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Monica Hagan: MLS Alumna Guides UCLA Education Students Through Their Research

By Joanie Harmon

UCLA librarian for SEIS and the Anderson School of Management shares serendipitous journey to her career at the University.

As a member of the largest graduating class from the UCLA’s then-School of Library Science (’90, MLS), Monica Hagan built her career on her innate curiosity, her expertise in linguistics and psychology, and her skills and talent as a librarian. 

Hagan earned her MBA at the Pepperdine Graziadio Business School in 2005, which included training at the IAE Business School in Buenos Aires. She has served as a board member of the UCLA Library & Information Studies Alumni Association (LISAA) since 2015 and in 2021, was nominated for UCLA Librarian of the Year. 

Retiring this year from her positions with the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies and the UCLA Anderson School of Management, Hagan – whose first introduction to the University was as a young student at what was then the University Elementary School (now UCLA Lab School) - takes a look back at her service as a librarian, the key role that UCLA Education played in collecting and storing national scholarship on community colleges, and how research plays a part in the work of SEIS students and their goals of furthering equity and access in K-12 to higher education.

As a UCLA librarian, what has a typical day on the job been like for you? 

I wear a couple of different hats currently, in terms of jobs that I cover and schools that I serve at UCLA. This was my 15th year. I initially was hired to work at the Rosenfeld Library through the Anderson School of Management, which serves Anderson students and programs. I had experience as the agribusiness and business librarian at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and I had also earned an MBA degree at Pepperdine.

A typical day runs the gamut. Anderson only serves graduate students, and the programs are quite varied in terms of length. Some can be nine months long or three years long, whether they are held remotely or in person, or even in a hybrid situation, so it’s always challenging. There are a lot of different requests. Part of what we do as librarians is the sales pitch - getting out to people an understanding of what we actually do, and getting students involved with the resources to help support whatever their program is. There are many masters’ students and a PhD program as well, so we work one-on-one with students or with teams – the majority of the masters’ groups do team-based work. 

How did you also become the librarian for UCLA Education?

A couple of years ago, when the then-education librarian retired, she was someone I had gone to library school with: Gabriella Gray. When Gabi retired, they were looking for somebody that could fill her shoes. It was sort of a crunch time because of things like the pandemic and so forth. The UCLA Library wasn’t really hiring [more staff]. 

When I was in my [library school] program at UCLA, I did a six-month internship at the former Education Psychology Library that used to be at the top of the Powell Library building. I served for nine years as a graduate-level education and psychology librarian at Pepperdine University following UCLA.  And, so, it seems that education has always been second nature to me. It seemed like a natural fit, so I volunteered to take on the education library position. I didn't move away from my office at at the Anderson School, but by that time, with COVID, we were [working] remotely. 

How do you guide students to what they need?

Education is particularly challenging in that we have lots of undergrads and then we have masters [students], teaching credentials, and PhD programs. It really depends on what the requirement is for the student. Part of it is always just to make people feel comfortable with the resources we have.

A lot of times, if I meet with a student or even a small group of students, I may suggest and show some key resources. But then, sometimes I switch roles with them so that somebody takes the lead and uses the resources on their own, so that I'm just like a bird on their shoulder [who steers] them towards things that I know from my experience would play out better for the questions that they're asking. 

Once they start seeing that they get results, they're tied to that process. Yet they know that they can always come back and ask whatever questions they have because they now have a solid foundation for understanding the kinds of materials we have at UCLA and how to get the information that they're looking for.

We have so many students who want to have issues of equity and diversity more broadly represented. It is tremendously important to look at how to really teach with greater understanding and better representation for folks in terms of culture, and validation of who they are.

Who has been instrumental to your education and your career at UCLA?

My faculty advisor was Mary Maack, now an emerita faculty member. Mary was just coming in at about the same time I came in, so she was new to UCLA in 1987. She had done a lot of work in Africa, and I was quite interested in a lot of the research that she had done. Her dissertation related to Senegal, where she had spent time. She did a lot of work in Paris as well, on more of the African stuff, but also with French literature and women writers. 

Christine Borgman was just outstanding. A Stanford grad, ahead of her time. She was so involved with technology in ways that people were not. Chris was always very warm, she remembers people. John Richardson was there, he was a good presence in the program, and  Barbara Tillett. At the time, she taught one year of cataloging after completing her PhD, and I was able to get into her class.  She was then hired at the Library of Congress, and later went on to be instrumental in RDA development.

The person that I worked largely with and under was Diane Childs. A new mentorship program was established to pair an existing librarian with a library school student. As a first-year student, I was paired with Diane. I also ended up doing my ed psych internship where Diane worked. So, we worked together for those six months, and I’ve known her even since. We continue to get together for breakfast or lunch, or send each other things, she’ll save clippings for me. But the fact that she was the education librarian at UCLA and that she did her job so well – I was able to learn a lot from her. It’s been a great experience, knowing that I’m following in her footsteps.

How were you and Diane involved with what was then the national Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC)? 

I worked at Pepperdine University for nine years following graduation in 1990. During that time, I also co-presented with Diane a couple of times on educational research issues, including ERIC. Diane had worked at the community colleges clearinghouse before working as a librarian at UCLA.

ERIC started in 1966 and was funded by the U.S. government. The idea was that there was a central location for education materials of all types that formed a database. They had, for example, a subject clearinghouse for higher education research. Rural education was a clearinghouse. So, the folks from rural ed would identify leading experts in the field and the leading industry associations. They would very often attend those sessions, or would get the proceedings for the conferences and then would contact presenters who had written a book or paper and solicit them to include [their materials] in ERIC. So, the authors would approve that, and send their work to the clearinghouse. 

The job of the clearinghouse staff was to maintain the connections between the clearinghouse and its various authors and entities, as well as serve as a publishing unit, to make sure that the material arrived safely and was transitioned into the database, and then was available for people [to] search. 

One clearinghouse that existed, and was housed at UCLA in Moore Hall, was the clearinghouse for community colleges.  The staff was to be involved with community colleges throughout the U.S., with the researchers studying them, and with the literature about those colleges.

ERIC works slightly differently now but, for about 30 years, it functioned in that clearinghouse model. In the early 1990s, ERIC held a series of three-day meetings throughout the United States. One of them was held at UCLA, a formal government hearing, where people would testify as to what value ERIC served to present and future researchers. I went for two of the three days that they had it, and the room was packed. It was really a plus for UCLA to have that clearinghouse while it existed and to serve as a focal point for the debate as to how ERIC should best be governed.

How did you choose UCLA’s library program for your advanced degree?

While earning my BA, one of the final courses was a graduate course in linguistics at Cal State Dominguez Hills. It was a small seminar with the objective being to work on a language that was not your own native language and to thoroughly analyze it according to a specific formula. I picked Swahili, and the information I was able to get through the Dominguez Hills library was supportive and representative of a lot that was going on in African languages and literature. The prime book that I used had beautiful pen and ink drawings of local scenes in Kenya and Tanzania and was written by a UCLA author.

I wasn't a person who originally wanted to be a librarian, but I liked the aspects that would enable me to get in and work on things that related to classification and problem solving. So, I applied to the program and got in, and then I immediately signed up for a year of Swahili and got to meet a lot of the people that were involved with the book that I had been working with. 

Part of the reason I came to UCLA was that my father, Roy L. Smith, graduated from UCLA, earning his bachelor's degree in English in the 1950s and his master's degree in education in 1960. His thesis was on critical reading skills.  He was a first-generation college student, married, and with three children during his time at UCLA. He worked for LAUSD as a teacher, a master teacher, and a principal. He later moved north in 1966 to the Kentfield School District, where he retired as principal of two schools simultaneously in 1986. And of course, he remained a proud Bruin throughout his lifetime.

I was enrolled at what is now the UCLA Lab School, and was previously the Corinne A. Seeds Elementary School, later UES (University Elementary School). My dad knew Corinne Seeds. And now I feel that I've come full circle, as my office cubicle at the Anderson School has a full-length window that faces the playground of the Lab School, so I can see where I played when I was six years old.