Portrait of Librarian Lena Denis

Please enjoy this interview with one of the Librarians of Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries: Lena Denis!

Written by Anum Haque.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Lena, and I’m the Geospatial Data, GIS, & Maps Librarian. That means I steward the Map Collection, both as a group of physical objects and as a group of digital objects that people can use for all kinds of interactive projects.

Tell us a little about your background?

I’m actually a Hopkins alumna! I got my BA from JHU in Anthropology and History of Art, then spent a year after college working on food access advocacy projects, before going to graduate school in London for art history. I decided to leave art history for librarianship when I realized it was more aligned with what I was really interested in spending my time on. I moved to Boston for library school and worked my way through several libraries there, learning a ton about maps and other kinds of material history that require specialized librarianship. After seven years of that, I got the opportunity to come back here to Hopkins and to Baltimore, and I’m thrilled that I did.

What is part of your job that people may not know about?

While most new maps are made digitally rather than on paper, older paper maps are still unbelievably important to a wide variety of fields, and I’m not worried about people abandoning them completely. Some of the most important social justice issues of the past few years, from environmental activism to racial discrimination in housing to evaluating the ethics of military air strikes, just to name a few hot button issues, depend heavily on maps from decades ago. Maps are important for accountability and understanding the structure of a society, and I know it’s not just my opinion saying that, because the requests I get for reference and teaching range from medical science to humanities classes, from business classes to international studies, and so much else in between.?????

What’s the best part about being a librarian?

The best part of being a librarian is helping somebody find what they needed to answer a question that they hadn’t fully figured out how to ask in words yet. So often, a reference question starts out as something that isn’t really a question at all, but somebody’s curiosity and an emotional pull?that they’re still figuring out how to describe. When someone comes to me not sure what to ask, but I can help point them in the right direction to get started, for me that’s a job well done. 

What is your favorite hobby?

I love to sing, and I was in a choir that had to stop meeting during the pandemic for obvious reasons, but I’m hoping to get started singing with a group again soon once enough of us are vaccinated! 

Please draw a picture of yourself! 

Illustrated portrait of Librarian Lena Denis