Our staff spotlight this month is Anna Lewis, Assistant Director at MERIT. Whether you’ve visited MERIT yourself or just read about it in our Library of the Month feature, you know it’s a fun and friendly place to be. Anna fits right in—her cheerful disposition and fondness for her coworkers is a big contributor to the energetic environment. From the once-a-semester staff photos on her office wall to her smile when she talks about them, it is clear that Anna truly treasures the people she works with and values their opinions. Read on to learn more about Anna’s work, hobbies, and how her handwriting made it big in Hollywood…
News: Can you tell me a little bit about MERIT and what you do as the Assistant Director?
AL: MERIT is a relatively new organization in the School of Education at UW—Madison; we just marked our fifth birthday in July. MERIT was born from the merger between the school’s information technology group, a media development unit, and a library. There are two assistant directors here, and I am the one who works with our media, instructional and library staff. I also coordinate the student staff personnel for all areas of MERIT. One thing that appeals to me about my job is that I get to be involved with lots of different projects and initiatives. For instance, we just developed a new graduate student position to serve as a consultant for qualitative research data. MERIT also supports and staffs an initiative that provides instructional technology support to some of the local area PreK-12 schools. MERIT also has very talented creative staff—including a visual designer/artist, and a video producer. They recently partnered with other School of Education staff and Wisconsin Public Television to create this beautiful new resource on the Wisconsin state Act 31. The video and website help to educate pre-service teacher on the history and culture of the eleven sovereign nations and bands in Wisconsin. In addition to the projects that I’ve mentioned, I also select items for our collections, staff the circulation and service desks, and work to make MERIT Library responsive and user-centered.
News: What is your favorite part of your job?
AL: It’s hard to choose a favorite part! If forced to choose, my colleagues are my favorite part of my job here, especially our student staff. They play such a critical role here at MERIT and are largely responsible for the superior service that we provide. I started here as a student hourly back in 1995 when we were the Instructional Materials Center. As a student in the School of Education, I thought it made sense to work at the education library. The director at the time, Jo Ann Carr, really created the participatory culture where staff knew that they were valued and important. That culture and service ethic made such an impact on me, that I continued to work at the library as a graduate student. Jo Ann created an adaptable, welcoming environment which is something I hope we have continued. The School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) students who work at MERIT bring a particular brand of energy and initiative to our library. For example, when I asked our teaching assistant, SLIS student Katelyn Martens, to create a new comment box to solicit more user feedback, she created this unbelievable box that plays off of the Little Free Library movement.
As a former educator, I am fortunate to be connected with my undergraduate field of study. I was certified to be a high school German teacher, and did my student teaching in Sun Prairie. After student teaching, I realized that I could be more effective as a school librarian, helping students and teachers find and create the information that they needed. I worked at Leesville Road High School in Raleigh, North Carolina for almost a year. When a full-time position became available here (at UW—Madison), I returned. I love assisting future educators. Our teacher preparation programs at UW—Madison are some of the best in the nation. Every day I see the altruism and dedication with which these pre-service teachers approach their future careers. It’s inspiring!
News: What do you do for fun outside of work?
AL: Dragon, Mo and Frogger are my fur family—two dogs and a cat. They are all rescue animals, and keeping track of the three of them is often a full-time job. The human contingent of my family is very involved with the arts in Madison. My husband, John Sable, is a playwright and theater buff. Every year he writes the scripts for the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum’s Talk Spirits Event (brief theatrical pieces based on people who are buried in the Forest Hill Cemetery. He’ll also be portraying Dasher the Reindeer in “The Eight,” written by Jeff Goode. My sister, Katie Reiser, is an arts reviewer for the Isthmus, and my brother-in-law, Ben Reiser, works for both the Arts Institute and Cinematheque at UW—Madison.
When I’m not taking advantage of all of the theatrical offerings available in Madison, I’m a big pop culture consumer. US Weekly is my guilty pleasure and I follow Hyperbole and a Half, Jezebel.com, and Docce online. NPR podcasts like Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me!, A Way with Words, and Sound Opinions fill my iPhone.
As a native of Steven’s Point (where the campus radio station sponsors the world’s largest annual trivia contest), I think I’m also genetically predisposed to enjoy trivia. My friends and I play league trivia here in Madison, and a few years ago, MERIT Library circulation staff turned me on to Sporcle.com. Sporcle is a fun trivia site that tests visitors to answer questions such as “List as many Harry Potter characters as you can in five minutes.” It’s addictive.
And finally, I love fonts! My two favorite fontographers are Chank and Pizza Dude. Technically I’m a fontographer as well. Over a decade ago, I created a font of my handwriting. It’s been used on Tammy Baldwin’s website (back when she was a member of the House Representatives). It was used in the graphic design of a book in the Netherlands, and this past summer I got an email from a TV production company—who used it on their Style Network show, XOX Betsey Johnson. Sadly, the reality show based on the eccentric fashion designer was not a success, but it was still thrilling to see my font on television.
News: Read any good books lately?
AL: I gravitate to non-fiction. Some of my favorites are Heads in Beds: a Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky, The Signal and the Noise by Nate Silver, and Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker Palmer. At MERIT, we circulate a lot of young adult and children’s literature. My all-time favorite children’s book is I’m Terrific by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat. I have a weakness for gold stars.
News: MERIT has such a fun and happy environment! It seems like a fun place to work and to be.
It really is. I mean, what other library on campus has Apples to Apples or displays featuring squishy brains? It’s just a fun place…and we have a laminator (I love the laminator!). On top of that, we’ve got quite the collection of Mr. Potato Head dolls and M&M’s dispensers. One of our goals for next year is to find funding for M&M’s for the dispensers—right now, people are just donating the M&M’s and I think they’re feeling a little tighter in their wallets… Another fun thing that we started doing about seven years ago is the make-your-own READ posters, where people can bring a book and star in their very own personalized READ poster. People are very serious about their READ posters. There are some users who have come each year that we’ve offered to create them.
- If you need suggestions for fun games and pop culture resources, Anna is the person to ask. Drop her a line at MERIT Library!
- Check out Anna’s font and download it for free here.
Know a librarian or library staff member with a cool skill or interest? They belong in the spotlight! Submit your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to learn more about you!