Member Spotlight - JJ Pionke

April 4, 2022

This week's member spotlight is on JJ Pionke. JJ is a former member of the ILA Diversity Committee. We asked JJ to tell us a little bit about himself and to answer a few professional and amusing questions. Continue reading to find out more about JJ.

A little bit about JJ

JJ Pionke is the Applied Health Sciences Librarian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is an award-winning librarian whose research revolves around disability and accessibility for library patrons and employees. His most recent work focuses on the educational and competency needs of library science graduate students and current library employees in regards to disability and accessibility in libraries.

How did you get into libraries?

Kind of by accident! I was looking for a change from being an adjunct in English at two community colleges in the Chicago area. Some of the librarians I worked with told me repeatedly that they thought I would make an excellent librarian and the more I looked into librarianship, the more I liked it. Off I went to the University of Michigan for my MSI and now here I am at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Best advice you've received since starting your career in libraries?

Take advantage of the professional development opportunities, even if those opportunities are tangential to your job.  There’s a lot of ideas and skills that I have picked up that I never thought I would use in my work as an academic liaison librarian like user experience testing, accessible design, policy, etc. that have absolutely been valuable to the work that I do. Number 1 skill that I’ve used that has nothing to do with librarianship? Project management.

Any advice to newcomers working in libraries?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you first start out. That said, observe the culture of the workplace carefully. Once you have a good idea of the politics and people, then go about proposing changes/programs/ideas/etc.

When and why did you become a member of ILA?

ILA is my state association so to me at least, why wouldn’t I join? There’s a perception that big academic institutions don’t have much to do with state or regional organizations but that’s not true. We are members of ILA and we do support the work of ILA and it’s members.

How has being a member of ILA helped you professionally?

I’ve met some really amazing people attending the conferences and being on committees. I had to recently drop off the Diversity Committee because of health issues and I miss being on that committee. It’s fun to share ideas and get excited about what’s going on in libraries.

What is your proudest professional achievement to date?

I’ve won several awards but honestly, my proudest achievement is my publishing. That sounds a bit egotistical, but I know that my work on disability and accessibility in libraries for patrons and employees has value and is really needed.  I get email all the time from people who have found my work and are using it to help their libraries become more accessible.

Hardcover, paperback, e-reader, audiobook or all?

Yes. LOL If I am fun reading, any format is fine though I have a general preference for paper in large part because I stare at screens all day. For work-related reading, of which I do a lot, if I need to retain the information, then I must read it on paper.

Favorite author?

This is like the worst question to ask a reader.  Favorite in what context? My favorite author I read for pleasure, because there is no nutritional content whatsoever in her writing, is Mercedes Lackey. Back in the bad ol’ days, she was one of the first mainstream fantasy authors that had out queer characters in her books and it was such a relief to read stories that had people in them that were like me.

If you were stuck on a deserted island, what five books would you bring with you to pass the time until being rescued?

Only 5? So restrictive.

  • Magic’s Pawn by Mercedes Lackey
  • Anathem by Neal Stephenson
  • Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
  • Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
  • Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Cat or Dog?

Cats. I have two Maine Coons.

Favorite film, podcast, or television show?

Why must it be only one?! Argh. I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast. Her work informs my own a lot and I deeply admire and appreciate her work.

One person you would like to meet, dead or alive, and why?

Living: Caitlin Doughty. She is a death advocate and mortician out of California. She’s published several books about death rituals in various cultures and is a strong proponent of empowering the family to celebrate the death of their loved one in ways that they see fit and not how the funeral industry thinks it should be done.

Dead: Michael Field (Katherine Harris Bradley and Edith Cooper). Michael Field were two women, an aunt and niece pair who were lovers, who were poets during the Victorian period in London. I did my English Master thesis on their conversion to Roman Catholicism from Hellenistic Aestheticism through the lens of their glorious elegiac pet poems gathered in a limited edition book, Whym Chow: Flame of Love. And yes, the poems are as over the top as only Victorian expressions of mourning can be and they are amazing.

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