The Slavic collection at the U. of I. is the largest in Illinois, the Midwest and any state-supported U.S. university. Jan Adamczyk, a senior library specialist, takes care of the collection and responds to questions about it.
“People at Yale know that we have a great collection, but most people on campus don’t,” Adamczyk said.
Each workday, he works two jobs on campus because he has a split appointment.
He works with the Slavic Reference Service in the morning, and then he catalogues Slavic books in the afternoon. Both jobs are in the Main Library, with his mornings spent in the International and Area Studies Library and afternoons in the Central Access Management unit, where he catalogues Slavic books from Central and Eastern Europe and Russia.
With the reference service, he answers questions from the campus community, people from all corners of the United States as well as others from all over the world.
Where a question comes from doesn’t matter to Adamczyk.
“A question is a question,” he said. “That’s the most satisfying part. If you can help someone out – a student or a senior researcher – sometimes they need this one last piece of information for their project or paper and if you can get it (for them), they’re happy, and there’s a good deal of satisfaction from this.”
His reference job allows him to work with the public, and it can be very fast-paced. Cataloguing is much more focused, and accuracy is critical.
As a graduate teaching assistant in 1989, he worked for the department of Slavic languages and literatures. He then worked for the Slavic and East European Library and Slavic Reference Service – also as a graduate assistant. He has worked in his current position since 2002.
Originally from Poland, he came to the U.S. in 1981. He wife also is from Poland. He wishes he could visit friends and family still living in Poland more often. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, riding his bike and camping.
With the reference work, he and his co-workers are able to help patrons with a certain amount of skill and a little bit of luck, he said.
“The hardest thing is if you spend several days trying to research a question and you come up empty,” he said. “There are certain things that can’t be found out or can’t be found out with what I have to work with.”
Some questions are more fun than others, such as finding some obscure situations in history.
“You get to dive into interesting and fun stuff,” such as the private lives of famous people, he said.
He and his co-workers sometimes get desperate phone calls from someone writing their dissertation, saying “My committee says I need this citation.”
“You drop everything and try to help people out,” Adamczyk said.
His jobs require a team effort, and each of his co-workers brings different skills and ideas on how to approach problems and questions. Outside of the referencing and cataloguing, he and his co-workers also put together LibGuides (online resource guides to help researchers), and they host webinars and give presentations to classes. Although most of his job is a solitary pursuit, in the afternoon, he still works with others to solve problems.
Adamczyk wants people to know that librarians perform many different tasks in their jobs, and they use many skills to get the job done.
“The general public doesn’t really quite understand or appreciate just how varied the jobs of the library world are. Librarians don’t just go around and shelve books or dust books,” he said.