To be, or rather not to be, a librarian was never the question for Rebecca Hamlett. As an avid reader from a young age, she always dreamed of working in a library. But there was more than a love for books that attracted her to such a job.
“I wanted to help people. To me, as with many children, the library was the place where you’d go for information. It was the place for help; it was where there would be human resources to help you find what you’d be looking for,” Hamlett said. “I was drawn to being a librarian because information is so very important in every aspect of a person’s life.”
The journey to Hamlett’s current position as the instruction and archive librarian for William Jewell College began with her early fascination with languages. Hamlett enlisted in the United States Army directly after high school, and being only 17 years old at the time, she needed her parents’ permission beforehand. There were three main reasons for her enlistment, two of which were a recognized need for self-discipline and a simple desire for something different. The third, and what Hamlett considers to be the most influential factor in her decision to join the military, was her grandfather, a career-Navy captain.
“In the summers my sister and I would go stay with my grandparents and instead of playing or going to the pool everyday, my grandfather would have me pick up sticks from his yard. I would receive one penny for each stick, and when I would finish, he would then have a packet of homework ready for me to do. He also tried to instill etiquette; when you think of the stories of the student walking around with a book on her head to practice posture, that was me,” Hamlett said. “He really worked hard, I think, to instill a good work ethic in me, as well as a strong sense of responsibility and self-discipline.”
Although Hamlett did consider following her grandfather’s footsteps into the Navy, she ultimately decided that the Army was the best option for her. She examined the opportunities and benefits packages offered by each of the four military branches and saw that the Army could guarantee her a job as a linguist in military intelligence. Though she originally wanted to be a Spanish linguist, she was instead assigned to be a Persian-Farsi linguist.
Stationed at the Defense Language Institute on the Presidio of Monterrey in California, Hamlett would train for eight hours a day, five days a week through an intensive, immersive cohort program. Her instructors were all native Iranians who came to the United States during and after the fall of the Shah. Besides learning to read, write and speak the language, she and her peers would also go to their instructors’ homes every Friday to learn how to cook authentic Iranian meals.
“The immersion part of the learning a language really appealed to me. It was exciting to be able to experience a different culture and truly understand its history,” Hamlett said. “To actually go to the instructors’ homes and see their culture and see how it was different from mine was one of my favorite memories.”
Given technology and her particular position in the military, Hamlett was able to perform the entirety of her three-year service within the United States. After finishing her assignment, she took a six-month break and applied for her next job as a police dispatcher at the Kansas City International Airport. While her typical duties varied, they concerned medical emergencies, in-flight emergencies and making sure the fire department and ambulance services were on stand-by, as well as handling suspicious baggage and potential bomb-threats. Each day was unpredictable.
“The airport is really similar to a small city; we were an entity to ourselves. We had a lot of the same types of calls that any small city police department would have, like domestic assaults, intoxicated people, medical emergences and arrests,” Hamlett said. “I liked that everything was different from one day to the next; I think that helped me to transition from the military. I was used to working under high-stress conditions and high pressure. To this day, I think that if everything had been the same on a daily basis, and I did the same things all the time over and over again, I wouldn’t have been satisfied.”
One of Hamlett’s most memorable experiences during this job was the day of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
“That day, I ended up working a 16-hour shift, and we worked with Homeland Security, the National Guard and the FBI. Our dispatch room became the command area, and we worked closely with the FFA in order to ground all of the planes in the area. It was amazing to look out and see the runways,” Hamlett said. “It looked like a giant plane parking; every single inch was covered, nose-to-tail.”
From police dispatching, Hamlett entered the manufacturing industry, where she worked as the operations office manager for a company that produced small equipment. In this position, she oversaw the specialized software that kept an inventory on jobs and orders. Whenever she wanted a break from her office, she would interact with the assembly workers and learn how to manufacture the company’s products.
“I really liked the people, so if I needed a change of scenery, I would go out onto the floor and help the line of workers build a few of the orders,” Hamlett said. “Since I didn’t know much about manufacturing, they would teach me the process. ”
It was after moving on from these three careers that Hamlett decided to return to school to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a librarian. As an Army veteran, Hamlett was eligible to receive government funding for her education, but before obtaining it, she had to research three different jobs of interest extensively. The idea of becoming a librarian, when Hamlett could pursue a number of other, more profitable careers, boggled her Veterans Affairs Representative.
“I had to look at the labor market, the salary ranges, how much education was needed and potentially what programs I would want to enter into, but I don’t even remember what the other two jobs I researched were; I just wanted to be a librarian,” Hamlett said. “I was able to eventually convince [my representative] that this is what I truly loved and wanted to do with my life.”
The idea of returning to college as a non-traditional student was daunting for Hamlett, but after comparing institutions in the area, she knew that William Jewell would be best for her career goals. The smaller, personal class sizes, the more accessible professors and the non-traditional classes like Responsible Self appealed most to her when deciding to join the Cardinal community.
“If I had moved to somewhere like Mizzou or UMKC, I honestly don’t know if I could’ve done it,” Hamlett said. “Jewell just really stuck out to me. Coming here, I was able to tailor my focus for what I perceived as my learning style, with the confidence that I could receive one-on-one assistance from the actual professors, not teaching assistants. I credit my professors, especially in the lower-level courses, with getting through that process and providing me with the assistance that I needed.”
After graduating from the College in 2010, Hamlett earned her master’s degree through the University of North Texas’ online program, where she was able to further study her three primary interests: reference, research and management. At the same time, Hamlett also received her academic certificate of Library and Information Organizations. The favorable experience she had as a student at William Jewell drew her back to work as a full-time employee for the College.
“Jewell became such a wonderful community for me. I had so much support from my peers and the faculty and staff. My son essentially grew up here, and this is one of his favorite places; if he ever comes to campus with me for any reason, he loves it,” Hamlett said. “Even now, you see so many faculty and staff that bring their children to campus. It brings back fond memories, and it highlights the importance that Jewell places on community and family. That really made me feel that this is the place I’d like to be.”
Hamlett has led numerous projects for the College during her employment. While still attending as a student, Hamlett was employed through the work-study program at Curry Library working under Elise Fisher and Suzanne Barrett. It was also during this time that Hamlett, as an independent study, started the process of reorganizing and increasing the accessibility of the hundreds of thousands of government documents stored in the College’s library. Through a very lengthy and intricate process, Hamlett was able to help the library narrow the relevance of the documents to be more discipline and community specific to the College. In the archives, Hamlett has pursued a similar endeavor, which is ongoing, in order to save space. These efforts of developing collections, digitizing, reorganizing, accessioning and de-accessioning are due to the growing importance and convenience of technology.
“Technology becomes very important to the library profession because it has really changed and revolutionized all of the ways that we do things, even down to the Archives, where we’re looking at digitizing materials so that researchers won’t have to travel across the country to come here,” Hamlett said. “Eventually, we’re looking to make everything accessible online.”
Hamlett has become more involved with this technological transition with the College’s Jewellverse initiative. As one of the campus’ three Apple Foundations Trainers, she oversees the deployment of all Apple products and the Engagement Hub, providing ongoing support to the community.
While balancing these projects, Hamlett also assists professors and students with learning the research process. By invitation, she visits classes to lecture on discipline-specific research or to give a general information literacy overview. This semester, she has also co-taught a nursing course with Jan Huster. In addition to classes, she is available for one-on-one appointments, but she also instructs a seven-week, one-credit hour course per semester that takes an in-depth look into library resources and information research methods. The purpose of this class is not merely to help students learn and obtain scholarly research for their assignments at Jewell, but also for the rest of their lives in their specific fields.
“Everything comes down to information; you’ll need it to do any task in life,” Hamlett said.
When Hamlett is not working, she is reading. She enjoys spending time with her significant other, their three children and their dog.
This article is the second installment of the Hilltop Monitor’s alumni feature series. A staff or faculty alumnus/alumna will be highlighted for their contributions to William Jewell College when they attended the institution as students and now as employees.