Sarah Christensen has lived in Champaign-Urbana for almost ten years. She works for the University Library at the U of I, and is responsible for some really cool events that happen in our community each year. We recently sat down and chatted about a lot more than books.
Smile Politely: What does inclusive community mean to you?
Sarah Christensen: An environment where everyone feels supportive and valid. Everyone’s needs are being considered in relation to the broader scheme of things.
SP: Where are you employed and what is your role?
Christensen: I work for the University of Illinois Libraries. One half of my job is visual resources. I help people incorporate visuals into their research and readings. The other half is in events and engagement. I get to plan really fun events for public.
SP: What’s your favorite part about working for the U of I Libraries?
Christensen: All fun events I get to plan. I love that the library gives me freedom to be creative. I’m able to have an idea and run with it.
SP: How do you build your idea of inclusive community into your work?
Christensen: By listening to people and gathering feedback. I think it's important to provide an opportunity for that and I intentionally incorporate feedback I receive into the next events.
SP: What’s the next skill you want to learn?
Christensen: I guess I’d like to work on soft skills. I want to be a better communicator and not ramble when I’m talking. As far as hard skills, I want to learn how to make books. You can make books in many different sorts of formats. I like the creativity that goes into it. A few weeks ago I was even looking into a book made out of cheese!
SP: Can people become more involved in library events?
Christensen: Go to library events! I’m also open to new ideas from people. It’s fun to collaborate with people in planning things.
SP: What are some of the community events the University Library puts on each year?
Christensen: There are so many! There are 30 libraries and each does their own programming. I’ll tell you about some of my favorites. One large event in the Fall is the Human Library at the Pygmalion Festival. At the Human Library, people volunteer as “books” that can be checked out for a 10 minute conversation about their identified topic. It's a different way for people to learn about things. We also have the Edible Book Festival. That’s one of my favorites because it incorporates some of my favorite things: puns, cake, and books. People who enter recreate a representation of a book they like using food. We just had the Small Press Fest, which involves zines and DIY books. Its a chance for these authors to have their voices heard and share their creative and beautiful works.
SP: What advice would you give to someone who wants to become more involved in building a better C-U community?
Christensen: It’s important to be a part of the community. Show up to things that are happening around you and learn what goes on already. Find out what’s missing or not being represented and how you can contribute.
SP: Beyond your work at the University Library, are there ways you’re involved in building community during your personal time?
Christensen: I’m in CLAW (Champaign Ladies Amateur Wrestling). It’s a great way to show you care because it’s built into CLAW’s mission that the organization should support the community and fundraise for various groups. I also foster dogs, but taking a break from that right now because I currently have two dogs of my own, Ghost and Ben.
SP: How would you describe yourself?
Christensen: That’s always a tough question. I’m a curious person. I like to try new things and have new experiences. I guess people would probably say that I’m compassionate and a funny dog lady. Actually that’s probably the number one thing people associate with me — dogs!
SP: Are you from C-U? If not, where were you born?
Christensen: I’m from the Boston area. I’ve also lived in Hawaii, when I was working on a cruise ship. But I’ll have lived in C-U for nine years this July.
SP: Do you have a personal model who inspires you?
Christensen: My friend Lindsey. She’s someone who always goes above and beyond. That’s just normal for her. Lindsey is the kind of person who will give you a ride to the airport and then packs you a lunch for you to eat on your flight, too.
SP: What is your favorite movie?
Christensen: I tend to like movies where animals are the stars. Movies like Black Stallion and Free Willy. I probably watched that movie like 1000 times as a kid.
SP: What kind of music do you like to listen to?
Christensen: Pretty much everything. I still have a classic iPod. I guess I don’t like change. My favorite bands are classics, like the Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, and Guns N’ Roses.
SP: What’s your favorite food and your favorite drink?
Christensen: S'mores! Because they can be anything! S'more pizza, s'more tacos, and cupcakes! I really like the mango flavored La Croix, and good bourbon.
SP: What’s your favorite restaurant in Champaign-Urbana?
Christensen: Some of my favorite restaurants have closed, like Yellow Fin. And The Cookie Jar was a restaurant, right? My Thai is my favorite Thai place. They make it extra spicy for me. I like food that makes me cry.
SP: What do you do in your free time?
Christensen: I like gardening and am happy that it's getting warmer. I train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu four days a week. I also like hang out with my dogs. They require a lot of TLC and upkeep.
SP: Was there a defining moment that made you decide to be a librarian?
Christensen: For a while, I really wanted to be a pastry chef. I really love cake! I also thought about working at a museum. My mom kept telling me that I should be a librarian, but I didn’t realize all the great things librarians do at the time. I love doing research and helping people with projects. I think that everyone should have equal access to information. That’s important.
Sarah and I have many things in common. A couple of those being our love of s'mores and dogs! I liked talking with her and learning more about the cool events she gets to work on.
Now off to find this book made out of cheese . . .