David Ellefsen, Library Director
Interview with Dr. Dorothy K. Moore
DKM: David, what made you decide to go to college?
"I thought about...
to new ideas"
David Ellefsen: When I got out of high school I had no intention of going to college at that time and I had my military service that I had looking at me, and the Vietnam War was on, so I decided to join the National Guard. After Basic Training I got a job working as a carpenter’s helper and I saw all my old friends that I was going to high school with going to the University of Utah. And they were bettering themselves and having a good time at the same time, and so I was really motivated to get into college. So that was probably the main thing --- going into the military and working for a living.
DKM: When you said that you saw your
friends bettering themselves, what specifically did you see college offering them that you
were weren’t getting from your situation?
David Ellefsen: Well, there were a couple of things: One was the whole networking thing. I was cut off from a bunch of my friends and I wasn’t meeting new people. The other thing I thought about was being exposed to new ideas and new things that I wouldn’t be exposed to if I didn’t go to school…
DKM: Did you know at the time that you applied to college what it was you wanted to do with your life?
David Ellefsen: No. I just thought that having college would be a good background for lots of things in life that would be important, including employment. I really didn’t know what I wanted to go into…
DKM: Where did that idea come from --- the idea that college would have some kind of answer to life?
David Ellefsen: I guess that all my life my parents talked to me about how important it was to go to college, so I guess there was definitely a seed planted there…
DKM: And when you finally got into college, how did it compare with your expectations?
David Ellefsen: It did meet with my expectations. I found that I enjoyed most of my classes. I enjoyed meeting new people – life-long friends, if you will. And in my situation I was actually able to use what I learned in class on the job that I had at the time. I was working in the library and taking library science classes, so that was a real plus.
DKM: While you were in college itself what kinds of challenges or obstacles did you encounter?
David Ellefsen: Well, one semester I remember I took too many classes (laughs). And my grades suffered quite a bit… I took on too much, and my grades definitely suffered for that, so that was a good lesson for me… And I was working. In fact, all my college years I worked at least part time….
DKM: Out of necessity?
David Ellefsen: It wasn’t necessity, because it was like my parents helped with tuition, but after I got to a certain age I wanted to live out on my own, so that was part of it.
DKM: I kind of want to hear more about the semester you took on too much. At what point did you know you had taken on too much, and what happened?
David Ellefsen: Well, I think I actually finished all the classes --- through hook and crook --- but instead of dropping a class I kept them. And I didn’t put enough thought into the homework to get the grades, so my grades really suffered, and at the end of the semester I got a couple of Ds and a C…
David Ellefsen: Yeah.
DKM: That doesn’t seem like you.
David Ellefsen: (laughs) So after that I never did take on more than a full load, and I think that helped my particular situation.
DKM: What kinds of grades would you normally get?
David Ellefsen: As an undergraduate I was probably a B student for the most part. Then I got towards the end of my undergraduate career and started thinking about possibly going to library school, and of course, that’s a graduate program, so I tried harder to get better grades… Interestingly enough, I worked for a number of years in the library before I went to library school, to graduate school. I actually tried three times to get into library school before I was admitted, so I started going back to the University of Utah in a graduate program in educational media. And I actually had to start out on academic probation – I was on probation for over a year…and I still got two Master’s degrees within a year. Eventually I got admitted – with all my library experience – into library school.
DKM: Wait – you got two Master’s degrees within one year? And that after trying three times to get into library school?!
David Ellefsen: Right.
DKM: So, the first time you tried to get into library school, was it because of your grades that you were denied?
David Ellefsen: I believe so, but also at the time the Vietnam War was on, and there was a lot of demand for people getting into graduate schools because then it would defer them from the draft. So, it was a combination of avoiding the draft for some people and my undergraduate grades.
DKM: How did you respond to that letter of “thanks, but no thanks” when you first applied?
"I was angry at first, and disappointed "
David Ellefsen: Well, I was angry at first, and disappointed, I guess. One of the reasons I was angry was because I was working in the library and I knew I was doing what I thought was excellent work -- for example, in the reference area -- so at that point I knew I was a good librarian. But in order to move up in the library world you have to have your master’s degree. And yet they were denying me access to that program, and so I kept trying. And I enjoyed the library work….so I thought I would try library school one more time. And they let me in…I think because of my records from the graduate program plus my graduate record scores, as opposed to just my undergraduate records. I remember that was a happy day when I got admitted…
DKM: How much time had elapsed between the time that you first applied and then that third time when you finally got accepted into library school?
David Ellefsen: I guess probably 8 years.
DKM: Did you at any time ever think that this was not going to happen?
David Ellefsen: (laughs) Oh, yes, many times.
DKM: So, what kept you going?
David Ellefsen: I kept being reemployed by the library system I was working in, and I tried different jobs within the library field…And I liked it. And in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to advance in the field, so I kept working at it…
DKM: So, knowing that you probably have students in a similar situation, what words of wisdom would you give them?
"Don't give up on your dreams... "
David Ellefsen: Well, don’t give up on your dreams is one, and sometimes there’s an alternative way to get to where you’re hoping to go. For example, in my undergraduate career I had to take a statistics class as part of the requirement to be in that department. I took the regular class and it went over my head right off the bat. But I found out that I could take the same class as a correspondence study where I could go at my own pace. So I signed up for that and over a longer period of time I did well in that class… So I think it’s good to look at all the alternatives…
DKM: What might you recommend in terms of study habits?
David Ellefsen: A good thing is to make sure you set aside enough time for studying. You have to be disciplined. I think finding a partner that you can work with - to help each other – is a good way to go. And I’d love to say to get to know your librarian. There are so many things that the librarian can help students with, and they can save you a lot of time and effort. I always thought that it’s the people that know how to use the library that can educate themselves. I mean, just even knowing the tips and tricks of databases can serve you throughout your college career and all your life, really. That’s a little bias on my part, though.
DKM: No, because you definitely have the credibility to say that. Well, is there anything else that you would want to share with our students? Any words of wisdom?
David Ellefsen: Just that learning to use the library is so important, especially these days with the whole world of information, and that there’s so much misinformation out there. It’s important that students learn information literacy, and a great way to do that is through the library.