From aiding students who need help with research to unboxing new books and managing student workers, Wellesley College’s Art Librarian Brooke Henderson juggles several tasks each day. Even so, Henderson said that she has enjoyed her 16 years at Wellesley because she considers her responsibilities both public service work and intellectually challenging work.
Born and raised in San Diego, Calif., Henderson attended UCLA for both her undergraduate and graduate education. As an undergraduate, she studied history and art history with a minor in English literature. In graduate school, she received a master’s in library and information science.
During and after college, Henderson worked for UCLA’s orientation program before later getting an administrative job there in academic counseling. She enjoyed both of these jobs so much that she considered getting a master’s in academic advising, but kept finding herself drawn to libraries after having volunteered at a few public libraries in her area.
“I loved studying art history in college, so I was elated to discover that the profession of art librarianship existed,” Henderson said.
In her late twenties, she went back to school to pursue her master’s degree, and began working part time as an intern at the Getty Research Institute and interning at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. While working at these institutions, she realized that her true calling was to become an art librarian.
After graduating, she continued to work at both the Huntington and the Getty, and after spending several years at both jobs, she began working full time as a reference librarian at the Getty Research Institute. Henderson assisted visiting scholars as well as the Getty Museum’s curators and helped move and organize the library collections when the new Getty Center opened in 1997.
“It was a wonderful, exciting job, but I really missed working with and helping college students,” Henderson explained.
Remembering how much she enjoyed working at UCLA, she began looking for academic librarian positions and dreamt of moving from Los Angeles to New England. When she saw the job posting for an art librarian at Wellesley, she jumped at the opportunity.
“I recognize that I’ve had a wonderful career path and am profoundly grateful to have worked at such incredible institutions with superb library collections, but I’ve definitely been the happiest here at Wellesley College,” Henderson said.
Henderson has been the art librarian at Wellesley for 16 years now. At Wellesley, she is part of the library collections group, which is responsible for the acquisition, description, maintenance, preservation and interpretation of library collections, resources, special collections and official records of the college.
As the art librarian, Henderson’s tasks include preparing for library instruction sessions, updating the library’s art research guide, setting up trials for new databases, troubleshooting printer problems, attending meetings with her research and instruction librarian colleagues to discuss information literacy, communicating with potential donors and helping student workers resolve complicated issues.
“I love the varied work; there is a lot of juggling of tasks, and the fact that the art library is embedded in the arts building enables me to be in regular contact with the art faculty and students, so my days are never dull!” she said.
Besides the art and architecture collections, Henderson is also responsible for developing and managing the library’s print and electronic resources in different subject areas, and serves as the library collections’ liaison to those academic departments.
The most rewarding aspect of her job, Henderson said, is helping students with their research, which is often complicated because so much scholarly material in the visual arts is still only available in print. She enjoys connecting people to resources they did not know existed, and her goal is to empower students in their abilities to locate, evaluate and critically use different resources.
“Hopefully this contributes to their understanding the value and applicability of library skills to their day-today lives after college,” Henderson said.
The biggest challenge of her job is juggling all of her duties at once. Much of her job requires concentration for long periods of time, but she also needs to have an open door for those who need help with research. She explained that she constantly needs to switch her mental gears but finds joy in her job nonetheless.
“My own education continues every day,” Henderson said.
She loves the diverse community at Wellesley and feels lucky to have the opportunities to work with students one-on-one. However, she hopes that students also remember to savor each day here because the time passes very quickly.
“Study what you’re most passionate about. Now is the time. The rest will follow…For students who are worried that they don’t have the perfect plan for what they’ll do after graduation: it’s totally OK,” Henderson said. “Many of us had only a fuzzy, abstract of idea what we wanted to do, and it can be very nourishing to take a few years of trying different things and to just adapt to experience life post-college.”