Meet Gesina Phillips, Reference Associate!

GesinaIsAwkwardGesina Phillips:

  • wanted to be a marine biologist when she grew up
  • DJ at WRCT-FM, Carnegie Mellon’s radio station
  • is a Reference Associate here at the JKM Library!

What do you do here at The Jennie King Mellon Library?

I’m a Reference Associate, which means I’m one of the people you might talk to if you contact Ask a Librarian or email/call/stop by the Reference Desk at the library.

What made you choose your current profession?

I’m still studying for my Master’s in Library Science at the University of Pittsburgh, but I’ve chosen to become a librarian because I love teaching and learning. Collaborating with people to find answers to their questions is fulfilling for me both as a people person and a researcher. Plus, my previous degrees are in English literature, so it sure is nice to be surrounded by books all the time.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A marine biologist. I grew out of that sometime during high school biology, but I still really like whales.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I really enjoy helping people through the research process. It’s great to be able to point people toward new resources or search strategies so that they’ll be better equipped to find things in the future. I also love the range of research topics that I encounter—I always learn something new!

If you could do one thing to change/improve the JKM Library- with no worries about time or expense, what would you do?

I would love to put in a cozy and inviting space for collaboration, like a cafe or a commons, and fill it with tons of supplies (whiteboards, interactive technologies) and leisure reading materials (magazines, newspapers). The library has a lot of these things already, but I would love to combine them all in a more casual open space.

What do you like to do on your days off?

When I’m not at the library I enjoy reading, getting out & exploring the city, finding new music to listen to & revisiting old favorites, playing video games, and making baked goods.

What’s the last thing you checked out?

The last book I checked out–and I’ll be honest–was Volume 3 of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy (a compilation which includes The Conqueror Worm and Strange Places). Mignola’s use of shadows is gorgeous, and who doesn’t love a good comic book halfway through the semester? I got it from CLP Main, which has a great collection of comics, graphic novels, and even zines!

What book do you think everyone should read? Why?

I think everyone should really read Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s funny, it’s important, and it’s light enough sci-fi to be a potential gateway to some really nerdy stuff.

What’s your favorite thing about living in Pittsburgh?

I’ve heard it described as “the biggest small town” and I tend to agree. People love living in Pittsburgh, talking about Pittsburgh, and getting excited about all things related to Pittsburgh. I think that energy is great and above all quite infectious.

What’s one thing you think everyone should do while they live in the city?

Everyone will tell you to take the Incline, but they’re right! It’s a great thing to do because a) it’s part of the transit system, which is weird, and b) you end up with a lovely view of the city. Also make sure to take advantage of both the world-class venues and the little hole-in-the-wall spaces in the city that cater to art, music, and more.

Tell us some surprising things about yourself:

  • I’m a DJ at WRCT-FM, Carnegie Mellon’s radio station.
  • I’ve been cited in an academic publication…for talking about Viking Metal.
  • I’m on a constant search for the best burger in Pittsburgh.

FOIA and Libraries: The Persepolis Story

On March 16, 2015, Jennie King Mellon Library celebrated Freedom of Information Day, an annual observance of our rights to speak out, to share information freely, and to obtain information that the public has a right to know. See our display of related books and materials in the first floor lobby!

Libraries are information repositories, and are based upon the idea that information should be freely shared and experienced. Libraries and librarians are often on the front lines of First Amendment and information freedom concerns. A recent example is the controversy that occurred when, in 2013, the Chicago Public School System pulled Marjane Satrapi’s award-winning graphic novel Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood from their curriculum.

persepolisThe banning of the work could not have happened without discussion amongst various administrators in the school system, much of which occurred in writing, and so the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, the Freedom to Read Foundation (FTRF), and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) all put in Freedom of Information Act requests for the correspondence in early 2013. FOIA allows for anyone to access, or to request and receive, any information held by the federal government (including public schools) that is not specifically required to be kept confidential. The professional organizations received only a few pages of documents, including a heavily-edited version of the email chain which began with a complaint about the book and ended with the determination that it would be banned.

Over a year later, in December 2014, Jarrett Dapier, a student of library science at the University of Illinois who was writing a paper on censorship in K-12 classrooms, submitted his own Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on the subject and received the complete email correspondence chain.

The full correspondence received by Dapier reveals that the decision to pull the book from the curriculum was based on two pages in Persepolis identified as being “not appropriate” by one school principal. In a domino-effect panic, the book was thus ordered to be removed from curricula across the entire Chicago Public School System. The correspondence also reveals that some teachers and librarians at the affected schools initiated “pushback,” by noting that the book is acclaimed, and that librarians retain the authority to purchase and make available to students even those texts that have been deemed controversial.

Responding to the controversy, the Chicago Public School System ultimately allowed the work to remain in its libraries, and approved it for study in 11th and 12th grade classrooms. The story indicates how progressive causes can use information transparency to effect change, but also how imperfect the system can be. Information access is a right that needs to be exercised continually to be retained. March 16 is a better time than any to take advantage of this right! See for more information.


Spring Break Popular Reading

Spring break is just a few short days away, so you better stop by JKM Library to check out the books on your Spring Break Reading List! Don’t have a list prepared? Have no fear…the Popular Reading Display has just been stocked!

Here’s what’s new on the table:

Pittsburgh Noir, edited by Kathleen George
The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Sue Ellen Thompson
Inside by Alix Ohlin
Dancing on the Edges of Knives, poems by Ed Ochester
Allegheny, poems by Ed Ochester
Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk
Wicked and Son of a Witch, by Gregory Maguire
Prodigal Son, by Dean Koontz
The Pittsburgh Book of Contemporary American Poetry, edited by Ed Ochester and Peter Oresick

pop reading March

Services for Book Lovers: Goodreads

Looking for a way to tame your “To Read” list? Obsessive about keeping track of things you’ve already read? For book lovers, social media junkies, and everything in between, Goodreads might be the service you’ve been looking for. A number of our staff—myself included—use Goodreads with varying degrees of fanaticism, so we’ve decided to feature it on the blog so you can join in as well!

"d-221 books" by azrasta on Flickr

“d-221 books” by azrasta on Flickr, made available under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license

The best thing about Goodreads is that it gives you a lot of options; you can use whatever functions you want and ignore the rest. If you’re not into the social networking aspect, for example, you can use it instead to very specifically track your own reading habits. While writing this review I consulted my own profile, which devolved into a period of obsessive organization of my virtual bookshelves—by date read, by rating, by shelf. I have lists going for books I’ve read, books I am reading, and books I would like to read. If I put a book down for a time (or run out of renewals at the library!), I can record what page I was on for the next time I pick it up. You can also create custom bookshelves and write public reviews. For the organizationally-minded user, it’s a wonderful tool for generating a lot of lists about your library and reading patterns. There are even some functions that provide statistics on the number of books you read in a given year or the authors that you read the most!

This might be good for someone who wants to use the site simply to curate a personal library, but how about people who are looking for recommendations? Goodreads offers a few different ways for you to find out about new books you might like to read. The social aspect of the site allows you to connect with other users and see what they are reading. From that one friend with killer taste to other Goodreads users you meet while discussing your favorite books, you can develop a network of people whose reading habits are similar to your own. There’s also an algorithmic option for recommendations, which suggests books for you to read based on what you’ve added to your bookshelves.

There are some other functions within Goodreads, some of which are pretty neat. You can set a personal reading challenge for the year (good for goal-oriented types!) or import your Amazon purchases directly onto your bookshelves (this makes a little more sense when using the Kindle app version; otherwise, it seems somewhat intrusive). There are author interviews and curated lists galore for you to read, and if you love vehemently disagreeing with people, you can always check out the user reviews.

Overall, the social networking and personal library aspects of Goodreads work well together, but users can also tailor the experience effectively to their own needs. In addition to the web interface there are free apps available for iOS, Android, Kindle, and NOOK. Reviews are generally good for the apps, although the web interface offers the most comprehensive access to the service’s many features.

Check out Goodreads at, or download the app for your device from iTunes, Google Play, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

Meet the JKM Library Staff: Amy Lee Heinlen

Amy Lee and a small section of her personal book collection.

Amy Lee and a small section of her personal book collection.

Amy Lee Heinlen

  • is a huge fan of the museums in Pittsburgh.
  • is working on her MFA in poetry with a concentration in publishing here at Chatham and hopes to defend her thesis in spring 2016!
  • was co-captain of the 2009 bronze-cart-winning book cart drill team, The Steel City Kings (watch the video!).

What do you do here at The Jennie King Mellon Library?

I oversee all of the many goings-on at the Circulation Desk. I am the liaison librarian for Falk School of Sustainability, and the departments ofEducation; History, Political Science, and International Studies; and Women & Gender Studies. I am often found at the Reference Desk, too.

What made you choose your current profession?

I love learning and I love books. I’m interested in people and I’m passionate about our access to information. I am inspired by the energy of a university campus.

 When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

 A poet and a zoo keeper.

 What’s your favorite part of your job?

Learning about the varied and wide-ranging interests of our patrons. I discover something new to read, something new to think about, some new connection to the world, every day.

If you could do one thing to change/improve the JKM Library- with no worries about time or expense, what would you do?

I would have every single student, staff, and faculty member on campus visit the library for a series of instruction sessions demonstrating all of the many fantastic resources and services their library makes available to them!

What do you like to do on your days off?

I spend time with my daughter and husband. We play, explore Pittsburgh, and spend lots of time at the museums. I love to read for hours, though that doesn’t happen very often these days. I write. I revise. I write some more.

What’s the last thing you checked out?

I’m reading Helen Vendler’s, Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries, which is a series of close readings of Emily Dickinson’s poems. Alongside this, I’m devouring The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems, which reproduces, in full-color, the experimental poems she wrote later in life on unfolded envelopes. If you’re perplexed and intrigued by Dickinson, I highly recommend both of these titles.

What book do you think everyone should read? Why?

I think everyone should read voraciously. But if I have to pick just one, I suggest 1984 by George Orwell because it forces the reader think about the importance of privacy, something which we as a society are complacent about and take for granted in the United States. 

What’s your favorite thing about living in Pittsburgh?

The geography. I grew up in Central Ohio which is rather flat and I love the hills of Pittsburgh!

 What’s one thing you think everyone should do while they live in the city?

Visit the museums. All of them!

Tell us some surprising things about yourself:

I am working on my MFA in poetry with a concentration in publishing here at Chatham. I hope to defend my thesis in spring 2016.

I worked as a waitress, a bartender, in used and rare book retail, as a horse-back riding instructor, as a personal assistant, and as a copy editor before I decided to become a librarian.

I lived in Columbus, Ohio; Mobile, Alabama; and Austin, Texas before moving to my favorite city so far, Pittsburgh.

I was co-captain of the 2009 bronze-cart-winning book cart drill team, The Steel City Kings.

Blind Date with a Book Display

IMG_2080Have you ever read a book and thought, “This is true love!”? Well, we’re hoping to set you up with your next favorite book (or film) this Valentine’s Day. Stop into the library and pick up a wrapped book from the display, check it out, and unwrap your date! Was it a dud? Is it getting put in the friend zone? We hope you find new love.

Popular Reading Display

As we neared the end of the fall semester, we at the library asked our patrons to let us know what they wanted to see on the Popular Reading Display. You suggested, and we listened! The display was filled with new titles in the middle of January, so make sure to stop by and see what made it to the table.

Here are some of our new features:Pop Reading Jan

Have your own suggestions for the Popular Reading Display? Send an email to or stop by in person and let us know!

January Displays – Mentoring and Women in Politics

Mentor DisplayProfessional mentoring is commemorated during the month of January. JKM Library is highlighting the importance of mentoring and leadership in the workplace in conjunction with the 2015 Ready to Run Conference with a book display on the First Floor. Books are available on mentoring, leadership, and women in American politics. If you’re interested in finding more information, ask a Reference librarian for help finding articles and e-books.

Ready to Run is presented at Chatham by the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics. The two-day conference will be held on January 30th and 31st. Registration is required. Day one’s pre-conference focuses on Women of Color in Pennsylvania Politics, and the topic of day two is Campaign Training for Women. Keynote speaker is Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz.

Meet the JKM Library Staff: Dana Mastroianni

DanaDana Mastroianni

  • Wanted to be an archaeologist when she grew up
  • Is a huge hockey fan
  • Was nearly kidnapped by gypsies

What do you do here at The Jennie King Mellon Library?

I’m the Reference and Web Librarian.

What made you choose your current profession?

As an undergraduate I worked in my school’s library for four years.  I loved the fact that I could continually explore information about any topic I could think of at the library.  So I decided to make a career out of it and help others find and understand the information they need.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

It changed a lot!  I ran the gamut from ballerina to veterinarian to archaeologist and a lot more in between.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

The gratification that comes in helping students realize that they are capable of accomplishing great work when they understand how to utilize the resources available to them.

If you could do one thing to change/improve the JKM Library- with no worries about time or expense, what would you do?

Be able to build more group study rooms for students, they’re very popular.

What do you like to do on your days off?

Spend time with my husband and let my children tire me out!

What’s the last thing you checked out? (Brief reviews are appreciated)

The Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. A fascinating read that begins with why the Pilgrims set sail for America and spans the 55 years after Plymouth Colony was settled, a tumultuous time in which the first war on American soil was fought.

What’s your favorite thing about living in Pittsburgh?

Well, I don’t live in the city (I’m in Westmoreland County), but I’ve lived most of my life in this area.  My favorite thing is Pittsburgh’s size; it’s big enough that you do “city” activities, like museums, sporting events, the symphony or opera. But you’re not far away from great destinations for hiking, camping, skiing and just enjoying the natural surroundings of Western PA.

What’s one thing you think everyone should do while they live in the city?

Become a sports fan!  There are three professional teams whose seasons collectively span all 12 months of the year.  (I’m biased and suggest going to a hockey game!)

Tell us some surprising things about yourself:

When I was young, I had platinum blond hair that would turn green in the summer. I loved to swim and the chlorine would make my hair take on a very noticeable green tint.  At the time I didn’t believe it since I didn’t notice it, but looking back now at pictures of myself, it was most definitely green!

In Paris, gypsies tried to whisk my friend and I away from each other and who knows where else as we we’re entering a Metro station.  I’m pretty sure they were pickpockets, but being almost kidnapped by gypsies makes a better story.

Dying for a great mystery?

Dying for a great mystery? Our mystery-theme book display is exactly what you need!

There are cozy mysteries, detective stories, thrillers, and classics for everyone to enjoy. Authors include: Kathy Reichs, P.D. James, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, Alexander McCall Smith, and many more.

Not sure which genre you like? Sample a few, or check out one of the non-fiction books on the history of mystery.