by Suzanne Arist
Alisun DeKock is the Manager of Information Services and Archive at Chicago’s John G. Shedd Aquarium, a position she has held for over five years. Prior to this role, Alisun held the title of Volunteer Manager at Adler Planetarium, a neighboring museum on Chicago’s Lakefront.
The popular aquatic museum, which opened in 1930 cares for over 32,500 animals representing 1,500 species.
At the Shedd, Alisun is a solo librarian with a small, volunteer staff. The library has print resources and some EBSCO databases; additionally it participates in OCLC interlibrary-loan. The library’s primary subject areas are fish and marine mammals.
Typical reference questions addressed by Alisun and her staff include verifying husbandry for animals new to Shedd. In addition, Alisun works with staff when designing new exhibits to ensure the best and most accurate information is used to re-create the animal’s environment and to create content for guest information found in the exhibit.
A highlight of Alisun’s job was the re-creation and re-opening of Shedd’s “ Amazon Rising” exhibit where she oversaw the compilation of the animal facts which are accessed by guests via iPad interactives. These interactives include information for over 300 animals regarding its habitat, food, size, and taxonomy.
Alisun doesn’t often have hands-on experience with Shedd animals; however, she did have an encounter with a Beluga when filming her promotional piece for the SLA Chicago Conference. The whale spit a mouthful of water on her and according to Alisun, “It was awesome.”
Alisun received her Master of Library Science degree from the University of Illinois in 2007. When asked how her work and education experience prepared her for her current job, she said, “As any solo librarian knows, you have to be willing to do it all, often with little or no guidance or advice from within your organization.” Alison’s graduate education gave her the foundational knowledge to step into this kind of job, while the independence she had in her previous jobs allows her to work with confidence.
As president-elect of SLA’s Illinois Chapter, Alisun’s primary responsibilities will be organizing programming including webinars, professional development and networking.
When not at work, Alisun loves being outdoors. In fact, she commutes via bicycle along Chicago’s lakefront path year-round.
The advice Alisun would give to a librarian or library student who wants to work for an organization similar to Shedd, is to volunteer. Her work as a volunteer at the Adler Planetarium for two years allowed her to become familiar with the organization and qualified enough to apply for a paying position with the institution.
Suzanne Arist is a reference librarian and a long-time writer for the Informant.