Of the People

Of the People

For many alumni, government careers offer the best opportunity to serve

By Alexis Grant '03 | Photos by Fred Field

The Nation's Librarian

When Cheryl Adams '79 first moved to Washington, she would sit in the Library of Congress thumbing through the phone book just to be in the beautiful main reading room.

Now she works there as a reference librarian, but her awe of the magnificence of the room hasn't subsided. The 160-foot-high dome was built in 1897, she said, gesturing toward the eight stained-glass windows high above the room.

Cheryl Adams ‰79
Photo by Fred Field
Working in such a picturesque place is just one of the perks of being a librarian, Adams said. Every day she combs through books assisting people with their research——and adds to her own knowledge. "There's nothing you can't be curious about,— said Adams, who lives in Falls Church, Va. "It's like having this incredible wealth around you at all times.—

When there's a question she can't answer, there's a gold mine of resources, she said. "I don't know if I'm an expert on anything, but I can certainly find out [anything].—

Soft-spoken, Adams might be pegged for a librarian even outside her workplace. The profession has appealed to her since she was a child. "I used to make my sister take out my books and I'd fine her when she'd bring them back [late],— she said, adding that she was an avid reader as a child.

Adams's reference specialty is religion—something she didn't expect, despite her religion major at Colby. Take a look around her office space and her passion for the subject is obvious: a makeshift shrine of miniature religious figures sits in one corner and a Tibetan prayer flag is draped from the ceiling.

Despite—or perhaps because of—her work in religion, Adams doesn't practice a particular faith. She grew up Lutheran and now has a strong interest in Buddhism, but doesn't consider herself Buddhist, she said.

Growing up in Buffalo, N.Y. and Portland, Maine, she earned a master's in library science in the mid-80s. "Nobody was a religion major back then,— said Adams, who spent her junior year studying religion in England and biked across the United States after graduation.

Now in her 18th year working at the Library of Congress, Adams is a member of the American Theological Library Association and, like many of her colleagues, teaches a research-methods class and a special course for seminary faculty and students. "People come looking for everything from their favorite book as a kid to something very complicated,— she said. The most popular inquiries in her division, humanities and social sciences, are about military history, family history, and politics and government. With her help, the public gains access to resources that help them answer their questions, Adams said.

"I feel very lucky,— she said, "to really love what I do.—