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When Rik Henke graduated from Knox College in 1956, he was armed with a chemistry degree and headed west to med school. He graduated from Stanford Medical School four years later with his M.D., eventually becoming a pathologist and a professor at the University of California Irvine Medical School. And, after a lifetime of success in his career, Henke and his wife shared their fortune with Knox, establishing an endowed professorship and several funds. But instead of using his money to support pre-med students or the chemistry department, Henke surprised everyone and created a fellowship in library sciences.
Library Director Anne Thomason remembers her surprise when Henke first reached out. "During the summer of 2022, I received several voicemails from Dr. Henke. After learning that he was a Knox grad and honorary trustee, I called him back, and he told me he wanted to fund a master’s-level program in library science,” she said. “I suggested instead a program to explore librarianship through mentorship and hands-on experience in all aspects of running an academic library. This idea caught on with Rik, and the Henke Fellowship was born."
The Richard P. and Sophia D. Henke Library Fellows program was developed to give students the opportunity to deeply engage with current and future issues in the field while gaining work experience and transferable skills in areas such as research assistance, archives/special collections, digital initiatives, strategic and project planning, and collection development.
This year, Knox welcomed the inaugural group of Henke fellows. Vanessa Jackson, Lua Powers, and Haley Campbell, all seniors, began their focused study in January and wrapped things up with a campus-wide presentation just before spring finals. The fellowship supports 10 hours of dedicated library work time each week, and each fellow completes three self-directed projects that fall into the areas mentioned above.
Jackson began with an administration project focused on revising the library food policy. Working with Thomason, they completed a comprehensive study of the topic, including a survey of other liberal arts colleges, a student focus group, and consultation with the Office of Disability Support Services. After gathering this important data, they proposed a new policy that allowed food on certain floors. Jackson’s second project focused on learning to process an archival collection of letters from a Knox graduate who served in World War II, and it was their favorite part of the experience.
“I loved working in archives/special collections, which is what I would like to do someday in an academic library,” they said. “Exploring the archives is absolutely amazing. We get to see things that we didn’t know were there, learn about the people who went to Knox before us, and reach out to people to make connections from what we found in the archives. It’s incredible.”
Powers began with an archival project. Working closely with Assistant Librarian for Special Collections and Archives Joseph Taylor, she created a finding aid and began processing a collection of letters from a Galesburg abolitionist. The letters were donated from Australia in a photo album. “I realized I was probably the first person to read those letters in a long, long time,” she said. “It really is cool to get to know these people and honor the history of their lives.”
Powers’ later projects involved working with Assistant Librarian for Research and Instruction Rebecca Yowler on instructional videos to help students access and use resources in the library, and working with Collections Strategies Library Gail Heideman to update the painfully outdated language used in the electronic sorting system used to organize library collections.
Campbell’s first and favorite project was working with the children’s collection in Seymour Library, as it provided firsthand experience in the field she hopes to work in after graduate school. She sorted the entire collection into children’s and young adult books and created a new young adult section. “It sounds simple but it was very complicated,” she said. “I had to change so much information online and make all new labels. But it was so worthwhile. I am so happy when people see the new collection and get excited.”
She went on to complete a project focused on creating a library onboarding document for new Knox faculty and staff. This helpful sheet lists the main resources in the library and will be added to the onboarding folder of all new hires starting this year. She ended her time at the library with a diversity audit of the Native American Indigenous History collection at Seymour Library. The collection includes more than 1,400 books and she is working through data to see how equitable the collection is in terms of authors. As an added bonus, if her audit discovers that certain ethnicities are underrepresented, she will be choosing new texts to round out the collection.
Thomason is thrilled with the first group of fellows. “The program began with three exceptional students,” she said. “They investigated all areas of librarianship from archives to policy writing and have become valuable members of our library team. The program has exceeded our expectations; it has been a delight to mentor these three students."
In addition to their projects, all three fellows attended a library science conference to network and learn more about the field. Jackson and Powers spent a week in Chicago at the Midwest Archives Conference. Campbell traveled to Bloomington to attend the Illinois Youth Services Institute conference.
Although it was the first year and everyone was learning as they went, Jackson praised the entire library staff. “The librarians got to know us on a very personal level and had a hand in molding the fellowship,” they said. “They connected with us to figure out projects and how to move forward. We have all gained so much experience that will help us build a career in library science.” Campbell agreed. “Everyone on the library staff is so lovely and kind,” she said. “It’s been a really gratifying experience.”
Before he passed away in April, Henke closely followed the fellows’ work on social media. All three fellows were in close contact with the Henke family during the fellowship. “Rik was able to see the stuff we were working on in real-time and stay updated,” Jackson said. “It must have been amazing to see the impact of his donation and to share his passion for library science.” Powers echoed the sentiment. “A lot of family members told us that in the last few weeks, Rik really got a lot of enjoyment out of following us,” she said. “It was so good to know.”
Published on May 25, 2023