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Sunday Artist, Monday Librarian: Sandra Herber

Sandra HerberSandra Herber is a super talented photographer. She also happens to work at a [sort of, kind of] sister institution to where I work. She also took a course I taught in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies a bunch of years ago. Which is to say that I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with Sandra, virtually and in real space, many times in the last few years. However, it was only when we connected on Facebook and Flickr that I really got exposed to Sandra’s creative output and I’ve been marveling at everything she captures ever since. Sandra was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions about how she manages the fine balance between being a Sunday Artist, Monday Librarian.

Oh and pro tip: you’re going to want to click on the images below to see the larger versions of Sandra’s photos (they’re stunning).

Thanks for doing this, Sandra! To kick things off, can you tell us about your day job?

I’m the Liaison Librarian for Business, Early Childhood Education and Family & Community Social Services at the University of Guelph-Humber, and have been since early 2011. This is my first position as a librarian; I got my MLIS in 2010. Librarianship is a third career for me – after business (marketing) and teaching (high school) – and I think it’s a very good fit. I can’t see a fourth career in my future!

Compelling, by Sandra Herber

Compelling, by Sandra Herber

Whew! Happy to hear librarianship gets to keep you. But let’s talk about your work behind the lens!I am continually delighted by the photographs you post on Facebook — you’re an amazing photographer. Could you tell us a bit more about your work? How you got started, what inspires you, your favourite subjects, that sort of thing.

What a lovely thing to say, Amanda. I have been taking photographs for a long time but wasn’t really very good at it until recently. In high school I actually had a darkroom in our basement at home, but my pictures were horrible. : ) I got back into photography about 10 or 12 years ago when I started taking photo workshops. Taking workshops with inspiring and accomplished photographers improved my work, but the biggest growth in my photography came when I connected with other photographers (mostly through social media) who shot regularly and suddenly I was shooting almost every weekend, instead of only twice a year on holiday. With regular practice and the support of those photographer friends, I really saw my photography improving and now it’s become a huge part of my life.

These days I try to shoot to a project. For instance, I’ve been working for two summers on a photo project on old, abandoned Prairie grain elevators, so that would be a favourite subject, but I shoot general landscapes, too. As for techniques, I process mostly in black and white and I’m addicted to long exposure photography (I use filters to prolong the exposure time – sometimes to 2, 3, or even 10 minutes long).

Dankin B, by Sandra Herber

Dankin B, by Sandra Herber

I’m glad you brought up techniques. I’d love to explore that some more, particularly with respect to the creative process. I’m thoroughly fascinated by the creative process and how artists come to create what they do. Can you tell me more about your practice? How do you fit it into your life? What does your creative process look like?

I’ll answer the easiest question first – how do I fit photography into my life? The answer is ‘not very well’. There was a period of a couple of years where I connected with a wonderful community of photographers in Detroit and I visited often and took photographs regularly, but these days I mostly only take photographs on vacation and those, obviously for an academic liaison librarian, mostly take place in the summer. That leaves long periods when I don’t even pick up my camera. I’m in one of those barren periods right now and it can be quite demoralizing. I would love to find a project which inspires me and which is located close to home, but I haven’t managed to do that yet.

As I said, I’ve been working for 2 summers now on a photo project on old, abandoned grain elevators in Alberta and Saskatchewan. I saw some images another (very good) photographer had taken of those elevators and that’s what got me started. But then, as I did some research into the history of the elevators, how at one time the were everywhere in the Prairies, what they meant to local communities and how they have slowly disappeared, I began to feel that the project had become my own. I need to connect to my subject in some way. I think that’s vital to my inspiration. On my first visit to Detroit with some friends, we had a fellow photographer show us around for the weekend. Over meals and while travelling from site to site, we talked with him about his experiences with the city and I was completely riveted by his stories about the city, his love for it and his lived experience there. I felt more connected to what I was shooting than if I’d just driven in, photographed it, and left. Since then, I’ve been back many times and find the city incredibly fascinating and compelling.

Fusilier, by Sandra Herber

Fusilier, by Sandra Herber

I love that concept of connecting with your subjects. Which brings me back to your work and this notion of influence. Does your practice as a photographer influence your work as a librarian? And vice versa, does your work as a librarian influence your practice?

I’m not sure that my photography influences my work as a librarian. I do think the reverse is true, though, as I mentioned that I do love the research that comes before a trip – learning the history of a place or even just finding sites to visit and photograph and best times of day (or night) to shoot. I will put hours of research into a trip and, to me, that’s part of the joy of it.

Driftwood, by Sandra Herber

Driftwood, by Sandra Herber

So speaking of trips, one of the things I most look forward to from you is seeing where you’re heading next to shoot! Your art has taken you to all sorts of cool places and the images you share from those places are always stunning. Can you talk a bit about your travels as a photographer? How did you get into it? How do you fit it into your work life?

Travelling somewhere for photography is how I do most of my photography these days. These trips are a complete immersion. Except for eating and sleeping (and sometimes not much of either of those) I’m photographing or travelling to sites I want to photograph all day. Holidays aren’t relaxing for me, they’re strenuous, sometimes exhausting, but the immersion in a place and into photography takes me away from the everyday, the mundane and I love it.

Skogafoss, by Sandra Herber

Skógafoss, by Sandra Herber

I think my travel exclusively for photography started with workshops. Over 10 years ago I started taking photo workshops located in some wonderfully exotic places – places like southern Ethiopia or northern India (Ladakh) or Cuba. They were immersive processes. Everyone on the trip was a photographer, we talked about photography constantly and the the goal of every day was to photograph non-stop. Now that I’m more restricted by my job as to when I can travel (summers, maybe December) there aren’t so many workshops I can take anymore, so I do these trips on my own – recently to Iceland or Maine or Saskatchewan. On occasion, though, I still love doing workshops to learn new skills – like the night photography workshop I did this year in Utah. What a great experience that was.

Perfect segue into my last question! As you’ve noted, and as I’ve heard many times, it’s tough to balance the day job and the art you are compelled to create on the side. Are you happy with the balance you’ve struck between working your day job and your photography practice? Do you ever dream of quitting your day job and being a full-time photographer?

The answer to both questions is ‘no’. I find myself unhappy with the balance between photography and my day job – I often wish I could be travelling and photographing in the fall or at other times, other than the summer and December break, but as a liaison librarian that just isn’t possible. On the other hand, I would never consider being a full-time photographer. Photography is something I do for the sheer joy of it. I think if I tried to make a living from it, it would take a lot of the joy out of it for me. So, this is the compromise I make – my job allows me time (and money) to travel and photograph and I only travel when my job allows it.

Monument Valley, by Sandra Herber

Monument Valley, by Sandra Herber


Sunday Artist, Monday LibrarianBig thanks to Sandra for taking the time to do this! You’d do well to follow Sandra on Flickr to keep up with her beautiful work and  interesting travels. And, don’t forget to get in touch if you, too, are balancing the joys of being a Sunday Artist, Monday Librarian!

Sunday Artist, Monday Librarian: Erin Dorney

Erin DorneyWhen I first decided to follow through on this idea to interview artist/librarians about their work, it took all of one hot minute for me to type out an email to Erin Dorney asking if she’d be willing to chat with me. Erin’s and my virtual orbits have happily collided many times, which has resulted in everything from Twitter exchanges about library-related stuff, to me dreamily admiring Erin’s erasure poetry on Instagram. So I was thoroughly delighted when she said yes to answering a few questions for this edition of Sunday Artist, Monday Librarian.

Let’s start with your day job, Erin. Could you tell me a bit about what you do?
For the past six years I have worked as the Outreach Librarian at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, coordinating library marketing communications. Over those six years I also did a lot of work on our library renovation project, which was really fun. It was a tenure-track position right out of grad school, and I was awarded tenure effective fall 2013 (huzzah!). However, for the 2014-2015 academic year I am on a leave of absence from my job in academia to pursue other projects. I recently started working part-time for a local organic market doing event coordination, social media, and marketing (along with working in the café and store).

You’re a pretty accomplished poet, which is so awesome. Could you share a bit more about your work? How you got started, what inspires you, that sort of thing.

"Lint", Erin Dorney. Published in The Fox Chase Review.

“Lint”, Erin Dorney. Published in The Fox Chase Review.

Thank you! I have always been a writer, but I got more serious about poetry and sending work out for consideration while I was working on my MA in English from West Chester University. My work has been a little bit more experimental lately, since learning about publishers like theNewerYork and developing a strong writing community. I write mostly free-verse poems grounded in my own experiences but sometimes play with elements of short fiction and stream of consciousness.

I’ve done a lot of found poetry in the last year or two, where I take elements that exist in the world and remix them into poems. For example, I just had some erasure poems published by Silver Birch Press that were sourced from media interviews with Shia LaBeouf. For erasure poems, you take the original source text and remove words to make your poem. Punctuation, capitalization, and line breaks can be altered but no words can be added.

Erasure poem sourced from a page of the script from the pilot of Breaking Bad

Erasure poem sourced from a page of the script from the pilot of Breaking Bad, Erin Dorney.

I’m actually working on a manuscript of poems sourced from LaBeouf’s interviews, in response to his recent performances/statements regarding intellectual property stemming from the controversy over plagiarism in his own work. The pieces are explorations into ideas of ownership, remixing, and copyright in art and writing. I love exploring what “literature” could be through my writing. What makes a poem a poem? Is a list of items displayed on a dot matrix display sign inside of a small town diner a poem? Are rearranged phrases from an episode of the television show Chopped a poem? I want to know how far I can take things, and I haven’t yet found the point of no return.

So cool! I love that you keep pushing those boundaries! Which brings to mind the question of “how”. As in, what does your creative process look like? How do you fit it into your life? Can you tell me more about your practice?

"Song in Young Birds", Erin Dorney. Published in Painted Bride Quarterly.

“Song in Young Birds”, Erin Dorney. Published in Painted Bride Quarterly.

Right now I don’t have a schedule. I don’t get up at the crack of dawn and write for two hours or anything like that, although I have tried to get into this habit time and time again. I fit writing in anytime I can. I have a notebook with me at all times to record ideas. My partner is also a writer and we have a weekly workshop that keeps us on task in terms of generating new work and editing. I also have a writing group of about eight people and we meet monthly to do workshops and write together (shout out AYN!). I work best with deadlines, so I need that strong writing community to keep me accountable. If I’m ever feeling like I’m in a rut, I switch genres a little bit. For example, I’m about to embark on a series of personal essays reflecting on how my life has changed (my health, my finances, my friendships) since taking a leave of absence from work. It all counts; every word strengthens your craft a little bit more.

How does your poetry influence your work as a librarian? And vice versa, how does your work as a librarian influence your poetry?

Blackout poem by Erin Dorney published in Girls Get Busy #21

Blackout poem by Erin Dorney published in Girls Get Busy #21.

I asked these same questions in an article I published with In The Library With The Lead Pipe back in February. Long answer, check there. My short answer is that I couldn’t be the poet I am today if I hadn’t become a librarian. And I couldn’t have fulfilled my responsibilities as a librarian without creativity, curiosity, and mastery of the written word. Both fields have allowed me to explore boundaries and reflect on the world in different ways.

Fair enough. So do you see any points of intersection between your work as a librarian and your art?
Beyond the fact that they both deal with language and publishing, I don’t see a ton of intersection. I do see a correlation between my library advocacy for open access and creative commons and my experimentation with repurposing existing material through found poetry.

And finally, are you happy with the balance you’ve struck between working your day job and being a poet? Do you dream of someday quitting your day job and being a full-time poet?

"Never", Erin Dorney. Published in The Ash Tree Journal.

“Never”, Erin Dorney. Published in The Ash Tree Journal.

That last part made me laugh out loud, to be honest. I don’t personally know any poets who could survive on poetry alone. Maybe the big names out there with publishing contracts. This leave of absence from my job as a librarian is an experiment. I’m taking more time for self-care, focusing on projects that I’m passionate about, and waiting to see how everything else is going to shake out.


Sunday Artist, Monday LibrarianHuge thanks to Erin for taking the time to do this! I thoroughly enjoyed exploring more of her work and hearing about how she fits it into her life. If you’d like to keep up with Erin’s awesome boundary-pushing poetry, check out her website and follow her on Twitter. Here’s to a rewarding and rejuvenating leave, Erin!

And remember, if you’re a Sunday Artist, Monday Librarian, (or know someone who is), ping me! I’d love to chat.