Member Spotlight - Caitlin Archer-HelkeMay 8, 2023
This week's member spotlight is on Caitlin Archer-Helke. Caitlin is the Acquisitions and Content Support Specialist at Dykema Gossett PLLC. She a current member of the ILA Fundraising Committee and served on the ILA Conference Program Committee, 2021. We asked Caitlin to tell us a little about herself and answer a few professional and amusing questions. Continue reading to find out more about Caitlin.
A little background on Caitlin
Caitlin Archer-Helke is from the South Side of Chicago and worked in an assortment of academic and public libraries before starting in 2022 at a law library, where she is now the Acquisitions and Content Support Specialist at Dykema Gossett's law library, supporting the firm's lawyers and staff across the U.S. Before she turned to libraries she got a Master's in Spanish focusing on the literature of very dead people, which is a great way to prepare for tracking down obscure and arcane historical documents.
How did you get your start in libraries?
Librarianship is kind of the family business: my maternal grandmother was a children’s librarian, cataloger, and library professor; my maternal grandfather was a pioneering library director; one of my aunts was a reference librarian; several of my dad’s 40 or 50 first cousins were, at one point or another, librarians. Even my paternal great-grandmother did something or another with the local library.
I worked my way through undergrad as a circulation clerk, and a lot of people figured I’d just go straight to libraries. But I was different. A very unique snowflake. So I got a master’s in Spanish literature first, focusing on material roughly from like 1400 through 1700—the deader the better! (Although I once had Simón Bolívar’s Carta de Jamaica memorized, and one of my all-time favorite novels is a twentieth-century Mexican novel, so there’s that.)
There are not a ton of jobs out there for people whose interest lies mostly with writers who are deader than dead, and I loathe teaching grammar with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. And, for a variety of reasons, I ended up in library school.
Best advice you've received since starting your career in libraries?
I feel like I’m cheating, but I’m totally going to dip back to one of my professors in library school! In his museum informatics class (which was so good!), Michael Twidale told us that our bosses would be enamored of all the newest tech, no matter what: we must have the newest tech splurgywhoop! All the kids these days have it! It’s what they want! And then, invariably, “the kids these days” are uninterested, or never used it, or don’t want anything to do with it in a cultural heritage space. It’s our job to try to see through the hoopla and figure out if the tech splurgywhoop is potentially useful or just, you know, another place to sink money. It is very often the latter.
Any advice to newcomers working in libraries?
This is a really tough time to be a librarian. I’m not going to sugarcoat it: it feels like we’re under attack from every direction, and it’s even more difficult for those of us who are from minoritized backgrounds and/or are disabled. But here we are.
Try to get training in a wide range of different forms of librarianship, from public to academic / school to corporate. (For what it’s worth, I’ve now worked in public, R1 academic, small liberal arts academic, and, now, corporate/law.) Be ready and willing to switch areas and move around different angles of librarianship.
And, finally, take care of yourself. I’d say nobody else is going to do it, but that’s not necessarily true: some of us luck out with strong unions that really do try to, at the very least, help us out. Even as we’re facing attacks on so many levels and in so many places, a lot of institutions are working us down to the bone. It’s not your job as one person to do the work of four or five or six people. You deserve better, and so do your patrons. I know it’s a lot easier said than done, but don’t accept that kind of treatment. You have inherent worth, and you have every right to demand appropriate treatment—and to find another job elsewhere if your employer won’t treat you well.
When and why did you become a member of ILA?
Okay! Had to dig for that, but I’ve been a member since 2017. I think I joined initially because I was presenting on a panel moderated by Dr. Cooke, but I’ve stuck around because I love ILA. Since then I’ve presented at a Noon Network, helped plan a conference, and am now on the fundraising committee. It’s really amazing to be able to work with my fellow Illinois librarians on things we and our patrons need. Which kind of feeds right into your next question!
How has being a member of ILA helped you professionally?
So, I think this is a multifaceted answer, and before I get into it, I’m just going to say that I would strongly suggest that library staffers in Illinois do join ILA. There really is something for all of us, and it’s incredible to be able to work more locally, with other people who are often seeing the same challenges and opportunities as we are.
In a very real way, I’ve gotten companionship out of my work with ILA, which isn’t necessarily a professional benefit but can really help, especially when one is stuck in a not-great work situation. It was very lonely back in my days as a near-solo librarian, and being able to work with other Illinois library people meant so much to me.
Conferences and other professional development opportunities, like the Noon Networks, have been fantastic as well. As an academic librarian at a small, Hispanic-Serving institution on the southwest side of Chicago, I got a lot of benefit from tagging along to sessions on serving diverse users or building community networks. (I would have been able to implement those things better if I hadn’t been doing the work of six people, but that’s another matter.) The connections I’ve made, meanwhile, have opened me to a much broader and richer understanding of librarianship and libraries, ranging from the smallest and most obscure of private or corporate libraries to Chicago’s archival collection consortia and downstate library groups.
What is your proudest professional achievement to date?
Once a kid introduced me to his friend’s mom as “my favorite libeariean.” That was great. Also, the notes that teen patrons and students have given me over the years. They’re always surprising—I never really have any idea that I’m making such a difference. And they mean the world to me.
Hardcover, paperback, e-reader, audiobook, or all?
All! At least kind of! I love hardcovers because they don’t get all bent up and they’re pretty and when I drop them they don’t get damaged (as fast). I mean, they do some damage to my nose when that’s where I drop them, but they aren’t wrecked, which is good.
Paperbacks are squishy and bendy which is sort of nice but also horrifying because I don’t want to damage them. And I usually read mass-markets on e-reader, mainly because the print is so small when they’re those little tiny paperbacks!
Audiobooks are an interesting thing for me: my attention span is iffy, I tend to have to be in motion all the time, and I tend to read faster than the audio. But I’ve been thinking of giving them a shot again, to be honest. My commute is different now, and I think listening on the train might be quite nice.
Okay, seriously, this is such a hard question to answer! So I think I’ll steal a line from season two of Fated Mates (nothing like a podcast about romance novels) and go with three authors that blooded me instead:
Maud Hart Lovelace wrote the Betsy-Tacy series and also Early Candlelight, which is basically a schmaltzy and problematic romance set around Fort Snelling in what would become Minnesota. My obsession with that book was probably the first hint that I’d be a romance reader.
William Shakespeare, because I learned to read on Much Ado About Nothing. (I’m dyslexic. And weird.)
A tie here between Leigh Bardugo and Talia Hibbert. Leigh Bardugo for the reps of chronic pain and dyslexia in the Crow duology, Talia Hibbert for chronic pain and mental health in her Brown Sisters romances. It’s an incredible, heart-stopping thing, to suddenly see yourself on a page. Which is one of the reasons I strongly support We Need Diverse Books—nobody should have to wait till they’re like thirty-something to see themselves.
I could totally go on and on and on and on, but I’ll leave it at these three for now.
If you were stuck on a deserted island, what five books would you bring with you to pass the time until being rescued?
Hahahaha oh god. And of course an ereader is out of the question—the battery would die right off!
- Complete Works of William Shakespeare, even though I’ve read them all
- Obras completas de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, because as much as I love her, I have not read all of them.
- My paperback edition of Ruby Lang’s Uptown Collection, because I love books set in cities (I’m a reverse-Secret Garden person), and because it’s a collection of novellas so I get more than one.
- Samira Ahmad’s Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, because you know what? I grew up in Hyde Park, I feel like I know everybody in that book, and it would be very homey as a result.
- One of those really R E A L L Y big compilation editions of Saga, the one that compiles like five million individual issues. I love Saga.
Cat or Dog?
Cat! I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to dogs, honestly. Although I like terriers a lot. They’re fun and they’re terrors (ha) and I really enjoyed taking care of a friend’s. She was super praise motivated, which was pretty entertaining. (Pro tip: don’t tell a dog bred to kill that she’s a fine, fine hunter unless you want her to stalk every blade of grass.) But I’m a cat lady at heart. I’m pretty sure I spend more money on my cat’s food than on my own. He’s a gigantic, melodramatic dude with a birth defect, a fondness for company, and a very strong personality, and I feel so lucky that people were apparently too afraid of a tiny, sad black kitten to give him the time of day. Their loss, my gain.
Favorite film, podcast, or television show?
Well, since I already shouted this one out: I really enjoy the podcast Fated Mates! And while I tend to love every movie/TV show the best while I’m watching it, I’ll just say that I’ve watched Moonstruck like five million times. I can literally quote it.
One person you would like to meet, dead or alive why?
This is kind of hard, because there’s a part of me that’s like, oh God, don’t meet your heroes. They usually end up sucking. And I’ve been so fortunate, during various writing classes, to meet some amazing writers. Part of me would like the chance to meet my great-grandmother, who was a fireball of epic proportions and must have had some amazing stories to tell. And another part would like to meet my great-grandfather on the other side of the family, who stayed home on his subsistence farm to watch the children so his wife and eventually his daughters and daughters in law could travel to women’s suffrage events around the country.