Member of the Week: Melissa Cardenas-Dow

Melissa Cardenas DowMelissa Cardenas-Dow is Reference and Instruction Librarian at the University of California–Riverside in Riverside, CA. Melissa has been an ACRL member since 2005 and is your ACRL member of the week for March 21, 2016.

1. Describe yourself in three words: More interesting online.

2. What are you reading (or listening to on your mobile device)? I usually read lots of articles and blog posts, so I can’t pinpoint just one. However, I just picked up the audiobook of Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things. She is one of my favorite bloggers. In the book, Lawson sheds light on the realities of dealing with mental illness—particularly the hilarious and absurdist parts. She makes many connections in the book. Many of them are surprising, and many should already be common knowledge. Comedy and improv thrive on connections. This probably explains why I love them so much. Also, sometimes you just gotta laugh because you’ve survived the dark times. Life can be so funny and complicated that way.

3. Describe ACRL in three words: Enables many possibilities.

4. What do you value about ACRL? I value that ACRL is a place where we can discuss matters of importance to us as both members of society and professional information workers. While seeking possible solutions for and applications within academic libraries is very important, ensuring we ourselves are exemplary citizens and good human beings is just as vital. Perhaps more so. ACRL, from what I’ve seen and experienced, recognizes that academic libraries are locales within the education process where worldly social and cultural issues meet and interact with professional standards.

5. What do you, as an academic librarian, contribute to your campus? I see the work I do as a reference and instruction librarian as primarily being a guide to the world of information and academic discourse. My role is to make the world of scholarship and academic communication more accessible to those who need or want to understand them. In this capacity, I think my biggest contribution isn’t to simplify, but to highlight the complications and issues of concern, of research, of study. This may seem counterintuitive to the idea of accessibility, since complications are often seen as barriers. However, complications are features of social phenomena and information is, I think, highly social. At least what information means is contextual and situation based. Matters of diversity, social justice, intellectual freedom, just to name a few—these are all complicated. We do ourselves and others a disservice when we frame these monumental concerns as “simple,” when they are very well not. As these issues are complicated, so are the ideas, concepts, and scholarship that attempt to explain and describe them. My role is to help others navigate through the complication. And, all the while, learning about these complicated matters myself.

6. In your own words: I often hear that a concept or idea is “too theoretical” or “too idealistic.” I get a sinking feeling in my stomach whenever I hear these kinds of comments because, oftentimes, dismissal is not too far behind when such words are uttered. What I find most valuable is making connections. Connecting theory and ideals with practice and action is very important to me as a professional and as a whole person. One of the questions I ask myself almost daily is, “How can I make a positive difference in this world?” Within that one question one can make the connections between ideals and actions, between theory and practice. I also think such connections are highly emblematic of life as an academic librarian. As a librarian, I am a practitioner. As an academic, I am dedicated to ideas and to a life of the mind. Being conscious of the connections between theory and practice is central to the life and work of academic librarianship.

Editor’s Note: Are you an ACRL member? Would you like to be featured as ACRL Member of the Week? Nominate a colleague? Contact Mary Jane Petrowski at for more information.