Community Profiles

Alum Melanie Chu Serves as Shipboard Librarian for Study-abroad Students Sailing the Mediterranean

After applying nine times for the competitive position of librarian for the University of Virginia’s “Semester at Sea” program, SLIS alum Melanie Chu seized the opportunity when offered the job for Summer Semester 2012, sailing around the Mediterranean Sea.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Chu, whose regular job is Outreach Librarian at the California State University San Marcos Library, located just north of San Diego, CA. “Semester at Sea is an incredible chance to combine work and travel. I really encourage others to apply.”

Chu wanted the experience for many reasons. “Looking at cross-cultural ethnographic studies in different libraries is an area of research for me,” said Chu, whose responsibilities at CSU San Marcos include library instruction, community events, and outreach. “On our voyage, I was able to see how the library’s collections on Chile, for instance, reflected the population. It was awesome!”

Equally stimulating was working with students on a ship. “I lived with my population, which was 550 college students, from June to August,” explained Chu, whose duties on board involved assisting students with applied, local research in preparation for outings and field work. “The students were really engaged in what they were researching.”

Interestingly, the students mainly worked with print materials. “While we did have access to University of Virgina databases, satellite Internet was very slow – it only could handle 50 users at a time. So students had to rely more heavily on print and reserve materials. We had about 10,000 volumes on the ship, so it was really an opportunity to work with what you have available.”

The experience taught Chu appreciation for high tech resources and humility. “Coming back, challenges at work don’t seem as big,” she said. “I remind myself that I did this on a ship! But I also learned how valuable human interaction is. The library was located where the ship’s casino used to be. The counter was the old bar -- the heart of the ship. Students were constantly walking by. Because of the technology challenges, students didn’t email, they’d just look for me around the dining room.”

Chu graduated from our School’s MLIS program in Fall 2002, with electives focused on the program’s career pathway in Academic Librarianship. Chu said the Semester at Sea librarianship is academic in nature, but functions a bit like a special library as well, since the collection supports a specific curriculum that is region or country specific.

For SLIS students interested in academic librarianship, Chu recommends seeking out an internship  to get firsthand experience and make sure it’s the professional area they want to enter. “You’ll see the variety of jobs within an academic library and make the connection to the course work you’ve done,” she said. “Having an internship on your resume also puts you above other candidates.”