Librarianship master’s student driven to serve
By Jessi Loerch
For Maina Gachugu, his path to the University of Washington Information School was winding, but it began with his unshakable belief in the importance of an education.
Inspired by his father’s devotion to learning, Gachugu always knew he would go to college, but figuring out what to study was harder. He attended community college while working full time and considering his next steps.
Many of his family members were teachers, but he’d been resistant to the idea for himself. After trying a few different areas of study, none of which were quite right, Gachugu realized that teaching would allow him to nurture his love of learning, while also working closely with people.
After earning his teaching certificate, Gachugu moved to Kent, Washington, for a job at an elementary school. He fell in love with the multicultural community of his school, where many of his students are refugees and more than 30 languages are spoken.
Gachugu found that outreach to families was a large part of his job. He helped families sign up for email, directed them to free resources for their kids, and pointed them toward information about citizenship. He realized that his passion was truly in community.
“My job is to help my community tap into their infinite potential,” he said.
He wanted to pursue a master’s degree and, after a lot of research and thinking, realized that school librarian would be an ideal position. He was thrilled to discover the iSchool’s online Master of Library and Information Science, which would allow him to keep his job but was nearby so he could use the campus resources.
Gachugu has found his coursework enlightening and challenging. He’s worked with a team, led by Senior Principal Research Scientist Chris Coward and Associate Professor Jin Ha Lee, on efforts to combat misinformation by creating an escape room, and he contributed to a read-in for Black History Month. He struggled with imposter syndrome at first, but these projects and his studies helped him gain confidence.
Over time, especially with the pandemic, Gachugu started to worry more about finances. He took extra jobs and considered pausing his studies. Then, however, he was awarded the Genevieve C. Cobb Scholarship for Library and Information Science. His partner, who he says is his rock and he could never have gotten through this without, threw him a celebratory dinner, and they both cried in joy.
“I was so touched and so humbled by the scholarship,” he said. “Working side jobs was exhausting. … The scholarship allowed me to take a huge deep breath. It gave me the gift of time, which is so precious.”
Gachugu said his time at the iSchool has expanded his view of librarianship while also giving him a wider view of the world.
“It really opened my eyes to a lot of things — especially social justice, even with my educational training and growing up as a Black male,” he said. “It was relieving to be part of a program that put that as a priority.”
He’s already bringing what he’s learned into his classroom. And he’s excited to do that even more after he graduates. While Gachugu still thinks K-12 school librarian would be the ideal position for him, he’s seen other options that fit his interests. He’s particularly intrigued by the idea of working as a community college librarian or doing outreach for a public library.
“Doing outreach, you can harness and leverage the power of the community while also giving them the resources they are seeking,” he said. “As an educator, I direct so many parents to the library. I would love to be on the other side of that recommendation.”