National Library Week 2024: Q&A with CUL Staff

From top left to right: Wei Yin, Ben Chiewphasa, Arjay Velasco, and Jess Noble

In recognition of National Library Week (April 7-13), we’re highlighting just a few of the librarians and experts that make up an incredible team of staff who keep our libraries running. Wei Yin, Ben Chiewphasa, Arjay Velasco, and Jess Noble give us a glimpse into their day-to-day tasks, what inspired them to pursue careers in libraries, and the most rewarding parts of working at Columbia Libraries. 

Q: What is your role in the Libraries?
Wei: I am the Research Support and Data Services Librarian of Research Data Services (RDS) in the Department of Digital Scholarship at Columbia University Libraries.

Ben: I’m the Social Sciences and Policy Librarian. In this role, I engage with a diverse body of faculty and students through information literacy instruction, research support, and collection development across the School of International and Public Affairs and several social science departments.

Arjay: I work as a Bibliographic Assistant V in the Delivery Services department in Butler Library.

Jess: I am the Web Services and User Experience Librarian.

Q: What does your typical day entail?
Wei: My daily work is to provide data reference (mostly numeric data-related) and data consultation (mostly related to research questions using data analysis tools such as Excel/R/Stata/SPSS). I also provide data workshops and instruction, and help catalog some Libraries-licensed numeric datasets to make sure current affiliates can access them through CLIO.

Ben: Throughout a typical day, I generally tackle a lot of email–the majority being social sciences-related reference questions. I also help students or faculty with their information needs via scheduled one-on-one or group meetings. On some days, I provide (and prep for) class instruction, workshops, and/or orientations for specific programs and departments. A typical day can also include collection development duties such as assessing or acting upon resource purchase recommendations.

Arjay: In Delivery Services, we process all the incoming and outgoing materials for many of the Libraries’ popular services, including Interlibrary Loan, Borrow Direct, Scan and Deliver, and the pick-up service. A typical day can encompass book retrieval, book scanning, shipment preparations, and customer service.

Jess: While my days can vary depending on the project I am working on, there are some common themes. As I work on the websites with the Web Services and Communications teams, I make sure that the content is laid out and linked together in a way that is usable and accessible. Sometimes, this is a bit like archaeology, digging into areas of the website created at different times and analyzing data about how people use the site, how it has changed over time, and how to best present that information going forward.

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in libraries, whether it be becoming a librarian and/or earning a degree?
Wei: I was a Ph.D. student who was on the job market and never thought I could be a librarian (because I don’t have a library degree) until I read my current position’s job post online by chance. I suddenly realized it was a good match with my skill set (familiarity of various data sources, quantitative social science methodologies, several data analysis tools, some programming skills, and research and teaching experiences). Then I applied for this job and luckily I got it!

Ben: While finishing up my graduate degree in anthropology at the University of Montana, I took on an academic library job as a cataloger for government documents and maps. I initially saw the opportunity as a means to an end–earning some additional money while temporarily gaining work experience related to cultural heritage. However, I stuck on, progressed, and became more and more fascinated by the intricacies in making information and data accessible, findable, and understandable. It also helped that I had fantastic mentors who recommended that I pursue librarianship!

Arjay: My inspiration for pursuing my MLIS was a mixture of personal growth and professional development. 

Jess: Before I became a librarian, I used to design sets and costumes for theater, and I’d always start by using libraries to research the context and time period of each show. The more I researched, the more I became curious about what gets collected in libraries and how it is organized.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of working at the Libraries?
Wei: Intellectual stimulation from both Libraries colleagues and patrons. It’s my pleasure to work with people from diverse backgrounds with fantastic critical and creative thinking skills. I enjoy receiving challenging, cutting-edge data questions from colleagues and library patrons, which are sometimes questions I’d never thought about or heard before. This requires me to do some in-depth research before I can start discussing them and provide any suggestions or feedback from my professional perspective. When people express their appreciation for my help, I also feel grateful that I am able to learn a lot from those intellectual interactions.

Ben: Working with faculty and students to get to their “a-ha!” moments for projects when they might have originally felt discouraged or lost. I love it when these folks feel more confident and garner newfound excitement about navigating their information needs.

Arjay: It’s always nice to get an email of gratitude from our patrons who let us know how the services we provide have been invaluable in their academic pursuits.

Jess: People in Columbia Libraries are so skilled and knowledgeable in such a variety of ways. They are really a fascinating group to work with.

Q: What’s the best kept secret about Columbia’s libraries?
Wei: I usually have my in-person data references, consultations, and workshops in 215 Lehman (my team’s current base). For many library patrons, that’s their first time visiting this room and/or Lehman Social Science Library!

Ben: Our Schedule a Library Instruction Session service. A library instruction session is not just about demoing a database/tool, but it’s an intentional collaboration: we work with faculty and teaching assistants who request instruction to ensure that a session’s learning outcomes effectively sync up with specific course assignments or overarching competencies.

Arjay: It’s not a secret per se, but not many people know that you can get a free subscription to The New York Times using your Columbia University email. 

Jess: Have you seen the graphic novel collection in Butler? There are so many interesting books in the collection that are great for visual inspiration or just to enjoy a good story.

Q: Give a shout-out to a fellow Libraries staff member for National Library Week! Which Columbia colleagues help make your day-to-day work enjoyable?
Wei: I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my RDS colleagues who I work with on a daily basis. My teammates are always willing to help and very knowledgeable in very niche data aspects. Feel free to send any research data questions to And you are also welcome to meet us in person in 215 Lehman! 

Ben: I’ve recently been collaborating with librarians across many units to pilot a workshop (called “Breaking Barriers to Knowledge Sharing: A Zine Workshop”) and produce accompanying instructional materials. It’s been a really fun project thanks to the awesomeness of these individuals: Rebecca Dent (Law Library), Esther Jackson (Digital Scholarship), Ava Kaplan (Gottesman Libraries at Teachers College), Fannie Ouyang (Barnard Library), Nickeisha Pencil (Science, Engineering, and Social Sciences Libraries), and Kathryn Pope (Digital Scholarship).

Arjay: I want to give a shout out to my friend, Vianca Victor, who is the Collection Management Archivist at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Anyone who works in RBML will agree that she’s an indispensable asset to the daily operations there. 

Jess: I’m working on a project with Bonnie Gordon, the Special Collections Analyst for DLST, and she’s been a really great collaborator and guide through the Archival Collections systems.

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