DPIR program helps MLIS alumni hit the ground running

By Jessi Loerch Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Hanna Roseen’s job is varied and very hands-on. She works as the branch librarian for NCW Libraries in East Wenatchee. It’s a one-room space where she’s the only full-time librarian, and she regularly works with members of the community of all ages. She helps library patrons at the reference desk and she organizes events. 

With so many aspects to her job, Roseen, MLIS ’20, has to make use of a wide range of practical skills in her day-to-day work. One of the key ways the iSchool helps students gain those necessary skills is the Distinguished Practitioner in Residence (DPIR) program, which is funded by a 10-year, $1.4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The program brings leading professionals to the iSchool to offer a practical perspective on scholarly pursuits in library and information science. These professionals serve for two years and bring a current perspective from the professional world, as well as connections to other professionals who can help students in their careers. 

Hanna Roseen
Hanna Roseen, '20 (also pictured at top), took a class in community engagement with Rolf Hapel while in the MLIS program.

When Roseen was a student, she took a class in community engagement with Rolf Hapel, a respected librarian from Denmark who was the iSchool’s second Distinguished Practitioner in Residence when Roseen was a student.

“The MLIS, especially for a librarian, is a professional degree,” Roseen said. “And for someone like me who works primarily as a practitioner, Rolf was super helpful. He really brought in practical knowledge and prioritized the hands-on work. The program adds value to the degree.”

As part of her job, Roseen connected with Triple Point NCW, a program for LGBTQ+ youth. In building that relationship, she leaned on what she’d learned from Hapel, particularly in his community engagement course, about centering the needs of the community. Roseen has spoken to the group, participated in Pride Month events, and talked about books and censorship with the kids.

“He talked about how to engage in communities in a good and equitable way,” Roseen said. “He taught us about building mutually beneficial partnerships and he had real-life examples to share and examples of why it mattered.”

Building community after a hurricane

Beth Jarrell
Beth Jarrell

In 2022, Hurricane Ian hit Sanibel Island off the coast of Florida. The bridge to the island was destroyed, the library was flooded, and the community’s needs completely changed. Beth Jarrell, a reference librarian and digital archivist at Sanibel Public Library, had to help the library adapt. She looked back at what she learned from Hapel’s community engagement class, the last course she took before she graduated.

“When we were hit by the hurricane, I used that class as a reference on how we could serve our community. I even went back to my old notes,” she said. “We talked in class about evolving our mission and how we can’t be set in our ways. We couldn’t go to the library, so we used social media to support our community. We really leaned into information sharing.”

Jarrell said one of the strongest messages she took from Hapel was that information could go both ways, from the library to the community, but also back to the library. That was particularly true after Hurricane Ian. 

Jarrell has invited library patrons to share their stories and their images from the storm. 

“We are archiving their photos and building a community-focused display about this massive, historic event that nearly destroyed this island,” she said. “I don’t know if I would have had the idea if I hadn’t taken that class.”

The power of collaboration

SHannon Adkins
Shannon Adkins

Shannon Adkins, ’18, studied with Susan Hildreth, an accomplished city and state librarian and the iSchool’s first distinguished practitioner. Adkins, who is the senior library research and data analyst at the Hennepin County Library in Minnesota, particularly remembers Hildreth’s emphasis on the importance of relationships in library work. 

“Susan was really focused on collaboration across the field,” Adkins said. “She is so dialed in and really connected to people.”

As Adkins was wrapping up her time at the iSchool, she was already working at the Hennepin County Library. She was grappling with how to do capital planning in a way that used community data and focused on equity. 

“Susan gave me some really good advice,” Adkins said. “She said that was something other folks were thinking about too, and she connected me to other library leaders who could help.”

Adkins thinks about that a lot. When she’s stuck, she makes use of those contacts and reaches out to other professionals. 

“As a student, it was really valuable for someone looking to go into public libraries to hear that person talk about what it is like in the field, how they’ve been impactful in the communities that they’ve served and what they’ve learned,” Adkins said. “Susan kept it real about what it’s like to go into public librarianship.” 

Leadership and mentoring

Stacey Akahoshi
Stacey Akahoshi

Stacey Akahoshi went into Hildreth’s public library management class with an interest in management and hopes of one day becoming a library director. 

“After that class, I felt that I could go into the public library field and that I could be a leader,” Akahoshi said. “I knew what type of tough decisions I was likely to face and I had tools to be able to make decisions.”

Akahoshi appreciated having that knowledge before she started having to make difficult decisions in her career. She now works as the virtual content manager at the Maricopa County Library District in Arizona. 

Hildreth shared her own extensive knowledge, Akahoshi said, and welcomed a variety of guest lecturers.

“She was totally skilled herself, but she brought other people into the conversation 
to give new perspective,” Akahoshi said. “I learned so much and we immediately had connections to people doing great things in the field.”

Akahoshi said Hildreth was also generous with her time and helped Akahoshi clarify her career goals. And she credits Hildreth for helping her become an American Library Association 2023 Emerging Leader.

“I think that I might never have learned about that program — or thought that I could do something like that on a national scale — if I didn’t have Susan as an example,” she said.

Real-life connections

Nancy Pearl
Nancy Pearl

Nancy Pearl, an author, former iSchool lecturer and a member of the iSchool’s MLIS Advisory Board, is a strong supporter of the DPIR program.

“I think that it brings realism into what can be a program that teaches a lot of theory, and does that really well,” she said. “But I think when you are going to work at your first library, you would really like to know what it would be like when you go to work. I think that dose of realism is a good thing.” 

Cindy Aden, who recently wrapped up her term as the third DPIR and is staying at the iSchool as a teaching professor and the MLIS chair, said real-life experience is a vital element of the program. 

“The DPIR program is for the benefit of the students. Because the DPIR has been working the field for decades, they know a lot of people,” she said. “They have all of these recent experiences and connections they can share with students and other faculty.”

Aden said she’s grateful for the chance to help students on the path to their careers. She appreciated the chance to contribute to the research at the iSchool, and she loves teaching.

“It’s fun to be a professor,” she said. “I like being part of big ideas, having an impact. I like being able to impress and impact young and emerging minds. I love being part of something bigger.” 

Distinguished Practitioners in Residence

Susan Hildreth worked as a librarian for more than three decades. She specializes in public libraries, library organization and funding and strategic planning. She was a 
city librarian in San Francisco and Seattle and state librarian in California. She also was the director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. 

Rolf Hapel is an internationally recognized leader in public libraries. He specializes in leadership and management of public libraries, the development of public library services and spaces, and community engagement and partnership building for libraries. He was the Director of Citizens’ Service and Libraries for the City of Aarhus, Denmark, and also worked as a librarian in various Danish cities.

Cindy Aden served in the Library of Congress and at academic libraries. She also worked in public libraries and for private companies, including Amazon. Before taking on the role of Distinguished Practitioner in Residence, she was the Washington State Librarian. She specializes in the role of libraries in broadband access and strategic library partnerships. She is remaining at the iSchool as a teaching professor and MLIS chair.

Lorcan Dempsey, the current DPIR, is a librarian, writer and advisor who worked for OCLC, a global library organization based in Dublin, Ohio, for 21 years, most recently as the vice president for research and membership and the chief strategist. He has worked for library, non-profit and education organizations in Ireland, the United Kingdom and the U.S. His extensive writings have provided guidance and resources for working librarians.