When she was in sixth grade, Mary Ellen Icaza (MLS ’98) wrote an article about one day becoming a librarian, but she never imagined it would come true. Today, she is the CEO and Executive Director for Stark County District Library in Ohio, a library system with ten locations and five bookmobiles. Previously, she was the Assistant Director for Outreach and Programs for Montgomery County Public Libraries in Maryland, where she oversaw all programming, community outreach, and special events.
The University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies (iSchool) played an important role in setting the foundation for Mary Ellen’s career. In order to succeed, Mary Ellen says, it is essential to know how to work well with others in collaborative ways to move work forward. The Master of Library Science (MLS) program taught her the importance of teamwork, ethics, and values. Values such as accessibility, confidentiality, and privacy, she says, guide the work people do in the library field.
During her undergraduate years, Mary Ellen was captivated as an intern at the Congressional Research Service. Although she always had a passion for reading, being exposed to the work of reference librarians led Mary Ellen to pursue a career in librarianship.
“A library degree is truly transferable,” she says. “When I started library school, I thought I would be an academic librarian, but that is not the path I took. I have worked in public libraries, education, publishing, and government consulting, all using my library background!”
People often question the need for public libraries because information is available for free online. In response to this misconception, Mary Ellen says, “We must continually educate our communities about the work we do to support literacy, workforce development, and the digital divide to battle stereotypes that libraries are irrelevant. We are more relevant today than ever before.”
Becoming a library director and successfully completing her first year in 2019 has been one of Mary Ellen’s greatest accomplishments. She believes UMD’s iSchool provided her with many opportunities and a great background to enter the profession. As a proud iSchool Terp, she wants to leave iSchool students with one piece of advice: “Look for opportunities in unexpected places. Your career is not necessarily a straight trajectory so be open to all possibilities.”