Learn more about Gennie Gebhart’s experiences at the UW and what her future plans are in this Q&A, conducted over email while Gennie was on a study abroad experience in Rome.
Why did you apply for the Luce Scholarship?
I knew that I wanted to take time to travel after graduation, and I knew that I wanted to do something with libraries outside the US. I was especially drawn to the Luce because of the incredible amount of personal attention and support the program offers—the Luce Scholars Program works to find individual job placements for every scholar, and continues to support scholars with language training and periodic group meetings throughout the year.
What do you hope to learn through the Luce program?
I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of international travel, and Asia is the area of the world about which I know the least. I hope to gain some insight into Asia in general and my country of placement in particular, and feel lucky to be able to do it with the support of the Luce Foundation’s experience, expertise, and infrastructure.
Do you know where you’ll be going? Where do you hope to go and why?
I’m still in the middle of the placement process, so I can’t say for sure yet. This is a great chance, however, to give the Luce Scholars Program huge thanks and praise for their placement process—their support has been remarkable.
Your bio for the Luce scholarship says, “Gennie hopes to enter the global open access debate armed with international experience, a multidisciplinary education, and constant mindfulness of the vital human side of digital information technology.” What do you imagine you’ll do in the “global access debate”?
Information access takes a different shape in every nation and every community, but in the end it comes down to a balance between literacy, distribution, and policy. I see my role as figuring out how to optimize these three elements, something that I think is impossible without public engagement and advocacy at every level. So, I think I can make the greatest contribution in clarifying and communicating the urgency of information issues to non-academic and non-professional audiences. We’ve got these buzz words like “open access,” “information justice,” and “information commons” floating around, but the connections between them are new, counterintuitive, and not yet well understood.
What is it about a multidisciplinary education that you’ve found valuable? How have your academic experiences shaped who you are as a thinker and doer?
My multidisciplinary education has been one big string of surprises. I never could have predicted that I would be involved in economics, or film studies, or library sciences – and, I never could have predicted that I would be doing those things all at once! My education at UW has made me more open to different fields and ways of doing things, and it’s made me more perceptive of unexpected connections among all those fields. For something like information sciences, this is invaluable – what librarians do is so multidisciplinary and requires so much intellectual flexibility.
You have a long and varied list of accomplishments and interests. How do you see them relating to one another, and what are you most proud of and why?
Looking back, I can see that the each of the things I have been drawn to do has held the seeds of this interest in information sciences. For example, in journalism and publishing, I got to explore free speech and a professional’s ethical responsibility to making information available to the public; in environmental economics, I have discovered models for the management and distribution of public resources, whether they be tangible ecological resources or digital information resources; and in international studies, I have been pushed to pursue lines of cross-cultural inquiry to surprising conclusions. Somehow, they have all connected to and informed the work I want to do in international librarianship.
How have you grown as a leader in your time at the UW?
I have been a member of the Husky Cycling Club since my first day at UW, and the club has defined my undergraduate experience. After having the opportunity to lead the club as president, I have learned that you don’t need to be the most skilled member of the group to be a leader. I am definitely not the fastest bike rider in the bunch, but Husky Cycling has been so special because you don’t need to be a fast or talented or exceptional cyclist in any way to be a valuable part of the group. Instead it is all about initiative and community and creative opportunities for one another. Elite athletes and curious beginners come together on Husky Cycling because we just like riding bikes, and the profound results of that simple feeling–from group cohesion to competitive success to community service–continue to amaze me.
What kind of leadership do you think the world needs and how of you hope to develop as a leader as a result of this scholarship?
We can never have enough of the kind of leaders who thrive in helping others discover and understand what they’re capable of. This scholarship is giving me a chance to get involved in projects that come down to that same leadership principle: using information, and access to information, to enhance people’s and communities’ capacity for self-realization and self-determination.
What was it about your work in Odegaard that led to these interests? Was there a particular experience whereby that experienced transformed from work to passion?
I can’t say enough about how my mentors at Odegaard – as well as in other parts of the UW Libraries like the Media Center, Suzzallo, and administration – have inspired and supported me. Work and projects in different parts of the UW Libraries have stimulated me and allowed me to learn more about day-to-day operations in such a massive library system, but it’s the people I get to work with that have really role-modeled for me the many ways in which a librarian can be a force for the greater good.
What do you see yourself doing after graduation and after your Luce experience?
Different travel/research fellowships are on my mind, as is grad school – but anything could happen during this next year, so I want to stay open to that, too. Right now, though, all my efforts right now are on selecting where I’m going to go as a Luce Scholar and preparing for that experience.
Project ahead—way ahead—and imagine you’re at your retirement party. From what are you retiring and what do you hope people will say about your life’s work? Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The technology and methods and goals are all changing so fast that it’s hard to predict what my job description will be in 40, 20, or even 5 years. That’s one of the things I like most about this field – how dynamic it is. I see myself following a path, though, that sticks to what I think is at the heart of librarianship, regardless of how technology and resources change. It’s about how people express, record, and narrate their experiences, and how available information can shape communities and the people in them. I hope to look back one day and be able to say that everything I’ve done has been in service to those greater ideas, to using information for public good