A Day in the Life: Wookjin Cheun, Librarian for Slavic and East European Studies
A Day in the Life is a series featuring individuals working in the library and information field presented by the Indiana University Department of Information and Library Science. Current students and alumni will find profiles of professionals involved in all aspects of librarianship. If you are an alumni and would like to be featured in A Day in the Life, please email email@example.com or Katie Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Interacting with students and faculty members concerning a variety of questions and issues related to their research, class project, career development, or teaching is always inspiring…watching and studying what is being published in ‘my’ area of the world never bores me.”
Educational Background: MA in History; Master of Library Science
Previous Experience: Assistant to the Librarian for Slavic and East European Studies at IU, Slavic Acquisitions Specialist in Technical Services
Wookjin came to IU as a master’s student with a research focus in the Korean diaspora of Russia. He spent more than a year in Russia combing through historical documents in archives and libraries in Moscow, Vladivostok, and Khabarovsk. As Wookjin neared the end of his MA, he decided to pursue studies beyond history. The interesting courses offered by IU’s library science program impressed him and he decided to apply. The department took an interest in Wookjin’s Russian and Korean language skills and offered him admission and financial support. The MLS courses taught Wookjin valuable skills such as reference, cataloging, and collection development. Wookjin’s graduate work in library science and Russian history prepared him for his current role as Librarian for Slavic and East European Studies. Wookjin stresses the importance of experience and a lifelong devotion to specific areas in librarianship. Although the work is rewarding, Wookjin names a number of challenges that include the need to “support a wide range of research topics, to keep up with new trends and interests, and sometimes even to anticipate future needs.”
Collection development activities are the main focus of Wookjin’s role as a subject librarian. He selects books and materials to be added to the collection, but he also compiles finding aids, creates webpages and posters, and communicates with faculty and students. The Slavic and East European Studies collection is one of the largest of its kind in North America. The collection started in the 1950s when President Herman B. Wells allocated $100,000 to purchase materials related to the study of Eastern Europe. The breadth of the collection reflects Cold War attitudes in the United States at this time. In response to the launch of the Russian satellite, Sputnik, the National Defense Education Act was signed in 1958. The legislation funded area studies and foreign language programs with the intention of educating students to aid in national defense.
The Slavic and East European Studies collection consists of books in all formats, sound recordings, and films with a focus on history, literature, anthropology, folklore, music, and fine arts. Although Russian materials are the most prevalent, over 15 languages are represented in the collection. Wookjin enjoys the diversity of materials he manages and says, “It’s amazing how different the individual Slavic and East European countries are from one another in what they publish, how they publish and distribute them, how they design them, and how they record their own history, culture, society, etc.”
Wookjin’s responsibilities go beyond collection development. As a liaison to the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures, he regularly teaches bibliographic instruction sessions. In the past, he taught a 3-credit Slavic bibliography course for the Department of Information and Library Science and the REEI (Russian and East European Institute). Most recently, he has worked with librarians in the Department of Area Studies to create the “Area and International Studies Librarianship” online course. The class is the only one of its kind in the United States and provides an overview of issues that relate to librarianship in Area Studies including: collection development, reference and outreach, partnerships and collaboration, website development and access, traditional information sources, emerging technologies, and space management.
One of Wookjin’s favorite recent experiences was traveling to Moscow, Russia in December of 2014 for a five-day book fair. He had the opportunity to learn more about Russian book publishing as well as Russian culture. He spent seven to eight hours a day attending book presentations, lectures, and seminars. He recalls, “The heat and energy inside the book fair was such a contrast to the cold weather outside.”
Wookjin’s advice for current students: I know many library school students go to student conferences and meetings of student chapters affiliated with national organizations. They might also want to consider going to the national conventions and conferences of those professional associations as well. When you go there as a student you are noticed. Look for international exchange opportunities. I know it may be a long shot for aspiring librarians, but as Indiana University, just like many other major US institutions of higher education, invests more and more in internationalization, opportunities for international experience for future librarians should also increase. International experience definitely matters in today’s world. Also, remember that the Indiana University Libraries is a huge organization with a large number of professional librarians who work on various projects all the time. See if they have any project for you, be that as an intern or a volunteer. When it comes to job searching, having your name on specific projects could be as valuable an asset as some work experience as a student employee in the library.
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