Melody Pittman Dale
B.A. in English, 2008
M.L.I.S (Master’s in Library and Information Science)
Most enjoyable experiences as an English major:
It is hard to narrow down my most enjoyable experiences; I treasured so much of my time as an English major! I became very fond of Charles Dickens in Dr. Shalyn Claggett’s course—her passion for literature was infectious, and I still talk about those memories with fellow English majors who became some of my closest friends. I vividly remember being introduced to the magic lantern in her class, and it truly was…well, magical. Reading Ben Okri for the first time in Dr. Kelly Marsh’s class was so impactful—I still remember dreaming about the vivid imagery in Okri’s The Famished Road. I came to love so many new authors in her class—I remember reading Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing for the first time and being moved; I wrote a paper on it for that course, and it was the one I most enjoyed writing in my entire college career. Becky Hagenston’s creative writing class taught me so much about finding my voice. After reading a short story I wrote, she gave me a recommendation for an author she thought I would enjoy—Pam Houston. The recommendation was spot-on, and I remember feeling seen. I miss those classes dearly; it was such a wonderful time.
Associate Professor/Education and Business Librarian Organization:
Mississippi State University
When you graduated with a degree in English from MSU, what were your plans for your future? Has your career path mostly realized those early plans, or have you discovered new plans and goals along the way?
I got married the summer after graduating from MSU and planned to move back to my hometown of Grenada, Mississippi. I was hoping to find a job at the local school district while I decided on a master’s program. I debated between library science and law school; I had minored in General Business Administration at MSU and was fascinated by business law.
Soon after moving back to Grenada, I made an appointment with the superintendent, who happened to be my former band director. He did not have much available, but there was an empty AmeriCorps slot that would involve spending half a day at the middle school and half at the high school. I had never heard of AmeriCorps, but after much discussion and research, I accepted the position. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
My job was primarily tutoring students in reading and math, but I also did a significant amount of volunteer work to count towards my hours: tutoring at the Boys and Girls Club, volunteering at the food pantry nearly every weekend, and volunteering at the public library. The stipend was low, and the days were long, but it was some of the most rewarding work I have ever done in my life.
During my first year of AmeriCorps, I reconnected with my favorite high school English teacher, who had since become a librarian. Between her encouragement and the joy I felt every time I entered the public library, I knew library science was the route for me. I used the education award I received from AmeriCorps to pay for graduate school and was immensely thankful to avoid taking out additional student loans.
While working on my Master’s in Library and Information Science (MLIS) from the University of Southern Mississippi, my husband and I moved back to Starkville. Although we were both from Grenada, Starkville felt like home after our time at MSU. I started as a staff member in the Cataloging Dept of MSU Libraries and after finishing my MLIS, was interviewed and hired into a faculty librarian job. One big part of the job that I had not considered early in my career was promotion and tenure (P&T). It was a huge undertaking, but I was thankful to have been granted P&T in 2019.
What is your current occupation, and what does your work mostly consist of?
I am the Education and Business Librarian at MSU Libraries. My job primarily consists of providing library and research help to students, staff, and faculty within the College of Education and the College of Business. I offer consultations and instruction sessions to these groups, and those happen regularly throughout the semester. I also provide a certain number of hours on our chat service, create Research Guides on different topics, and occasionally work on grants and other projects.
Which skills that you learned as an English major do you use most in your job?
The research skills I learned as an English major were tremendously helpful in making me a better librarian; I use those skills in my job every single day. I also learned about the power of language and importance of creativity, which helps in both the research and teaching parts of my job.
What additional skills did you need to learn in order to do your job, and how did you learn them?
Most of the additional skills I needed were those I had to learn on the job: using the various programs and software necessary to carry out my responsibilities. Being tech-savvy is not essential to academic librarianship, but it is certainly an asset. When I worked on the technical services side of librarianship, I had to learn how to use SirsiDynix, an integrated library system (ILS). As a reference librarian, I have had to learn how to use LibApps—a Springshare project we use for Research Guides, Chat Services, and various other parts of the job. The “reference interview” skill—the process of clarifying what patrons/researchers really want or need and helping them find it—was something I learned in library school, but I was able to hone this skill over time by working with patrons.
Are there common misconceptions about your career field, which current English majors might share, that you have learned the truth about?
One misconception is that we sit around and read all day. I always laugh at that one. Any reading I do at work is related to my research; I promise I am not sitting around with the latest Margaret Atwood novel in hand.
The other is that libraries are becoming obsolete. I would argue that libraries are more important than ever; there is so much misinformation out there—from social media to the news—and we constantly try to teach and stress the importance of information literacy.
In what ways does your career enrich your life and help you to achieve your personal as well as your professional goals?
It is so rewarding to see students become better researchers and to see the amazing work they are doing. Additionally, my job has given me opportunities to research topics I care about, like open access publishing. This year I have worked on a couple of grants that allowed me to train teachers and librarians across the state on databases and other resources that could help their students become better researchers. I love the variety in my job.
What advice do you have for undergraduate English majors right now who might want to follow the career path you did?
Making connections is so important; go out and meet people in the field! Talk to them about pros and cons of the job, shadow them for a day, and volunteer at different types of libraries.
If you are interested in AmeriCorps, you can learn more about it here: https://www.americorps.gov/ and you can find out more about ALA accredited MLIS programs here: https://www.ala.org/educationcareers/accreditedprograms/directory.