Making people understand the value of libraries and librarians in the age of instant Internet searches is one the biggest challenges facing librarians today, said Starr Hoffman, the new head of planning and assessment at UNLV Libraries. A member of the Libraries’ senior administrative team, she focuses on strategic planning, organizational development, and leading the assessment of the Libraries’ collective work.
I was searching for a place where I could be consistently challenged, with an environment hungry for change. From the first, I was delighted to discover that the UNLV Libraries — and UNLV as a whole — truly embrace innovation. Everyone I work with is energetic, positive, and passionate about serving the UNLV community.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in New Braunfels, Texas (the greater San Antonio area). I spent about a decade living in the Dallas area as an adult, then moved with my husband to Ukraine for about a year, after which we lived in New York City — right on Manhattan’s 42nd Street — before we ended up here in sunny Las Vegas.
An amusing side effect of having lived in Texas is that although I didn’t grow up with a Texan accent (my California-native mother hates the word “y’all”), ever since I moved away from that state, I find the drawl creeping into my speech!
Where did you work previously?
I was the head of the Journalism Library at Columbia University in New York. One of the fun job perks for that position was attending the annual award ceremony for the Pulitzer Prizes. In graduate school, I had a brief stint as a professional muralist, but it turns out that while it’s lovely to be paid to make art, I don’t like being by myself all day!
What inspired you to get into your field?
I spent a few years in graduate school trying to find a profession that fit my passion for lifelong learning and would allow me to explore knowledge in a variety of fields — going “shallow and broad” rather than “narrow and deep,” as C.S. Lewis might say. At a library session for an art history course, I was struck by the librarian’s expertise, passion, and heart for service, and realized that the library was where I had belonged all along.
However, this career adjustment meant that my mother, who had been my high school librarian, had the last say. When I started college with the intent to become, in my own words, “a starving artist and writer,” my mother told me that I should be a librarian. I rolled my eyes at the idea, telling her skeptically that, “No one gets paid to sit around and research all day.” But of course, librarians are paid for this very service, and thus my mother got to tell me, “I told you so!”
What’s the biggest challenge in your field?
One of the biggest challenges not only in academic librarianship, but also for all kinds of librarians, is how to convey that libraries are needed more now than ever, despite the presence of the Internet. The flood of online information has provided convenience, but also overload and difficulty in determining where to find information and how to evaluate its worth — skills at which librarians are experts. However, it’s sometimes hard to get this message across, in an age where many of us expect to be able to “Google” anything and find it instantly. The heart of the message is: the library is more than books, and librarians are savvy guides to a variety of information sources, online and otherwise.
One tip for success.
Look forward, not behind. Regret, failure, and anxiety can be crippling. Do your best to leave the past in the past.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m an avid sci-fi fan, particularly of the original Star Wars movies. There are quite a few “geeky” action figures spread throughout my office, including Obi Wan-Kenobi and Spock mind-melding with each other. A bit of intrepid Googling will produce evidence not only of my cosplay at various sci-fi conventions, but also that when the last (sub-par, regrettable) Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith, came out in 2005, I was first in line at a Dallas theater after having spent three weeks camping in line (for a charity, I hasten to add!). I only wish that my geeky accomplishment had been for a better movie.
Who was your favorite professor or teacher and why?
One of my favorites was Linda Walker, who taught me in a variety of grades from fourth into high school. Her background was in the hard sciences, and she was one of the first women I met who demonstrated not merely an aptitude but a true passion for math and science. Even though I didn’t ultimately go into those fields, her analytical approach blended with personal warmth is something I attempt to emulate in my own work today.
As a librarian, I am of course obligated to list my voracious appetite for books of all kinds, although honestly this passion for stories spills into other media. I’m also a voracious consumer of podcasts, movies, and Netflix TV binges. With my husband, I share a dangerous (both financially and time-consuming) passion for home improvement projects and DIY, though we also share more relaxing hobbies like scuba diving, photography, and travel. In 2014, we visited all seven continents in a span of 11 months! My favorite trip was our two-week tour of Antarctica, during which a humpback whale breached beside our ship on the night of our 13th wedding anniversary.