The Illinois Library Association has named Forest Park's Gwen Gregory the 2019 Illinois Academic Librarian of the Year, recognizing her commitment to academic librarianship and development. Gregory is the resource acquisition and management librarian at the University of Illinois Chicago's (UIC) Daley Library.
"The award is not all about me but all my great colleagues at these different libraries over the years," said Gregory, who also serves as secretary of the Historical Society of Forest Park.
"I also think it's a recognition of how academic libraries are important in general because there's still sometimes feelings of, 'What do we need a college library for anyway? Isn't everything on the internet?' Really, it's not and some of it is on there because we put it there, or we've arranged for it to be there for you. So it's recognizing the importance of academic libraries continuing into the future."
Gregory's library career began while she was an undergrad at the University of New Mexico, where she worked at the community college in town. The library was small, she said, which was great because she got experience doing a variety of things.
"I just enjoyed working with people, providing information for people, helping people with different things, and just the power of information," Gregory recalled. "As a librarian, I'm not a subject expert — there are people who are — but librarians are experts at finding information, not knowing every single thing, and kind of preserving it to make sure that it's around when people want it."
Gregory went on to earn her master's in library and information science from the University of Arizona. From there, she worked at a number of different university libraries in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. In 2007, Gregory and her husband moved to Chicago, to be closer to Gregory's sister and her growing family.
Her first local job was working as a librarian at John Marshall Law School library which, coincidentally, is now merging with UIC.
"My career is all coming full circle," she said.
When she moved to Illinois, she joined the Illinois Library Association, served as president of the Illinois Association of College and Research Libraries, served on the board of Reaching Across Illinois Library System, and more. She found out in March that a library friend had nominated her for the state award, and learned in early July that she received the honor.
Gregory said she didn't know how many other people were nominated, but when she served on the state library committee, six people had been nominated for the academic librarian of the year. She will be recognized at an awards ceremony in October.
"People think that academic libraries are really dry; even other librarians think that," Gregory said. "I always try and dispel that by getting in there with those public librarians and school librarians and talking to them about why academic libraries are not just all full of boring old photos."
Like all libraries, she said academic libraries are always innovating, naming UIC's development of a new digital scholarship lab with special kinds of printing and new ways to develop web-based information and maps as an example.
"We're not expecting everyone in the world is going to have their own 3D printer, so how can libraries provide that for them?" Gregory said. "Libraries provide resources for people that don't have their own."
She believes her enthusiasm for academic librarianship, as well as mentorship of younger librarians is why she received the award. This isn't the first time her leadership skills have been recognized — last year, she said UIC gave her an award for mentoring.
"It's really motivating for me because it is recognition from my colleagues of my achievements, and sort of saying like, 'Hey you're a good member of our community,'" Gregory said.