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Turning a love of books into a career

By Schuler Staff

Allison Marie McCormack's strong academic performance at Waukegan High School (she was 3rd in her graduating class) helped her secure a spot in Smith’s class of 2011. At Smith, Allie pursued a double major in Classical Studies and Medieval Studies and spent the 2009-2010 school year at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. She interned in the cartography department of the Newberry Library in Chicago during the summer of 2009 and worked in the college’s Mortimer Rare Book Room her senior year.

Allie is the first person in her family to attend a 4-year college. After graduating from Smith in 2011 she went on to earn both a M.A. in Medieval Studies from Fordham University as well as a Masters of Library Science from Indiana University, Bloomington, in 2014. After spending several years as the Rare Books Catalog Librarian at Baylor University, she is now the Original Cataloger for Special Collections at the University of Utah.

Allie McCormack

If you could give today's scholars one piece of advice what would it be?

College is full of experiences that are very hard to replicate once you’re working full time—take them! Intern for an organization you have an intellectual or emotional connection with; study and/or live in another country; pursue hobbies and interests that you never considered before.

What made you pursue the career in special collections? Where did that interest begin?

During my first year at Smith, my Latin professor had us meet in the library’s Mortimer Rare Book Room one afternoon. The curator showed us 5,000 year old cuneiform tablets, medieval prayer scrolls from Ethiopia, and other incredible artifacts. I was hooked. I’d always liked books and reading, but this was a direct connection with history unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I knew I had to figure out how to work with objects like that full-time. After interning at the Newberry Library and working in the Mortimer Rare Book Room as a senior, I decided to pursue special collections librarianship as a career.

When you were in high school, did you ever think you'd go on to get graduate degrees from a university?

I understood very little about graduate school before I attended college—I thought it was only for people who wanted to be professors. I certainly didn’t know library school existed! Grad school is difficult for many reasons, but it was the right path for me, and I’m glad I did it immediately after earning my undergraduate degree.

When you think back to the freshman girl who attended Manitowish camp, what do you think she'd say if she knew who she would become?

I don’t think she’d have been surprised; when my family learned I planned to be a librarian, they all said “Well, of course!” But she wouldn’t have anticipated exactly how I got here—that I’d love attending a women’s college, for example, that I’d get to live in Scotland for a year, or that one day I wouldn’t be completely terrified of public speaking.

Allie McCormack, studying abroad.