Jill Severn is a big-picture person.
“I’m probably the only person who works in a library who says she is not detail-oriented,” said Severn, head of outreach and access with the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies.
As she ticks off the classes, events, exhibits and programs she oversees-all of which have increased exponentially in the two years since the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries opened-it seems clear that though she may prefer looking at the big picture, it would be impossible for her to ignore the mountain of details that come with a new facility and greatly expanded program.
Classes for undergraduates and graduates alone have increased from a dozen a year to nearly 50. Having an accessible building including comfortable space for events has led to more public programs reaching more people.
“We are working to draw in faculty and students,” Severn said of the Russell Library and its associates in special collections, the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Walter J. Brown Media Archives and Peabody Awards.
“I take every chance I can to talk to faculty and students about the amazing collections we have here and the zillions of ways we can connect and collaborate with them,” said Severn, whose position has faculty status. “If I can get you into the building, I usually won’t let you leave without a promise to return.”
Those conversations already are bearing fruit. After attending a faculty open house in the special collections building last spring, Dawn Bennett-Alexander, a faculty member in the Terry College of Business, incorporated archival holdings on discrimination in the workplace into her course on employment law.
“Most business students do not necessarily have an experience in special collections, but now 150 do,” Severn said.
This year Severn and her colleague Jan Levinson are facilitating a Faculty Learning Community through the Center for Teaching and Learning to consider novel approaches for connecting special collections resources with classroom teaching and learning. One aspect of this FLC has been to consider the role that digital collections of special collections materials can play in teaching and learning.
Severn recently presented a program on campus at the Conference on Children’s Literature on ways to connect K-12 literature with archival materials available online through the Digital Library of Georgia and the recently launched Digital Public Library of America.
“Those are new ways to think about the collections,” Severn said. “I will always be a fan of human interaction and the experience of touching and seeing the real thing, but the digital realm helps us to tell a bigger story to a much wider swath of the public.”
Since 2008, a major focus for Severn has been the Russell Forum for Civic Life, established in conjunction with the National Issues Forums and the Kettering Foundation. The center hosts discussions in communities across Georgia on public issues such as health care and immigration and provides periodic training in moderating and framing issues for public consideration.
Severn’s “great love of history” was ignited by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian William McFeely, her adviser as an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College. After McFeely accepted a position on the UGA faculty, Severn decided to attend graduate school here.
“History shapes our opinions, ideas and actions even when we don’t realize it,” Severn said, “but the historical record is not a perfect snapshot of what everyone thought or did-so many experiences, perspectives and conflicts remain undocumented or selectively documented.
“As an archivist I feel a great responsibility to ensure that we are documenting the fullest spectrum of public life in Georgia and sharing this breadth of ideas and experience with the widest public possible,” she also said.