You’ll find her in the stacks: ISU graduating senior will be third-generation librarian

Cassandra Anderson

With an English degree in hand, Cassandra Anderson will graduate from Iowa State University this weekend and begin another adventure: becoming a third-generation librarian. Photo by Christopher Gannon. Larger image.

AMES, Iowa — Cassandra Anderson’s mother and grandmother get to tell her “I told you so” at Iowa State University’s commencement this weekend.

The ISU senior in English plans to become a librarian just like her mother and grandmother. Anderson spent every morning and afternoon at her school’s library, where her mother was the librarian. On weekends, they would head from Creston to Des Moines to spend time with her grandmother, the librarian for Urbandale schools.

But as a young girl, she resisted the assumption that she would follow in her mother’s and grandmother’s footsteps.

“I was the child who stayed inside and read books, so when I was little all my mom’s friends would be like ‘Oh, she’s going to be a librarian,’” Anderson said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to do that,’ because I didn’t want to be the third-generation librarian. But I was so comfortable with books, and being in the literature field felt so right.”

Or at least, it felt right eventually.

Anderson started out studying animal science at Iowa State. That’s the other family business. Her father is an angus beef farmer, her grandparents are farmers and her cousins work on the family farm. As a child, when Anderson wasn’t reading, she was helping her father with the cows. She knew Iowa State was the university to attend if she wanted to go that route. While Anderson enjoyed animal science, a Christmas gift from her grandmother midway through her freshman year brought about a change of heart.

The gift was “Les Misérables,” and Anderson was glued to the book. It was then that she realized she needed to follow her true passion. When she came back to school, she switched her major to English.

“To me, libraries are a sense of community,” she said. “They’re a place where you can lose yourself and you can also find yourself. They can be a lifeline for people who don’t have internet access, and they can also be a source of education for people who just want to learn. I think it’s an incredible access point that people from all walks of life can come in and learn together and experience the world through one space together.”

Countless hours at Parks Library

Iowa State is a second home, Anderson said, but changing majors was nerve-wracking.

“But I knew that I could probably find that home again in the English department — and I did,” she said.

One day she got an email about a job opening in Special Collections and University Archives at Parks Library. That turned into one of her jobs at Parks today. Anderson is the digital initiatives student assistant for the avIAn Project, an online database with digitized records of every ornithology collection in the ISU archives. Anderson is also a writer for curation services and a student assistant in preservation.

Between working three jobs at Parks and studying there when she’s not working, the library has become Anderson’s third home. She said she’s there every day. She was working in special collections one day when a tour of new archivists came through. They were told: “This is Cassandra. She’s everywhere.”

“There’s always this great sense of community among all the library workers and their student employees,” Anderson said. “It’s been a lot of fun getting to know everyone there. Almost all of my close friends I met working at Parks.”

A specific kind of librarian

This fall, Anderson will begin her two master’s degrees in library and information science and history, with a concentration on archives management, at Simmons University in Boston.

“I want to go into special collections, rare books, manuscripts and historical documents,” she said.

Last summer, Anderson attended the American Library Association conference with her mother and grandmother — déjà vu considering family vacations usually revolved around the ALA conferences when Anderson was a child. A discussion between Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and Archivist of the United States David Ferriero about the future of archives and libraries got Anderson thinking about her own future.

“They were talking about how in the digital age it’s just as important to save these older documents, because eventually people aren’t even going to realize that they’re there because they’ve been pushed so far back and people are staying online,” Anderson said. “I had never even thought about paper documents becoming obsolete. I was looking into specializing and there’s a whole field of people dedicated to preserving presidents’ papers and other government documents.”

Her goal is to one day have Ferriero’s job as archivist of the United States.

“I’d like to start out at a major university, like Iowa State, working in their special collections and then work my way up to the National Archives and Records Administration and then become the national archivist,” she said.

“It’ll be a whole new adventure.”