When the new library manager at Cummings School’s Webster Family Library, John Bourgeois, joined the School, he rearranged his desk to face the library’s entrance.
“So if anyone’s looking befuddled when they walk in, I can come out and help them,” he explained. “That’s the most rewarding part of being a librarian, the front-line interaction.”
Mr. Bourgeois’ career followed an unusual path that uniquely qualifies him to manage Webster Family Library and help the students, faculty, and staff at Cummings School in traditional and novel ways.
He spent most of his childhood in Louisiana and attended Louisiana Tech University, earning his BS in biology and BA in English with plans for medical school. While volunteering in hospice he changed his mind. He scored so well on the MCAT, Princeton Review offered him a position teaching the test.
Mr. Bourgeois went on to complete his master’s degree in public health, specializing in epidemiology, at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. He worked the following year at Veterans Affairs in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, overseeing data analysis for six grant-funded research projects.
Mr. Bourgeois returned to Tulane on a grant for the National Institute of Health, before deciding to go for his Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) at Louisiana State University.
His first position in the field was as a reference librarian, head of access services at Nicholls State University in Louisiana.
“The library took on an instrumental role in facilitating student retention,” he said. “We tried to make it as easy as possible for students to get their books, register for class, and find study spaces.”
After three years at Nicholls, Mr. Bourgeois became the library liaison to the School of Public Health at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center (LSUHSC), where he explains, “I was able to use all my degrees.”
He appreciated the freedom to take his job in new directions over his five years at LSUHSC, such as establishing research data management services. Over his career, Mr. Bourgeois has also researched topics ranging from mammography to bio-sledge to journal usage during the pandemic.
Last April, Mr. Bourgeois, his partner Amanda, and their two young daughters pulled up stakes from Louisiana and moved to Massachusetts.
“I wanted to create my own programs. The position at Cummings opened up and fit everything I was interested in,” he said.
He has hit the ground running in his first nine months at Webster Family Library.
“What I like most about my job is that it’s never the same thing,” said Mr. Bourgeois. “I’m a librarian. I want to contribute meaningfully, and there are endless opportunities to do that here. It’s a very exciting time.”
When the hospital technician development coordinator at Foster Hospital for Small Animals approached him about needing quick access to various texts, Mr. Bourgeois contacted a nearby college that was closing and asked if he could “raid their library for vet tech materials.” The collaboration resulted in the new Vet Technicians Library in Foster Hospital.
He assisted in starting up the new Little Free Library in the Agnes Varis Campus Center after a professor expressed interest in exchanging books for leisure reading (“strictly no textbooks” according to Mr. Bourgeois).
In addition to the new mini-libraries on campus, Mr. Bourgeois also set up a chat service on the library’s website. Overall, he strives to ensure that Webster Family Library meets students’ fundamental needs.
“The students are so appreciative. I like getting to know the regulars,” he said of the students who borrow the library’s loaner laptops, a program his predecessor began.
After giving a lecture in a public health class this fall, a student approached him to proofread an abstract she wrote. “Those serendipitous connections I really enjoy,” he said.
The pandemic has pushed librarians to find solutions, some on the fly and some that become permanent. For example, when a student emailed Mr. Bourgeois asking how to use a citation manager, he explained the process in a video, which he now does regularly to assist students.
“The library’s fundamental purpose is as a place for sharing and disseminating ideas, thoughts, resources, and knowledge,” he said. “The pandemic forced a shift to electronic resources for more access, to bridge the digital divide and get people resources when and how they need them.”
Despite the changes, there’s sentimentality and nostalgia associated with libraries that are difficult to let go of, like the hardwood, long-drawered card catalogue and the smell of books, he explained.
Just as Mr. Bourgeois has proven an exceptional asset to the Cummings School community, he’s found a perfect fit himself at Webster Family Library.
“I like how small the campus is, I like how engaged it is,” Mr. Bourgeois said. “At a larger institution, it can be easy to get siloed and myopic in your own projects, department, and school. What I really enjoy about Cummings is that it’s too small a world to go off on your own and do your own thing. It’s a wonderfully collaborative place.”