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From Mad Men to Paris Modernism: Librarian Bill Gillis

Librarian Bill Gillis“Academic research is less like a Google search than a social network,” explains Bill Gillis. “Scholars need to discover the conversations that have been going on about a particular topic as a first step in figuring out how to contribute to them.”

As a librarian at the Eckles Library on GW’s Mount Vernon Campus (MVC), Gillis contributes a lot to the student conversations that become a part of research at GW. Working closely with MVC’s first-year learning communities—the University Writing program, the University Honors Program, and the Women’s Leadership Program—Gillis helps usher students into the university’s intellectual life.

Friendly and approachable, Gillis is a familiar face in the tight-knit community on MVC. Students and faculty greet him by name as he crosses the quad, on his way to discuss a student’s research project over coffee. For Gillis, the key is to help students establish “a relationship to the Libraries that they can carry with them” for the rest of their academic career. He shows them that good research starts “with wonder and curiosity.” For scholars, no conversation is ever finished; there are always other voices, new ideas, fresh evidence, unfamiliar texts.

For the past two summers, Gillis has travelled with summer study-abroad courses—Professor Kathy Larsen’s “Fan Pilgrimage & Media Tourism” in England and Professor Mary Buckley’s “Paris: Modernism and the Arts, Then and Now”—helping students frame research questions as they learn to “read a city” through its architecture, performances, tourist sites, and public spaces. His participation in these courses opens a new chapter in the history of close collaboration among GW faculty, librarians, and students.

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