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Our February Staff Spotlight is Linda Duychak from the Kohler Art Library. Whether she’s tracking down examples of work by a particular artist for students, or tracking various birds with the Art History Avian Expeditionary Force – Linda has a knack for finding the unexpected.

Linda Duychak
Linda Duychak

How long have you been with the Libraries and how did you get your start?

I started part-time as a librarian at the Kohler Art Library in 2000, although I worked here previously as a project assistant during Library School and even before that was familiar with the library as an art history student.

I initially came to UW-Madison as a grad student in the Art History Department. But my first year on campus was the last year that the Art Library had a reference librarian. The staff position was cut. So I completed both my M.A. and Ph.D coursework, took my preliminary exams, and was confronting the task of writing an art history dissertation without having had the benefit of a subject specialist librarian to teach me research skills in the discipline.

After that, one thing led to another. It seemed like a good idea to take a couple summer classes in the Library School…and then to go to Library School…and then to become the reference librarian I had felt the lack of as a student.

For a number of years I had two separate part-time positions within GLS, one at the Kohler and one with the Digital Content Group (now UWDCC) to develop art-related digital projects. At this point both aspects of the jobs are combined.

What’s the most interesting part of your job?

Working within the subject specialty is important to me. Beyond that, I like the parts that are puzzle-solving. I like research. I enjoy helping researchers find the information they need. I enjoy creating guides and instruction sessions tailored to the specific topical needs of individual classes. In my work with digital projects, I find it satisfying to help bring together all the pieces that will make a cohesive and useful body of art-related information online. So…problem solving, research, helping people, promoting libraries and art historical scholarship….when it comes down to it, I can’t think of any uninteresting parts of my job.

How do you see your role evolving?

Well, that’s a hard question for a historian more comfortable working with 16th century primary sources than foreseeing the future!

Technology and the political/economic climate are always changing, so we adapt to new tools and new work environments. Scholarship goes in new directions and is stored in new kinds of containers, so the scholarly information content we deal with is evolving as well.

But I’d like to think librarian roles won’t ever evolve too far away from the fundamentals of collecting, preserving, and providing access to information—because that job, that mission is so important to the future.

Is there a particular collection at Kohler that you are most interested in?

Well, the reference collection, of course!

What is your favorite experience working at Kohler?

A recent favorite experience anyway…Last summer during SOAR (student orientation) the art library was peaceful and cool compared to the hot Wisconsin day outdoors. I was working at the circulation desk near the entrance when a somewhat harried-looking mother and college-age daughter came into the library. They looked around and just, simultaneously,… it’s hard to describe…relaxed. Like a weight had dropped off them, like a relieved homecoming. I asked if I could help them; and the mother, an alum, explained that she and her daughter were “library shopping.” They were exploring campus for a space where the daughter could be happy studying when she came to school in the fall. They said they found the right place at Kohler, even though the daughter didn’t plan to study art or art history.

It really wasn’t necessary to hear those words, though, since I had seen their recognition happen. Libraries have unique personalities. The art library is a small, quiet library with wood fixtures and low lighting and exhibit cases showcasing beautiful books. We try to provide surroundings conducive to reflection and creative thought. It was gratifying to see our message successfully received.

Time to get out of the office. What’s your favorite thing to do in Madison?

I am a designated driver for the Art History Avian Expeditionary Force, also known as the MadBirders. A group of us get together frequently to camera-hunt snowy owls or bald eagles or tundra swans or warblers or bluebirds or whatever the season suggests. Madison and near vicinity are great birding areas.

Nobody would ever guess that one time I…?

…lived in Alaska? Although born and raised in Milwaukee, I completed my undergrad degree in Alaska and spent about a decade there before coming back to Wisconsin for grad school (and the GLS).

Favorite thing about the libraries…GO!

Someone said that libraries are like intellectual greenspaces, and that simile resonates for me.  Libraries are places to go to refresh the mind. Each one is different but all are similar in being places to find new things to think about.