From Kenya to Washington: Meet iSchool Alumna Leah Hannaford

Hannaford-01Can one sentence change a life? Spark a career? Leah Hannaford, the resident Open Education Librarian at Centralia College in Washington, is proof that it can.

Now an alumna of the School of Information, Hannaford’s journey towards librarianship started in Africa. In the Army for eight years, the staff sergeant was deployed to the Horn of Africa, where she served in military information and support operations. It came naturally to her, using linguistic and organizational skills to assist Somali war refugees, designing information products, preparing radio broadcasts and connecting displaced people with vital information.

“While on deployment in Kenya I was found by a librarian who had taken notice of how I was organizing informational products and people,” she shared. “After watching me operate my information center for several days she finally stated, “You’re a librarian. You just don’t know it yet,” and handed me a stack of ALA magazines.”

An application to Florida State’s MLIS program and she was on her way. Hannaford completed her degree via distance learning while on active duty. Choosing to complete a Master’s thesis, she explored information seeking behaviors of veterans of Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

“Dr. Gross’s research methods class was the first class I completed at Florida State,” said Hannaford. “She was also my thesis chair and provided much needed support when I was transitioning from the military into my first job as a librarian. Dr. Gross continued to open my eyes to the possibilities of research in the field and challenged me to actually do a thesis as a part of my MLIS.”

“Leah’s thesis paper was an original and useful contribution to the literature of information studies,” said Dr. Gross. “I couldn’t be more proud of what she has been able to accomplish, and expect to hear about more good work from her in the future. I wish her every success.”

Today, Hannaford works as an academic librarian leading an open education initiative. Rather than working with traditional books, she works with professors to create and locate free, educational content that is available to the public. Professors can then use them in class and provide the resources to students. When free information isn’t available, she works with professors to create their own.

When she isn’t working, you can find her gardening, doing yoga and aerial acrobatics. Learn more about the distance learning options at FSU and the MLIS program.