When a student schedules an appointment with USC librarian Chiméne Tucker, they usually meet in her office in the Doheny Memorial Library. Along with the expected bookshelves, the room welcomes students with herbal tea, coffee, and a light scent of orange and lavender from an aromatherapy oil infuser — all signs that Tucker realizes there’s more to her job than books, databases and citations. “I call it research therapy,” she said.
Tucker, who was hired in 2011 as a library specialist, works primarily in the fields of communication, journalism, gender and LGBT studies. She can be found in her second-floor office, guiding students, faculty and visiting professors to the resources they need to write a paper, fact-check a source or develop their research.
Tucker said she caught what she calls the “librarian magic” when studying urban anthropology at San Diego State University as an undergraduate. She was writing a paper and visited the library to get some materials. When Tucker asked for resources for an idea she had, the librarian got up from her desk, walked over to a shelf, ran her fingers over some books, stopped, pulled a book and gave it to her.
“I thought, ‘Wait, timeout, what kind of magic did you just do?’” Tucker said. “That one interaction with the librarian was so different from anything I’d ever experienced.”
As a librarian, Tucker is drawn to working a variety of different subjects. “I get to collaborate with faculty while being the conduit between inquiry and resources for the students,” Tucker said. “For example, with the undergrads, I have the opportunity to ask questions that can help them consider the relationship between their research interest and various resource formats to explore.”
We sat down with Tucker recently to find out more about how USC Annenberg students can take advantage of this essential resource.
Q: Does it help that you specialize in working with communication and journalism students?
A: It is helpful –– they do not have to go to multiple people to find answers to their questions or materials. There’s a lot of overlap when you look at communication and public relations or communication management and journalism, so having one person who’s devoted to the school makes it easier for students and faculty to get information about anything that’s related to these fields.
Q: Do requests differ among undergraduate disciplines?
A: The requests are the same: Students are either doing a research paper or working on a team project, but it depends on the course.
In one of the main public relations courses, for example, students are working with clients — current businesses and industries. They’re looking at marketing plans, recommendations for a particular industry, and how to market their product to a type of demographic. For that class, they’re putting together a business plan.
Then when we go to a communication argumentation and advocacy course: They may have debates in class or they’re writing a persuasive paper on a particular subject. Those students may be looking more at specific research on trends related to, for example, mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex. They’re looking at the impact of that kind of issue on certain types of demographics.
Q: How can USC Annenberg journalism students take advantage of our libraries?
A: A lot of times they’re looking at things related to city, policy and education. If they're looking for trends on elementary education or on technology, for example, they are going to find that in our USC libraries. Whether it’s in an electronic database, a book that was written, or a book chapter, they’ll find it here.
Then we have our archival collections and our digital library, which will have scanned photographs, documents from many outside organizations that we can direct them to.
If students want to understand things nationally that are happening about their topic, then that’s where I have the conversation about who keeps that kind of information. I help students understand we don’t have everything here in the library, but we have the ability to let them know where it can be found.
Q: Are there standout requests that you’ve been able to help locate?
A: There was an interest from a journalism student who wanted a cassette tape from a [political] debate from the 1980s. We don’t collect that type of resource because of the sheer volume of it, but there’s the Internet of Research, a resource created by a Rick Prelinger, an archivist in San Francisco who digitized that kind of information as a free online resource. I was able to point the student to this archival site.
We also have an electronic resource called the Vanderbilt Television News Archive. If there is a clip of news that was covered from ABC, CBS and NBC, when they were the three major networks, then it may be there.
Q: Any trends in the types of questions students ask?
A: I have found within the last six or seven years that a lot of the information they want is private information. I have a conversation with them about how data is collected, how it is aggregated, how it’s organized and then disseminated. When we’re looking at [topics] about teenagers or minors, they have to understand the laws and what kind info can be gathered because of HIPAA.
Q: In the era that we are living in where “fake news” is being perpetuated daily, what is the role of our libraries — or what should the role of our libraries be?
A: There’s a couple of ways to answer this question. The USC libraries are here to support the research, teaching and mission of the schools and departments.
We do that through the online databases that we buy. We have folks that work with the vendors, and we look at the contracts and the content and we know that these are credible publications. That’s the general role of the libraries.
With this new emphasis, because so much is available technology-wise and anybody can post anything, it’s about really looking critically at all the news. We’re looking at who is writing the source. What’s their area of interest? Is this a study that was funded? Who are the funding agencies and the organization? Does this funding agency or organization have a stake in the results?
Q: What lesson do you hope visitors take away from working with you?
A: That each person feels that they have been encouraged, empowered, inspired and valued in their quest for information.
USC has 23 libraries and information centers. As of 2018, they house over 6 million books in collections, and over 2 million electronic books, plus 1,011 electronic databases.