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Library director Allison Estell discusses her new career

The new director of the UMass Lowell libraries discusses her career and how she originally did not start out as a librarian. (Photo by Ed Brennen)

Emily Teague
Connector Contributor

Stepping into her new role less than a month ago, UMass Lowell’s new library director, Allison Estell, is working to build connections with the UMass Lowell community so she can best serve its learning needs.

UMass Lowell’s latest “Enrollment At a Glance information (Fall 2019)” reports around 18,000 students are enrolled in graduate or undergraduate programs, not including online enrollment. This gives the university’s library buildings, along with their online services, a role in the education of tens of thousands of students a year.

A Sept. 16 UMass Lowell press release reports Estell’s expansive academic history, including a law degree from Duke University and a master’s in music history from Yale. On her time before deciding to pursue a career as a librarian, “I felt like a jack of all trades, master of none, and that felt really bad because the idea is that you’re supposed to be able to master something.” Estell says. “I started to realize what my superpower is, it’s being able to have a variety of skills and strengths that I can integrate.”

Like many students discover, finding this superpower and applying it is not straightforward. “There is a little more pressure now to feel like you’re supposed to know it all before you even get there … I think it all comes out in the wash.”

Now library director at UMass Lowell, Estell says, “What I think is really important about being in this role, is not coming in and assuming that I know what’s going to be best.”

To help determine community needs for UMass Lowell libraries, students can expect official requests for feedback on the UMass Lowell library system soon. In the meantime, Estell says, “I already want students who have ideas or issues or concerns to reach out to us, to reach out to me, with ideas for the library.”

In upcoming years, Estell will be working to further integrate the different library services at O’Leary Library, Lydon Library and the Center for Lowell History with the entire university. “[We] ideally [want to] get all students, regardless of their major, to feel like they’re getting sufficient support from the library.”

Changes in UMass Lowell libraries could include redesigned quiet-study spaces in O’Leary and more collaborative archival projects in the Center for Lowell History. The first call Estell received on her O’Leary Library office phone was from France’s United States Ambassador’s office to express his interest in visiting the Kerouac collection at the Center for Lowell History.

Estell says, “We were just delighted that he even recognized that we were an amazing resource for materials on Kerouac. I was just so impressed by what the team was able to pull together.”

The date of the ambassador’s visit is still undetermined, but Estell and the team of students, professors and archivists maintaining the collection are understandably excited by the recognition of the library’s unique archives. “Maybe more exciting is the fact that it’s this collaboration at so many different levels and across the university. I love that.”

This collection of Kerouac memorabilia can be viewed at the Center for Lowell History, along with other archival collections.

“I think it’s really great that we have this affiliated with our library, connecting us to the city as well.”

The libraries at UMass Lowell hold a host of resources for academic studies as well as personal interests. “The library is where we go to do research, but it also might be: ‘I’m having this struggle outside of the classroom.’ We have all sorts of resources that are not even just pertaining to your classes–there may be books that you just feel like reading.”

Estelle believes the libraries are full of quality information, and so are the people that work there. “We might not even be the right people to talk to in the long run, but we are the people who can connect you with the resources or information … that you need in order to be successful … We just want to connect people. We want to connect people to what they need.”