April 25, 2014

Tulis earns library association national honor

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill.  -- Susan E. Tulis, associate professor and associate dean for information services at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is the 2014 James Bennett Childs Award recipient. 

The American Library Association presents the national award annually to recognize an individual for significant lifetime contributions in the field of government documents.  Tulis has more than 20 years of experience as a documents librarian. 

“It really is an honor to win this, because it represents a lifetime achievement,” Tulis said.  

Surprisingly, she never intended to enter that academic arena, thinking that perhaps government documents were “boring.”  However, a college class taught by an inspiring faculty member quickly convinced her otherwise.  She discovered that the field is actually something like an Indiana Jones adventure, where the quest for information is challenging and fascinating.  

“The appeal is that there is all of this cool stuff, all of this interesting information out there but sometimes it’s hard to find.  It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.  When I started, there wasn’t anything online so you had to search for everything the old-fashioned way.  And things were catalogued by publication and not by subject.  But then you learn how to search, you learn a few tricks and you can unlock that wealth of information,” Tulis said. 

On one occasion early in Tulis’ career, a library visitor wanted the text of a prayer spoken by an astronaut circling the earth.  Tulis thought it was an impossible request. 

“But I did find it.  That was my ‘a-ha’ moment,” Tulis said. “Government documents was my life and I was fortunate enough to get a job working with them.” 

Tulis earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Connecticut in 1975 and her master’s degree in library science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, N.C., in 1977.  

Her career began as instructor and assistant documents librarian at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., and she later became documents librarian and assistant professor and then associate professor for the university’s Arthur J. Morris Law Library.  Her experience also includes work as assistant Washington affairs representative for the American Association of Law Libraries and positions as a government information consultant and an administrative assistant. 

Tulis enjoyed living in the Washington D.C., area because of easy access to government documents, congressional hearings, and the people involved in creating the documents. 

She arrived at SIU as associate professor and government information librarian in January 2001 and has held her current post since September 2002.  She has an extensive record of professional service at both the state and national levels, serving three terms on the Depository Library Council and on numerous committees and positions in various library associations.  

Her contributions to the field have included publishing, service and leadership roles and she has been involved in editing publications as well as advocacy for public access to government information.  Letters nominating Tulis for the award praised her dedication, passion and leadership. 

The award honors the late James Bennett Childs, a specialist in government document bibliography at the Library of Congress.  Childs had a 55-year career with acquisitions and the organization of government documents spanning locations across the United States and the world.