In Support of Digital Literacy: Meet Senior Reference Librarian Eleonora Moccia
Born in Southern Italy and raised near Milan, Eleonora Moccia is Senior Reference and Instruction Librarian at JCU, where she has been working since 2011. During her time at JCU, she has organized many digital literacy and digital humanities initiatives. Eleonora recently collaborated with the Italian Library Association (AIB) to organize a workshop for librarians on creating digital collections in libraries.
Tell us about your background.
I moved to Rome to go to college when I was 19. I never left, since I feel the Eternal City is “my” only place, with its history, art, culture, and beauty. I feel like I’m living in the movie The Great Beauty, but I think I am less melancholy and more joyful than the protagonist. My entire educational background is Italian: I have a degree in Classics from Sapienza University of Rome, then I earned a master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Siena and soon started my career as a librarian.
I have been lucky enough to work in a few different libraries, from a very large one like the The Central National Library of Rome (Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma) to very small ones like the library of a convent near the Colosseum. My first full-time job was at an international school in Rome, where the middle and high school library needed to be created, organized, and made available to students. At the beginning of my second year in that library, a colleague told me about a vacancy at the John Cabot University library, so I applied and a few months later I got the job.
Tell us about your role in supporting digital literacy and digital humanities initiatives at JCU.
It is not easy to foster developments in this direction without a dedicated center, which many other universities nowadays have. However, when professionals are passionate about their work, a lot can be accomplished even without dedicated resources. After a few years, now there seems to be some interest in digital humanities. I am convinced, though, that a difference could be made if we were able to implement initiatives such as a digital portfolio for students to showcase the digital skills they acquire throughout their academic career, a digital competency framework to act as a reference context for all individual projects, and at a more advanced stage, an incubator lab, where all community members could participate or even design new digital humanities projects.
You recently collaborated with the Italian Library Association (AIB) to organize a workshop for librarians about creating digital collections in libraries. Tell us about it.
Since 2018, I have been working with our English Department’s faculty in order to introduce digital literacy and digital pedagogy to the classroom. We worked on projects that involved the use of a digital platform called Omeka.net. It is free and helps create digital collections with items that can be organized in the form of virtual exhibits. I took a one-month online course in August 2018 to learn how to use it, and since then I have been training instructors, students, and fellow librarians. A few months ago, I read about digital archive projects in Italy and there was a mention of Omeka, so I thought I could share my knowledge and experience with any interested librarian in Italy. I got in touch with the person who coordinates all training initiatives on behalf of the regional association, and together we designed an online three-session workshop, which I was excited to deliver in mid-March. I am very lucky to work in an American institution because I have access to many professional development opportunities.
You’re Reference and Instruction Librarian at JCU. What advice would you give to students conducting research in the Frohring Library?
My advice to students is to never stop at the surface of a piece of news, a concept, or an event, but to always try and go more in-depth, identify the first source of information they were exposed to, and look for other sources to make sure it is not something fake, wrong, or incomplete.
What are the challenges and the rewards of being a librarian at an American university in Rome?
A big part of my job consists of meeting library patrons’ needs, and in order to do that, I have to be able to understand them well. I think working in English is the first challenge, as well as supporting students (and faculty) with their academic activities, which involves the need to keep myself constantly up to date. This entails learning about useful new resources and searching strategies, field literature and innovative methodologies, and technological tools and trends. Moreover, I love being able to use a foreign language in my everyday work, which is not so common, and building relationships with young people is exciting and helps me feel young.
In a world growing increasingly digital, what is the role of libraries and books?
To contain, share, and transmit knowledge. Information can be found in a manuscript or a papyrus, in a print book or an e-book, in a podcast, or in a blog post. In short, there are still skills that are needed to be able to retrieve and reuse information and, together with it, knowledge, and libraries and librarians can help anyone with this learning process.
What are three books you think everyone should read and why?
Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose) by Umberto Eco. One can like the story or not, but since it is a difficult read, it may give readers a sense of how much they need to hone their reading skills. Plus, it provides an interesting historical account of the Middle Ages.
L’onda opposta (The Opposite Wave) by Paolo Beccegato and Patrizia Caiffa. It tells the fictional story of a group of Italians who migrate to Africa, in an unexpectedly opposite perspective of the timely migration theme. It helps the reader reflect on how lucky and blessed those who were born on the “right side” of the planet are.
L’amico ritrovato (Reunion) by Fred Uhlman. It’s a moving story of a great friendship, set in Nazi Germany. Again, a novel dealing with an important part of our past, and with topics inspiring profound reflection.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I would like everyone to discover the pleasure of reading, so I would tell them, especially young people, to take a break from social media every now and then, come to the library and check out a book. That might become the most surprising and unexpected experience ever. To fans of the digital, I would say an e-book is definitely a good choice as well.