Among the many staff positions around the University of Rhode Island, one of the most undervalued is that of a librarian. With the university’s library being open 106 hours per week, with a variety of services, the job is much more than just putting books on shelves.  

Anyone who might want to know what a day in the life of a librarian is like could find no better source than Debrorah Mongeau.  Mongeau has been a librarian since 1975 between her work in government publications, 10 years, and her time here at URI which began in 1987. This past January marked Mongeau’s thirtieth year with the university.

“It’s been interesting because it started out in the print era and made the transition into today,” Mongeau said as she sifted through her collection of floppy disks. “Antiques,” as she called them.

After thirty years, Mongeau’s official title is the Chair of Public Service Department. In public services staff make information accessible and provide instruction and guidance on how to use information. As Chair, she is responsible for the supervision of the circulation and reserves, info and research help, instruction, and government publications.

The library is organized like one of the university’s colleges, with a dean and two department chairs. In addition to the Public Service department there is technical services which acquires, organizes, and describes information.

Department chair is not Mongeau’s only responsibility, she is also the government publications librarian, making sure government documents are accessible to the public. Help with information and research allows the library to offer assistance with research projects, and instruction involves conducting classes on how to use available resources.  Another interesting feature is the maker space with 3D printing, virtual reality, and laser cutting.

“People say librarians are obsolete but on the other hand, it’s librarians that are making all the online resources available,” Mongeau said.

Librarians are considered faculty, so they work for the Board of Education and apply for tenure and promotion. This includes publishing articles and conducting research like regular professors. Staff are part of the State Universities Civil Service System in which they work for the State of Rhode Island.

“The important thing is that what we’re doing is helping the students and making sure they’re successful,” Mongeau said.  “That’s the ultimate goal.”

The Cigar asked her to describe a typical day as a librarian. She said that the overall tasks were to find out if anyone has any concerns or if anyone is missing something. She makes sure everybody has what they need in order to go about their research and projects.  

Specifically, we asked her to recount her tasks for that day. Over the course of several hours, she worked at the info and research help desk, assisting students who have projects due.  She also spoke with the instruction librarian in order to obtain costs for new technologies in the learning labs so she could relay the message to the dean for the financial breakdown.  Besides the typical office work of emails and paperwork, she has also been preparing for the upcoming Welcome Days by finding student assistants in the Graduate School of Library and Information Studies.

When asked her most notable experiences with students, Mongeau recalls of specific moments.

“I’ve helped some people, and of course everyone will say thank you, but one time someone sent me a bunch of flowers,” she said.  “I thought that was very unusual because I was just doing my job.”

She also said that students will often approach her after they’ve graduated and thank her for her help. She said that sometimes she’ll remember the face, but more often she’ll remember what they needed help with. “That makes it all worthwhile,” she said.