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Chase Ollis ’11

Welcome to week 6 of our summer blog series in which we highlight some of the amazing Furman University alumni who have chosen careers within the library and information science professions. You can view previous blog posts in this series here.

This week we are featuring Chase Ollis who graduated from Furman in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in English and communication studies. In 2017 he graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a master’s in library and information science. Ollis currently serves as a program officer for professional development with the American Library Association.

Tell us a little bit about how you chose to work as a library and information professional?

“It actually started with the atomic bomb and a cartoon about a sponge living in a pineapple under the sea.  I had been a circulation student assistant at Furman since freshman year, but had never really seen myself as a librarian beyond that. But during my senior year at Furman, I was conducting research for my thesis paper in Dr. Tevis’s “Atomic Frontier” class. My topic focused on the use of atomic imagery in children’s programming during and after the Cold War (e.g. Disney’s “Our Friend the Atom” versus Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants”) and what effect that use has had on children’s perspectives concerning the bomb. I won’t entertain you with the details, but essentially, programs like “Our Friend the Atom” educated children on the power of the atom, while newer programs like “SpongeBob” purposefully make them laugh at the kitschy sight of a mushroom cloud. During the project, I checked out a total of 42 books from the library and through ILL, and virtually swam through EBSCOhost prowling for references, all to try and understand why I would laugh when I saw the underwater town of Bikini Bottom be obliterated by real government footage of a nuclear test explosion. My project resulted in one of my finest pieces of work to this day, and while I had done plenty of research projects prior to this, it truly solidified in me an enjoyment for discovery.”

What has been your professional path to your current position?

“I started at ALA/ACRL as a Program Coordinator in September 2013, and began library school soon after in summer of 2014, where I attended part-time for three years. Prior to joining ALA, I was a circulation supervisor at Northwestern University’s law library for two years, which was my first job after moving to Chicago.  In addition to my work at ALA, I have also been serving for two years as a volunteer librarian and exhibit curator at the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives in Chicago, the largest library and archives in the Midwest specifically serving the LGBTQ community. Here, in addition to providing reference services, I have helped curate and design exhibits covering the history of drag in Chicago, telling the story of the Gay Liberation movement, and examining queer activism at the margins of identity in the 1990s.”

What is the most interesting library in which you’ve worked?

“Absolutely the Gerber/Hart. It’s a different kind of atmosphere than any other library I’ve really ever been in (fewer patrons, more research, and certainly the most interesting collection I’ve ever dealt with closely). Our physical space is on the second floor of an LGBTQ health clinic on the far north side of the city, and our collection is made up entirely of donations. Look in our archives and you’ll find so many fun treasures – photos of the infamous mid-century drag queen Tillie “The Dirty Old Lady of Chicago,” full outfits and accessories from other drag stars, vinyl records from LGBTQ artists, gay-themed board games, original copies of rare underground zines and newspapers, and so much more.”

What is something you have been surprised by during your career?

“How much I enjoy getting to do what I do, and how work doesn’t feel like work much of the time. I don’t normally take work home with me, but I enjoy talking to anyone willing to lend an ear about libraries and their place in society, and am constantly thinking how we can make a larger impact by demonstrating the value of libraries and helping people understand why they’re more important today than ever before.  Also, I never imagined I’d get to dance with the Librarian of Congress backstage at a conference then be invited to her office on the library’s roof, or get to ride on a giant metal snail mobile with flames shooting out of its head, or hold an original Shakespeare folio, but it’s all happened because of where I’ve been fortunate enough to land in my career!”

Is there a particularly fond memory from your time at Furman that you would be willing to share?

“Many of my favorite moments at Furman happened behind the JBD circulation desk, where I made some of my best friends for life and had the best bosses (Robyn and Jimmy!). It would be so hard to pick a favorite, but I always loved being able to talk to them about whatever was happening in my life and where life was taking me as a student. I learned so much from them and don’t think I’d be where I am today without them.  I did love being able to ride my scooter around the library telling people we were closing, though.”