UW graduate student dives into librarianship and Great Lakes literacy with the Wisconsin Water Library

September 21, 2023

by Jenna Mertz, Wisconsin Sea Grant

This summer, a University of Wisconsin–Madison librarian and graduate student teamed up to promote Great Lakes literacy across the state. The summer experience focused on the library’s goal of elevating voices heard and represented in the library’s collections and programming.

The Wisconsin Water Library, located along the shores of Lake Mendota in Goodnight Hall, is a special-purpose library that houses more than 30,000 volumes of water-related titles, with particular attention paid to the Great Lakes and waters of the state. 

Anne Moser, a senior special librarian and education coordinator at the library, says that’s where the library shines. Funded through the Wisconsin Sea Grant and the Water Resources Institute, two federally and university-funded programs, the library’s outreach mission prioritizes connecting with communities throughout Wisconsin.

“We have a strong education and outreach mission,” said Moser, “which means that I, as a librarian, work with, or serve and support, patrons around the state.” 

As part of that mission, Moser regularly travels across Wisconsin, delivering programming about the Great Lakes and the waters of Wisconsin in local libraries. This summer, she was accompanied by India-Bleu Niehoff, a library and information studies graduate student at UW–Madison.

The opportunity was made possible through the Wisconsin Sea Grant Summer Outreach Opportunities Program, which pairs students with outreach specialists working on issues affecting coastal and water resources in Wisconsin. 

Moser designed the position so that students not only interact with Great Lakes professionals but are also introduced to the many aspects of librarianship.

India-Bleu Niehoff (photos courtsey of Wisconsin Sea Grant)

“I hope this opportunity offers a well-rounded, hands-on experience in all aspects of librarianship,” said Moser.

Niehoff was ready to dive in.

Before graduating from UW–Madison in spring 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in gender and women’s studies and a certificate in global health, Niehoff participated in the UW Libraries’ Information Specialist Internship Program (ISIP). This two-year program introduces undergraduates to librarianship as a career. Through an ISIP mentor, Niehoff learned about the opportunity to work with Moser and the Wisconsin Water Library. The position would allow her to continue to explore the profession and see what it’s like to work in a small, specialized academic library.

The work, Niehoff learned, was varied. Some days, she traveled with Moser across the state, teaching kids about Great Lakes shipwrecks and shocking them with facts about Wisconsin’s largest and longest-living fish, the lake sturgeon. Other days, she was in the library, researching books by Indigenous women authors.

“One of the goals of both the Wisconsin Water Library and Wisconsin Sea Grant is to raise and elevate Indigenous knowledge and voices,” said Niehoff. 

One of Niehoff’s duties this summer was to help coordinate the Maadagindan! Start Reading! book club, which brings together parents, librarians, and educators to discuss children’s books about Ojibwe culture and the Great Lakes. 

“It’s an amazing program that is a partnership between the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) and Sea Grant, which runs through the Wisconsin Water Library,” said Niehoff.

She collaborated with GLIFWC to select four books for the fall reading series, which kicked off on September 13. Each session also features an honored guest, usually the author, illustrator, or a member of the Ojibwe community who speaks to the themes or importance of the book.

Niehoff has also written posts for the Wisconsin Water Library’s Aqualog blog, which offers curated lists of resources about environmental justice, equity, and underrepresented groups in nature. Access is a subject Niehoff feels strongly about.

“My undergraduate major was informed by my passion for social justice and ensuring equity, which is important to our world,” she said.

This fall, Niehoff began her first semester as a library and information studies program graduate student. She’ll continue to work at the library and help develop resources for the book club.

Moser looks forward to watching the Wisconsin Sea Grant Summer Outreach Opportunities program grow and support more students as they discover librarianship. She’s already seen how the program has impacted the library and communities across the state. It’s energizing work.

“I find that even though I help guide the students I work with, it’s fun because I also learn from them. I get to hear their great ideas,” said Moser. “It’s also a way of recharging my work as a librarian.”