Meet the Librarians: Rebecca Graff

Research Librarian, Rebecca Graff’s tip to undergraduates, “Contact your librarian. Seriously. It starts to sound cliché after a while, but we can help in many ways. We can help you think about the question you’re asking and help you think about it in ways you might not have thought on your own.”

Graff understands the challenge facing student, she began began her path to librarianship long ago with a CD Rom search.

When Graff attended Earlham College for her bachelor’s degree in English literature, she often met with the librarians to work on her papers. “It happened when I was searching the Modern Language Association Bibliography on CD-Rom, and one of the librarians, Nancy Taylor, came up and was looking at my search,” she said. “She complimented me on the way I was going about [the search], the way I was using subject terms and combining them with Boolean logic. And I thought, ‘Huh, I like searching, I like teaching.’ And then it was apparent that being a librarian meant working with students and teaching a lot.”

With her hair pulled back in a stereotypical librarian bun, Graff entered a Master’s program in Information and Library Studies at the University of Michigan. Since then, she has worked at the University of Michigan, Loyola University Chicago, and Grinnell College before coming to Southern Methodist University.

Graff came to SMU 15 years ago and has seen Fondren library change over time. Beyond the physical changes, she has seen the students change. “Something that I find more surprising is the difference in the students.” she said. “When I first started, students were surprised they could check out 30 books. I heard [them ask] ‘Why would I ever need 30 books’ a lot. Within 10 years, undergrads requested for that number to be raised to 50. Students have become more studious, more engaged with what they’re learning than what they used to be. It’s impressive to me that within that short period of time the attitude of the student body has changed so significantly.”

As the student body has become more studious, it has changed the types of questions Graff has received. “When people come with better questions, it makes my job more fun,” she said. “I like a challenge. [The challenge is] part of why, among the different parts of my job, I’m the librarian for liberal studies. I learn about things I hadn’t considered before, and that’s always part of what interested me in librarians as the ultimate dilettantes. We get to know a little about everything.”

Graff’s love of working with students hasn’t changed since the early days of her librarianship, though. “I like learning about what other people find interesting,” she said. “I like helping them realize and discover what they’re trying to find and make sense of it. It’s an incredible honor and reward.”

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Interview conducted by Author Wren Lee, SMU ’22 Creative Computation and Film and Media Arts Pre-Major and Fondren Library Marketing Department Student Assistant