Dee Anna Phares

Subject specialist librarian for University Libraries

Dee Anna Phares

What year did you start working at NIU?

Where is your hometown? and where do you live now?
I was born in Northridge, California, but I've lived all over (seven states and two countries). I live in DeKalb now.

Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
M.S. library and information science, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; Ph.D. English, University of Nevada, Reno; M.A. Shakespearean studies, King’s College London, UK; B.A. anthropology/English, University of Nevada, Reno.

In which department(s) do you teach?
I'm the subject specialist librarian for University Libraries in history; psychology; leadership, educational psychology and foundations; and women, gender and sexuality studies.

What do you like about working at NIU?
While research and artistry are incredibly vital and exciting parts of what we do here, teaching is still at the center of this campus. We haven't forgotten our roots as a state normal school that prepared future teachers. And while we've grown and changed to meet the needs of graduate and undergraduate students from here in Illinois and across the globe, NIU still is about lifelong learning and passing on the lessons learned.

What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
Take advantage of all there is on offer — activities, programs, events, classes, resources and help. Learning doesn't just happen in a classroom, and the experiences that will have the greatest impact on us are often not what we'd expect. Go hear a musical performance, attend a presentation not associated with your major or check out a title from a library book display on a topic you know nothing about. And, when you need help of any kind, don't be afraid to ask for it.

Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
Since 2022, I have been working on an interdisciplinary study of bibliomania in the West that explores the social, historical, economic and psychological conditions that encourage the accumulation of vast personal libraries. Early in the project, I was lucky enough to work with two Research Rookies who undertook really useful investigations of object attachment and obsessive collecting behaviors, developed annotated bibliographies that will help inform the book’s survey of scholarship, and created posters based on their research for the 2023 Conference on Undergraduate Research and Engagement (CURE). I hope to continue working with these undergraduate researchers, and potentially others, as the project moves forward.

What do you enjoy most about mentoring students?
I really love it when students begin seeing themselves as scholars in their own right — when they move beyond the idea of simply completing an assignment for a class and start to understand that they are creating something and contributing to a larger scholarly conversation. It is thrilling when a student takes ownership of their work and my role shifts from direction to collaboration.

What do you hope students take away from their college experience?
I would like students to view college as the start of their education, as opposed to the end of it. Hopefully, being here at NIU stokes their curiosity and makes them always want to know more (and know how to find it).

What is your favorite memory of NIU?
Would it be too cheeky to say, "Seeing my former office in Founders Memorial Library used in the 2021 film, ‘Candyman’"? The filmmakers were shooting the scenes in Founders immediately before lockdown in 2020; it is nice to think of something being created on our campus during such a confusing and uncertain time.

What’s one thing about NIU that’s surprised you?
How much is happening at any given moment on campus. There's always something to do, and because the campus is just the right size, it’s not very far away.

What fulfills you personally and professionally?
Working on course materials affordability efforts on campus, including the development of open educational resources, matters a great deal to me personally and professionally. Helping students succeed is one of my primary goals, but another important part of my work is supporting faculty in finding and creating course materials that empower them and their students. When a student doesn't have to choose between rent and a textbook, or if a faculty member develops a resource that makes their students feel seen and engaged, I'm pretty happy.

Which of NIU’s core values align with your own?
Curiosity and creativity are at the heart of my notion of librarianship, because research is as much about fashioning as it is about finding. But of equal importance are equity and inclusion. Libraries should be for everyone, as should education. Both are better when they respect, reflect and encourage diverse perspectives and experiences.

Have you contributed to any NIU Foundation fundraising campaigns such as the Day of Giving or Huskies United? If yes, why did you decided to support NIU?
I contributed to the crowdfunding campaign to "Help Advance the History of the Book at NIU." I am a big fan of NIU Libraries' Rare Books and Special Collections (RBSC), and I wanted to ensure that students and faculty get to work with our printing presses. We live in an increasingly digital world, but print matters, and so does the material history of the book.

What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
I had a lot of ideas about what I wanted to be, but one of my longest-lived desires was to be an archeologist. I later determined that what I was most attracted to about archeology was the process of unearthing and uncovering the stories that artifacts tell. Strangely, I think that's what being a librarian is about too — but there's less concern about re-applying sunscreen when I'm digging through the stacks or searching PsycInfo and Historical Abstracts.

Are you participating in or have you participated in any NIU shared governance or professional development groups? If so, how has your participation enhanced your experience as an employee?
I am currently a member of University Council, and I really appreciate how participating makes me understand NIU's place in the state educational landscape. I'm also grateful to hear how decisions impact the various constituent groups on campus; that sort of perspective is an integral part of shared governance.

What do you do to relax or recharge?
Since I'm a librarian, saying that I read is too predictable (even though it is true). To be honest, I watch a lot of movies. During the pandemic, my spouse and I challenged ourselves to watch 365 films in a year — in reality, we watched more than 380. For 2024, we are attempting to view 224 non-English-language films. So far, so good.

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