We were lucky to catch a few minutes with Meneka Thiru, 29, who currently works at the reference desk of the UAA Consortium Library and as the Community Liaison at Wild Scoops, all while earning her Master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Washington.
Thiru was born and raised in Anchorage and has a bachelor’s degree from UAA. She taught elementary school students in Spain, traveled, and worked before deciding to move home and get her Master’s in library science. “I thought about education, social justice and lots of other paths. [Library science] seemed like a nice intersection of a lot of these interests.”
Throughout her travels, Thiru said she kept Alaska in mind. “I kept finding myself pulled back to Anchorage,” she said. “It’s my home and I just love the state and community here.” Thiru said she hopes to stay in Anchorage, but understands that given the state’s current budget situation, she may need to relocate to find a library job after she finishes her degree.
At the Consortium Library reference desk, she helps people with everything from basic technology questions to advanced research citations. In the summer, especially, the Consortium Library also welcomes many public patrons who come to use the Internet or just browse. “I really enjoy helping connect people to whatever they need,” said Thiru. “If they leave the library feeling successful, that makes me feel really good.”
It was through her library work that Thiru participated in her first conversation facilitated by the Alaska Humanities Forum, at the Alaska Library Association Conference in Juneau in March 2019. The conversation, titled “Aiming for Third Place,” explored what it takes to become a successful third place in a community, and how libraries can become thriving third places. (The term comes from sociology, and refers to places outside of home and work where people go to build relationships, connect with other people, and exchange ideas.)
“What stood out to me was the way that the conversation was facilitated,” Thiru recalled. “That’s a skill I would really like to build… it just kind of struck me as a really constructive conversation and I felt like I got a lot out of it, and a lot of that had to do with the facilitation. It can be hard to open up in a group of strangers about your experiences, so I think building a good environment is important.” Thiru, who plans to attend a Forum facilitation training this fall, said she can see how facilitation will come into play in her future library roles. “Hosting conversations and events sounds really exciting,” she said. “It’s exciting to think about a library as a public discourse space where people can learn more about issues that are important to them, and also express their own beliefs. I’d love to cultivate that culture in a library branch.”
The Forum’s mission of connecting Alaskans through shared stories, ideas, and experiences resonated with Thiru, who said the humanities is a constant presence in her work. “Every day when you have people come in you see people seeking information because of whatever experience they’re having in their lives and you get a glimpse of their lives based on what they’re looking for. It’s really interesting to observe what are the things people need, what are the things they are looking for, and where do they go to find those things? People bring up really interesting questions that you might not have thought of before.”