A One-On-One Conversation with ISL Librarian Justin Davis
By: Ryan Brown
After an extensive tour of the Indiana State Library, Indiana Division Librarian Justin Davis was gracious enough to sit down with me for a brief interview. My mind was blown by the amount of historical items located at the ISL. There were numerous books, newspapers, maps, directories, and photographs positioned throughout the multi-level building. Everywhere I turned, Justin was showing me another item from the collection. I highly recommend that all Hoosiers come and visit the ISL — you will NOT be disappointed.
RB: How did you get interested in becoming a librarian?
JD: I’m from Panama City, Florida. I went to a community college and one of my first jobs, I was fortunate enough to be hired by the community college library there in the archives. Most of my work involved using Adobe Photoshop and scanners to digitize many of their archival documents, but on the side I also worked five to ten hours a week in their circulation division. I genuinely loved the atmosphere, I loved the people I worked with, I loved everything about it…uh, I wanted to be a librarian pretty much right after getting that job.
RB: What brought you to the ISL?
JD: I went to Florida State University and got my bachelor’s degree in history. Shortly thereafter, I moved with my family here to Indy and I enrolled in the Master’s degree in Library Science program at IUPUI. From there, I was fortunate to work on the digital scholarship program under Kristi Palmer, Anna Proctor and Jenny Johnson, where I further worked on digitizing documents. Later on, I was an Assistant Reference Librarian for Frances Huehls.
I learned a lot of the skills I have from there and I graduated in 2013. With that training and experience, I interviewed for a job here and was very fortunate enough to get hired.
The Indiana State Library has…without a doubt…one of the most impressive collections I have ever seen in my life. It also has an incredible staff of librarians and professionals who are absolutely wonderful to work with. My colleagues, my friends [with emphasis], are absolutely wonderful to work with. I couldn’t imagine a better group to work with.
The nice thing about being a Research Librarian for the Indiana Division is that you are constantly honing in on different sets of skills every day. One day you’re doing advanced research on someone’s ancestor, or finding an obituary in an old newspaper, or researching counties, or working on one of my various projects like inventorying the city directories collection. You build such a wide assortment of skills, it really is such a wonderful experience and you realize that you are very fortunate to be here.
RB: What is your favorite part of the collection?
JD: I have a couple of favorites. The city directory is one of my favorite parts of the collection because I have worked so extensively with it. I worked on that project for about eight months developing the collection guides. I also enjoy working on civil war studies a lot. Working on civil war soldiers’ history, their family histories, obituaries, so on and so forth. I very, very much enjoy the yearbooks we have.
[After a short contemplation] Truth be told, my favorite part of the collection that I have the most fun with is our newspapers on microfilm. It’s just a pleasure to go through the newspapers and search for old articles and find old advertisements. You know, you look at advertisements from the 1930’s, they’re just fun! Looking at how much it has changed since then — it’s a blast!
RB: Tell me a little bit about the latest project you are working on entitled “This Day in History.”
JD: Yeah, sure! “This Day in History” project is a collaborative project between myself and my boss, Monique Howell. We have 52 dates, weekly events in Indiana history. The specific dates correspond with 2016…they are planned to be for the bicentennial.
The project, basically, is that we find a notable event in Indiana history and we publish a PDF with a couple of images from our collection like a book, or newspaper clippings, or a photo and we put them on the publisher with a couple of paragraphs with a brief description of the event. The hope is that in 2016 we can use this to market and advertise the library to get people more interested in our collection.
RB: What do you like to do when you are not at work?
JD: Well, my main hobby is exercising. I go to the gym on a daily basis. I love reading. Now that I’m out of school, I can finally read things I want to read [chuckling].
RB: I know the feeling. I have been reading a lot of boring journal articles lately…
JD: Same here! [Laughing] So, I have been binging on Stephen King.
RB: They [journal articles] just drain your brain. They are written in such a high-brow style.
JD: So dry. No one actually talks like that. Just once, I would like to read an academic article where someone wrote it just like they were talking to you. That would be so nice. It would be so refreshing.
RB: What do you actually like to read?
JD: I have been binging on Stephen King, I’ve got to be honest with you. [Chuckling] But, my favorite authors are Cormac McCarthy, Willa Cather, Ernest Hemingway. I love Hemingway. Early Hemingway is my favorite. “The Sun Also Rises” might be one of my favorite novels. John Steinbeck…uh, I have a big thing for 20’s and 30’s American authors.
RB: I tried to read “For Whom the Bell Tolls” one time and I got twenty chapters into it and I just couldn’t do it any more…
JD: It’s not my favorite. Trust me when I say “The Sun Also Rises” is a lot better. I didn’t even finish “For Whom the Bell Tolls” either. It’s hit-or-miss. I also enjoy modern fantasy and sci-fi. I love “The Wheel of Time” series by Robert Jordan. Um, I’m reading another book, I can’t remember the name of the author, but I’m about 100 pages into. It’s called “The Way of Kings”, but I love sci-fi and fantasy and things like that. I’m a huge Star Wars geek…
RB: Are you excited about the new Star Wars movie coming out?
JD: Oh, have you seen the new trailer? It looks amazing!
RB: No, I haven’t.
JD: Oh, it’s so good! They have that minute-and-a-half teaser trailer for Star Wars and it looks so good.
RB: I read an article a couple months ago about how people were flying drones over the spot where they are filming the movie so that they could get a glimpse of the props…
JD: Just wait a year…
RB: Yeah, I wouldn’t want to spoil it. I want to be surprised.
JD: Yeah, and a lot of people are saying, “why do we need another Star Wars.” The worst Star Wars movies are the ones where George Lucas had the most to do with. It’s a sad truth, but the two best ones are the first one and “The Empire Strikes Back”. They are the ones he had the least to do with and they’re the best.
RB: If you were to sum it up in one sentence, why should people visit the ISL?
JD: A fantastic and welcoming staff.
RB: As opposed to other libraries? [Chuckling]
JD: No. [Laughing] No, all of the libraries I have ever worked with have had great staffs. But, I’m very fortunate at the library I work at now. If I was a patron and I had never been to the Indiana State Library before and I walked up and I spoke to the staff, I know right-off-the-bat that they would be helpful, kind and nice, and they would help me find whatever I needed. And that matters that we have staff that would go out of our way to not just do their job, but to do it really well.
This article was written by Ryan Brown, Director of Communications, Indiana State Library. Originally appearing in the December 31, 2014 edition of the Wednesday Word