10 Questions with Shawna Egan

Shawna Egan is the Interim Director of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library (OWHL). Having previously worked in college and university settings, Egan joined Andover working exclusively with History 300 students. Beyond her love collaborating and interacting with students in the OWHL, Egan enjoys spending time with her family outside of school.

Our library [is] more of a community center, in the sense of [how] students, faculty––they don’t come here just to study, they come here to be with their friends and do social things like club meetings. Also, the fact that we have a Makerspace is definitely different [from] a lot of other libraries that I’ve seen. The fact that you can do a whole lot of a whole variety of things within the building is definitely what makes it different.

I think literacy [itself] is really important. And reading is [also] really important, both for just enjoyment for research purposes, but also neurological development. So books play an important role in our lives, no matter what way that you’re using them. And that doesn’t just mean print books, it could be e-books as well.

[There] are lots of research projects that are happening within the curriculum. But there’s also instances of authors being brought to campus, so [there’s some] student involvement there. There is both an adult book club and a student book club. So again, that’s more for the enjoyment purposes of reading. I would say those are the ways that I see that sort of playing out on campus.

I previously worked at a university and college setting. There’s a big age difference between the [two]. But we operate very much like a college, within the library structure for sure. And I mean, the [students’] creativity is actually so much higher here. It’s wonderful to work with. The level of research that’s being done by our students is [also] very much at a college level, especially as you get into your upper and senior year.

I have two very young children. So [I enjoy] spending time whether it’s just being outside with my kids. We have a lot of farms in our areas, so especially as the weather gets nicer, picking our own fruits and vegetables is definitely a favorite of mine. Also because [my kids are] two and three, [they like] seeing animals, their eyes still light up, you know, when they see a cow or whatever.

Ibram X. Kendi, [who writes] fantastic nonfiction on anti-racist activists. I tend to listen to audio books because I have a commute [to work], and he narrated one of his books that I listened to. And it was an amazing “read.” So I would say I would love to talk to him.

I think the key to talking about research, particularly for [History] 300, is when you say it’s a research process, because it really is. I like to tell students when they start out, they should really just be focusing on things that are interesting to them and go down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia on your choice of an event or topic. I think that really helps you narrow down your search and your topic. And that’s really sort of starting off, looking at sort of more reference general sources, narrowing down your topic.

Some of it is what we refer to as paper therapy or research therapy. It’s like, ‘You have all the pieces there, let’s just talk through it’. [Sometimes], I really feel like a detective, trying to figure out, ‘Where can we get the student access to this particular resource? Is it in our databases? Is it something we have? Or is it something that we have to ask another institution for access to?’ We play a whole lot of different roles [in the process].

[If] you wind up starting over because now your topic has gone in a different direction, this is where the creativity piece comes in. It’s not just creating something physical with your hands, but [rather] the creativity of diving into a topic and not necessarily knowing the way it’s going to turn out. That’s really key, to not [walk] with the thesis. Let the sources guide you.

I would love to see students doing more pleasure reading in general. You [all] are so busy that you don’t get the opportunity to just read for pure pleasure and to escape into a fictitious place or time or whatever it might be. So that would be my [wish], for students [to] browse through the fiction or the graphic novels, [they] are really great.