The journey to librarianship is never linear

Chelsea Leachman has many passions, and she can hardly pick a favorite. 

It may be publishing a book or visiting every national park in the United States. Instructing classes and meeting with science and engineering students at WSU, however, are perhaps the most rewarding.

“They’re really joining this conversation that’s happening in the world, and they might be new to that conversation and figuring out where they fit,” she said. 

Leachman, science and engineering librarian, has worked in the Owen Science and Engineering Library for 10 years after serving as a public librarian for the Whitman County Library. 

Each year, Leachman instructs about 12 classes in navigating information effectively, using the WSU Libraries’ databases, and refining a research question. Many graduate students enter the university well-versed in general information about their field, but Leachman prides herself on helping them become researchers on their specific topic, finding gaps in previous research. 

“We [librarians] really try to make it an important case for them to use information sources they can rely on because they’re making products for humans to use,” she said. 

In 2016, Leachman consulted with two students, Katherine Brandenstein and Emily Willard, who went on to win a $15,000 reward in the university’s Business Plan Competition. Leachman helped the students use a keyword search to look into technical information and patents, she said. 

The two women developed a lid attached to multiuse medicine injection vials that sterilize a needle each time it is injected into a vial, Leachman said. 

Building such relationships with students and faculty is Leachman’s greatest strength and a quality the best librarians have, said Suzanne Fricke, medical librarian for WSU Health Sciences Library. Leachman always invited WSU librarians to her house for a meal before the pandemic or stopping by their office to chat.

A new direction

Leachman discovered library science later in life. 

Coming to University of Idaho for her undergraduate degrees, Leachman said she leaned toward the “doom and gloom” of environmental science and geology, which aligned with her love of the outdoors and eco-conscious beliefs. 

“I am a ‘90s’ kid, and I grew up when there was acid rain and the world was going to end,” she said. “I’ve always had it in me to be eco-friendly and be conscious of those effects on the world.”

Her love of the environment extends beyond the walls of the libraries. By the time her son is 18, Leachman said she hopes her family will visit all 64 U.S. national parks. 

In 2019, camping under the cliffs of Yellowstone National Park and listening to ranger talks led Leachman and her family to start traveling to the 33 parks they have visited today. Leachman said they plan to visit the St. Louis Arch in Missouri and Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas this spring. 

It was never a question that Leachman would go to college, despite being the first one in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree. Her parents were supportive in helping her achieve her goal, but they lived five hours away, which was difficult at times during the transition to college, she said. 

“They can’t understand the pressure that you’re feeling, and so you know, it can be pretty stressful at times,” she said. “When you call to get support, they’re just like, ‘It’ll be fine!’ And at that moment, you don’t feel like it is fine.”

One year after graduating from UI, Leachman joined AmeriCorps, working with middle-schoolers at youth centers in Madison, Wisconsin. She said meeting librarians through this program and volunteering at the local public library were her first introduction to library science, which led her to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for a master’s degree in the field. 

Now, Leachman has decorated her office door with first-generation stickers, thinking it might be nice for students to see someone in her position who reflects their personal experience, she said. 

Setting the standard

Leachman took a yearlong sabbatical in 2021-22 to co-write and -publish the book “Teaching and Collecting Technical Standards: A Handbook for Librarians and Educators.”

After talking with colleagues at conferences and conducting personal research, Leachman realized there were no resources for faculty and librarians teaching technical standards in academia, she said. Technical standards are guidelines for the design, manufacturing, and use of products, according to the book. 

Having not published a book before, Leachman found the experience sometimes challenging, she said. However, the most rewarding part of the process has been the positive reception from other librarians and faculty.

Fricke said Leachman doesn’t approach projects for personal recognition. Instead, she works to make things better for her colleagues, the libraries, the university, and the region.

“I think she’s really devoted to making the university a great place,” Fricke said.