection. The first Spark event was hugely successful! While originally intended as an in-person meeting, the online format allowed for much greater participation at a time when people craved interaction. Over 100 librarians from various types of libraries attended the inaugural Spark: Connect and Get Fired Up! Under Emily Gilbert’s leadership as chair, the Conference and Continuing Education Committee followed up with two additional highly successful programs including Spark: Trial by Fire-Lessons Learned from a Pandemic in December 2020 and Spark: Looking Back, Looking Forward in June 2021. The interactive nature of Spark, which includes lightening talks and breakout conversations, allows librarians to share their innovations, problem-solve with each other, and find support from others in the profession.

IACRL: As a newer academic librarian myself, I would love to hear about the mentoring program you implemented at Milner Library. What led you to create the program and what results have you seen so far?

I have been incredibly lucky throughout my career in having passionate, caring, intelligent mentors who have supported my growth as a librarian. I am incredibly grateful to those individuals who have shared their expertise and guidance. I wanted to pay it forward. In summer 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Milner Library hired seven new librarians who were starting a new job remotely after moving to a new town. The library had to do something to support our new colleagues. I went to library administration and proposed a new mentoring program. After questions were answered and options discussed, a working group was formed, a program description was drafted, and mentors were recruited. Mentor-mentee pairs were connected and began meeting together. The working group also coordinated different activities for the cohort as a whole, including networking opportunities, discussion sessions, and informational presentations.

My Milner colleagues and I will be presenting Shelter in the COVID Storm: Building Relationships through Mentoring at the ILA Conference in October. I hope others interested in mentorship will attend to hear more about Mentoring@Milner.

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