Member of the Week: John F. Helmer

John F HelmerJohn F. Helmer is Executive Director of the Orbis Cascade Alliance in Eugene, Oregon. John has been an ACRL member since 2006, is the winner of the 2012 Hugh C. Atkinson Memorial Award, and is your ACRL member of the week for July 16, 2012.

1. Describe yourself in three words:  Manny, Moe, and Jack.

2. What are you reading right now? I’m currently reading Streets: Critical Perspectives on Public Space (from my daughter); Portland Noir (from my son); and Complete Illustrated Sailboat Maintenance Manual (from my wife). I’m also re-reading One Man’s Meat by E.B. White (a wonderful mixture of humor, life on a Maine saltwater farm, and WWII on the home front) and Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I’m also listening to the Lexicon Valley podcast.

3. Describe ACRL in three words: Collegial, professional, supportive.

4. What do you value most about ACRL? ACRL provides many ways to hear from colleagues at a professional and practical level.  On the regional level, I have enjoyed the ACRL OR/WA joint conference at Menucha (OR) and Pack Forest (WA).  These meetings offer a tremendous opportunity for extended conversation and down-time with colleagues that at other times may be overbooked and hard to reach.

5. What do you value about academic or research librarianship? Education is clearly one of the best ways to add value to our lives and achieve our loftier goals.  I value the focus of academic librarians on helping to achieve the outcomes of their home institutions.  In other words, our work is not some abstract concept but a core part of supporting the success of students, faculty, and research.  “Academic,” “research,” and “librarianship” can be applied to a highly diverse group of professionals serving a wide range of institutions and activities.   Academic librarians seem to have a remarkable ability to collaborate and find common interest while still supporting, even enhancing, the unique mission and culture of their college or university.

6. In your own words: I like using the “L” word rather than “information,” “electronic,” “virtual,” etc. etc. and I am proud to call myself a librarian.  Librarians are cool in all their various types.  I have what is probably a rather old-fashioned core motivation that had its start in an earlier career in retail book sales.  As a bookseller I found it highly gratifying, even exciting, to help put the right book into the hands of the right person and see what a difference that made in their life.  Obviously, not every pairing of book and reader works out this way but on some rare occasions it is a life-changing event.  Later, in library school, I recognized this as perhaps the strongest version of Ranganathan’s “every reader his or her book, every book its reader.”  Sure, we dress these concepts up to fit modern materials and use a more impressive vocabulary but the excitement and importance continues.

I think it is important to have fun with your work but not be too patient or too comfortable.  We have an important job to do and limited time in which to do it.  Let’s move along, experiment with new ideas, and make sure we spend time on things that have lasting value.

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.