Academia to Think Tank ... and Back Again: As Someone Who Hires Librarians, Doris Helfer Is Always Much More Predisposed to Applicants Who Are Actively Involved in Their Professional Associations

By Spencer, Forrest Glenn | Information Outlook, August 2008 | Go to article overview

Academia to Think Tank ... and Back Again: As Someone Who Hires Librarians, Doris Helfer Is Always Much More Predisposed to Applicants Who Are Actively Involved in Their Professional Associations


Spencer, Forrest Glenn, Information Outlook


In 2004, Doris Helfer was bestowed The Rose L. Vormeker Award for her "exceptional services in area of mentoring students and/or working professionals." It's more than a recognition given to those individuals who do more than show up for work daily. It's an extraordinary honor given to those who have had a long career as information specialists, and then share their knowledge with those entering the field--encouraging them to find their own specialty in the profession. At the awards ceremony, Helfer was especially emotional. Six weeks prior her mother had died unexpectedly.

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"My own mother was my first mentor," the California-based SLA member says. "She encouraged me to do whatever I set my mind upon doing, and encouraged me to read and learn about some famous women in history and their accomplishments, and instilled in me the importance of education in pursuing my own career goals."

Helfer was fortunate to have had many role models and mentors through her life--individuals who are known names in the profession and within SLA, such as Joe Becker, Vivian Arterbery and Joe Ann Clifton.

"I think those of us who serve as mentors often do so," Helfer explains, "because they were fortunate enough to have wonderful mentors themselves, and know how helpful and important they can be in influencing and developing their lives and careers."

She entered the library sciences profession more than 35 years ago and has built a remarkable name for herself within SLA and special librarianship. She is currently the Chair of Technical Services Department and Science Librarian at Oviatt Library, California State University, in Northridge, CA, which has a student population of 35,000. She oversees a staff 30 and an annual budget of $2 million. Her team is responsible for the library's databases, acquisitions, collection development and cataloging. Oviatt Library is an impressive five-story building with tall, imposing pillars, and serves as the center of student's activities. Movie audiences will see more of it next year, in fact, in the upcoming Star Trek film.

"Some of our students come from nearby community colleges," she notes. "Many are recent high school graduates, but many are also people who decided later in their lives to go to college and often many are the first in their families ever to attend college. We're a very large, diverse regional, comprehensive university in the research level hierarchy. We're in the education system right below a research Level I institution and part of the California State University system, which includes 22 other campuses across the state--not to be confused with the 10-campus University of California system. We're basically the workhorse; we have everything from anthropology to the hard sciences. We run the gamut."

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Her Education

A Southern California native, Helfer grew up in West Hollywood and attended college at California State University, Northridge. She was an undergraduate in Political Science with a pre-law emphasis and later earned a Masters in Library Science from Western Michigan University. (That school's library degree program is now defunct.)

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"With a friend, we decided to go to Western Michigan University together. I liked the program and having friends there. One of the reasons I wanted to be a librarian was because I wanted to be a lawyer first," Helfer says. "I was set to go to law school. I started taking pre-law courses at Northridge, but I decided I didn't want to be a lawyer. I didn't enjoy the study of the law. My advice is, if you're going to do something in your life, then you better like it. I had gone to the library and found a book, The Occupational Outlook Handbook, and when I got to the section about librarians I said, 'That's me!'--I am apparently the model for librarians, or at least the government's model for a librarian.

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Academia to Think Tank ... and Back Again: As Someone Who Hires Librarians, Doris Helfer Is Always Much More Predisposed to Applicants Who Are Actively Involved in Their Professional Associations
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