Erin Horning Donahue

Erin Horning

Class of 2012

  • Bachelor of Arts, English | Penn State Altoona (2012)
  • Master of Arts, Library and Information Studies | University of Wisconsin-Madison (2021)

What do you currently do professionally?
My title is Archivist and Program Manager for the Early College Research Institute (ECRI) at Bard College at Simon's Rock. I am one of five full-time librarians at Simon's Rock, where I serve as the college's archivist and support activities for ECRI like editing our open-access, peer-reviewed journal; grant management; reference and research support; and collection development.

How has majoring in English helped you on your career pathway(s)?
Majoring in English gave me the foundation to become a conscientious steward of books and language. I was first challenged to consider different perspectives through critical reading and writing in my English classes, which then sparked my interest in topics like information access and information literacy. The research-based writing assignments unlocked a fascination with the pursuit of information and ideas. I followed these interests down a path in librarianship, information studies, and academic publishing.

When I first became an English major, I had no clue it would lead me to a career in archives and libraries. (I imagined I might work in marketing or communications.) However, I took the opportunity to work with Dr. Sandra Harbert Petrulionis on two projects involving archival research and transcription. Something clicked for me when it came to those projects, but I set the feeling aside, thinking I needed to be an independent scholar or historian in order to regularly work with historical documents and artifacts. (That seemed like a really complicated, out-of-reach option at the time.) When I realized I could approach it from the other side--in support of scholars and historians--I knew I'd find a way to make it my career.

What knowledge and skills help you succeed in your job on a daily basis (and, possibly, in unanticipated ways)?
Learning to navigate library databases and integrate sources effectively is something I not only do regularly for myself, but I also support and teach others to do it through reference support and information literacy courses. Of course, my writing and communication skills are what I believe allow me to continue to encounter new, exciting opportunities at work. I'm able to express myself, my competencies, and my ideas in a way that lets my colleagues know I am a skilled and reliable (and genuinely inspired) collaborator.

In what (unanticipated) ways has the English major impacted your life beyond your profession?
My experience as an English major at Penn State Altoona was, above all, confidence-building. The thoughtful, actionable, realistic feedback from my peers and professors helped me understand myself in ways beyond that of being a student or writer.

What is your favorite experience from your time in the English program?
Traveling to New Orleans for the annual Sigma Tau Delta conference! Not only was I awarded a Sigma Tau Delta-sponsored internship with Better World Books, I also got to experience preparing and presenting a paper, listening to the work of my peers, and ... beignets.

What advice do you have for current English majors or students considering entry into the field in which you’re currently working?
Allow yourself to explore without expectations. Take the class you think might be too random or too off-center from the rest. If the only thing you learn is that you don't like it, that's just as useful as the alternative.

February 2023