The gentle rumble in Lied Library when it’s packed with students is a motivator for Chelsea Heinbach. When she’s having a rough day, walking through the library and see students talking, collaborating, and having fun reminds her of why she came to UNLV.
As assistant professor and teaching and learning librarian, Heinbach works closely with new UNLV students to strengthen their information literacy skills and help them develop the tools for success during their academic career and beyond.
How did you get into the library profession?
When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Miami, I spent a lot of time at the library between classes. One day, I wandered into an exhibit curated from the Special Collections Cuban Heritage Collection displaying Cuban tourism brochures and maps from the 1940s-50s. I was completely enthralled, and it occurred to me that it was someone’s job to create the display, so I reached out to the head of special collections to see what it took to become a librarian. Through my experiences in graduate school, I discovered a different type of librarianship was a better fit for me, but special collections and archives hold a special place in my heart for pointing me in the right direction.
How do you define your job as a teaching and learning librarian?
I create learning experiences for students new to the university, focused on information literacy skills that are useful in and out of the classroom. I also partner with faculty to make their research assignments more engaging, relevant, and transparent. I genuinely think research is one of the most fun and important things we do in a university, and my job is to create opportunities for students to see themselves as an active and crucial part of that culture.
What is the top thing you want students to take away from your class?
Most importantly, I want students to know that there are educators who truly care about and believe in them. I want students to recognize that the ability to find and evaluate information in order to expand your worldview is useful in all areas of life, not just academia. Those skills will improve anything else you do. Whatever profession you go into and whatever community you are a part of, information literacy skills will make you a more informed and engaged part of it.
Outside of your research, what are you passionate about?
The thing about librarians is that we are passionate about everything! That is why I love my job so much; I get to learn about so many different things through the interests of students and faculty. Outside of work though, I am really passionate about food, being outdoors, trees, dogs, my family and friends, anti-racism, and feminism.
What work/research of yours do you wish received more attention?
I don’t necessarily wish my individual work received more attention, but I do wish the work of librarians wasn’t so invisible in our society. Even as someone who grew up spending hours in libraries I didn’t know what they did and it didn’t occur to me as a career option until pretty late.
Librarians are building 3D models of hearts, organizing around social issues, protecting patron rights, and investigating the ethical implications of the algorithms from which most of us get our information. We are interdisciplinary scholars and teachers with expertise ranging from information behavior to education, computer programming, cognitive psychology, and more, but often when I tell someone what I do, they make a joke about the Dewey decimal system or shushing students.
Much of the work we do is invisible and oversimplified by society at large, which often happens in feminized professions like librarianship. Society is in this moment where we are regularly discussing the shifting nature of our information landscape and its impact on human behavior, which is what libraries are all about, but we are frequently left out of those conversations, which is frustrating.
What makes UNLV a place you want to be?
The people are my absolute favorite thing about UNLV. The students here are some of the most dedicated and driven people I’ve ever worked with. Aside from the students I teach and meet at events, I also work closely with the Flora and Stuart Mason Undergraduate Peer Research Coaches in the library, and that is one of the best parts of my job. Additionally, I am really lucky to work on a team of colleagues that cares about our students as much as I do and is interested in trying new things and investigating difficult questions.
What’s the most Vegas thing you’ve done since you moved here?
My partner and I went to dinner at Bacchanal Buffet for a birthday recently, which was a trifecta of Very Vegas Things: excessive amounts of (delicious) food, an expensive bill, and long lines. A friend and I were once picked up in a Maserati through a rideshare app, and that felt like something that could only happen in Vegas!
Also, as someone originally from the East Coast, I can’t get over how much amazing food you can find in strip malls here — especially in Chinatown. That is new to me and feels unique to the western part of the United States.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I lived out of my car and traveled the country for 6 months when I was in my early 20s.
Which Hogwarts House do you belong to and why?
I like to say that I am a "HuffleClaw." I have always really identified with Hufflepuff, as they value kindness, loyalty, hard work, and care deeply about others. However, I am a librarian, so of course I am also bookish like a Ravenclaw.
Tell us about a book you’re reading right now.
Right now I am reading Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado. I have been completely struck by it because it is so many things in one. It is a wild mix of genres including magical realism, horror, science fiction, psychological fiction, queer literature, and more. There are women fading slowly over time until they disappear into thin air for undetermined reasons, apocalyptic plagues, and mystery babies showing up on doorsteps. It is one of the most original and jolting books I’ve read recently, and that’s saying a lot, because I have been on a really good run!
I love traveling, trying new foods, hiking, camping, reading, visiting museums, and hanging out with my dog Nimbus.
Where is your favorite place in the library?
The noisiest and busiest parts of our library are my favorites. I love the library when it is full of students chatting, laughing, studying, playing video games, and teaching one another. When I’m having a bad day, I walk around the first floor and gather energy and joy from watching the spaces being used. Being around students centers me and reminds me of why I am here.