Published: July 1, 2015

Although Jennifer Knievel had planned to be a writer, her love of libraries led her down an unexpected career path. Today, Knievel is director of arts and humanities at CU-Boulder’s Norlin Library.

While earning a degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing, she took a part time job in a university library as a shelver. Knievel soon realized she was called to the library profession. Now she can’t imagine doing anything else.

Knievel, an associate professor, manages the librarians who oversee the arts and humanities collections and also teaches students how to use library resources.

“I discovered I really felt at home in a library,” said Knievel, who went on to receive a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Libraries are special places, not just because of the books they contain, but also the opportunities they provide for students to be with other students, to connect with librarians, to ask questions, and to study.”

Much of a librarian’s job involves using technology to find and share information that can’t be found in books, which makes librarians as relevant and in demand as ever, even in the age of online search engines. Electronic data bases, news archives, technical catalogs, virtual encyclopedias, and blog indexes are just some of the information resources with which librarians must be familiar.

“We still answer questions,” said Knievel, “but the questions are completely different than they used to be. Recently a student wanted resources on where to learn about the ethics of purchasing processed foods.  Some librarians don’t like Google, but I love Google. What I’m here to do is help students figure out where to go for the things Google is not good at.

“I have a 10-minute rule,” she said. “If students can’t find what they want, ask me, because my purpose in being on campus is to make the students’ lives easier and to make them more successful.”

Just because something is online, however, does not mean it’s always accurate or easy to find.

Knievel helped a researcher find an article that was cited in another article. After an exhaustive search following convoluted leads, she discovered that the reference had been incorrectly cited in a number of articles. Once she learned that, Knievel was able to find the original article.

“You have to be a little intuitive sometimes,” she said. “We have a phrase for that—‘information literacy.’ For example, lots of quotes get attributed to Einstein that he didn’t actually say. When someone wants me to search for a quote, most of the time he didn’t say it.”

One of the reasons Knievel enjoys working in Norlin Library is because of the “quirkiness” of the building. Its interesting architectural details and floors that don’t match imbue Norlin with what she jokingly refers to as a “bit of a Hogwarts personality.”

With a demanding job in academia, Knievel, a Colorado native, balances being a wife, mother of an 8-year-old son and outside activities by being exceptionally organized, particularly with her email.  

“My system doesn’t help me get everything done,” she said, “because it does not create more hours in the day, but it allows me to choose which things to do.”

A ballet dancer for many years, now her dance of choice is weekly ballroom dancing with her husband, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

“Dancing is a whole other side of me,” she said. “It’s a way to express the happiness in my heart. The music and the dancing bring me joy.”

Knievel draws on her religious faith for strength and inspiration. Hanging on a wall in her lavender office is a list of qualities that make people happy. One of them is saying thank you in writing, which she has taken to heart.

“My priest once asked me if I try to make the world a better place when I’m at work,” she said. “I may not make the whole planet a better place, because that’s not something I have the power to do. But I do have the power to make the library and the university a better place.”