Meet Angela Vanden Elzen: the purple-haired librarian making a difference at Lawrence

Angela Vanden Alzen, Reference and Learning Technologies Librarian and Assistant Professor. Photo and caption courtesy of Lawrence University Smugmug.

If you’ve ever walked into the Seeley G. Mudd Library and been waved at by a woman with purple hair at the circulation desk, you’ve met Reference and Learning Technologies Librarian and Assistant Professor Angela Vanden Elzen. Vanden Elzen has held this position for 10 years and is approaching her 17th year working at Lawrence.  

After transferring between many schools in undergrad and graduating from the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and minors in philosophy and human development, Vanden Elzen went on to the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where she got her master’s degree in library science. Although she did not immerse herself into the college experience, she did participate in the Gay Straight Alliance at the University of Wisconsin–Fox Cities (now a UW – Oshkosh branch campus) as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.  

Vanden Elzen then became the library’s night shift supervisor, and after a year became the interlibrary loan person, after which she became a librarian. She said that she likes being a librarian because, while in college, she recalled enjoying research but not writing papers, and enjoying the customer service side of her Walgreens job but not the retail part, and she feels that as a librarian, she gets to combine customer service and research.  

Vanden Elzen was integral to creating the Makerspace, a place where students can use 3D printers, a laser cutter, sewing and embroidery machines and more, provided they go through training. A former professor had a 3D printer, which faculty and students were excited about, so Vanden Elzen wrote a grant to purchase printers and scanners to keep in a centralized location. Although it is prioritized for classes, all are welcome to take the training and use it.  

“It’s a great experience for students to learn how to use that equipment; I think any use is educational,” Vanden Elzen said.  

Aside from running the Makerspace, Vanden Elzen also works shifts at the reference desk, helps to run the library’s website and social media and helps to plan some of the library’s displays. 

Vanden Elzen has also served as a faculty representative to the Lawrence University Community Council (LUCC) and has taught courses, including a game studies course. Despite common perceptions that people who play video games aren’t smart or that video games make you violent, Vanden Elzen said she has interacted with many very intelligent students throughout the years that are gamers. She feels that media literacy is important and that, while some games can be bad and moderation is important, there are video games that boost creativity, and that all types of media have their bad sides. Vanden Elzen also pointed out that studies that show negative or no correlation between video games and violence are cited far less often than studies that show positive correlation, despite the former being more strongly researched.  

“Even if you don’t love games, they’re a very important artifact of our culture today,” Vanden Elzen said.   

As someone who is concerned about the environment and our changing climate, Vanden Elzen happily participates in No Mow May every year, in which Appleton residents have the option to not mow their lawns during the entire month of May. She sees it as a fun and easy way to support the ecosystem and feels that it has brought her children closer to nature to see and interact with plant and insect life.  

Angela Vanden Alzen, Reference and Learning Technologies Librarian and Assistant Professor. Photo and caption courtesy of Lawrence University Smugmug.

“You don’t have to continue doing something just because that’s the way it’s been,” Vanden Elzen said.  

Vanden Elzen is a constituent of District 15 Alderperson Chad Doran, who recently spearheaded a failed resolution at the Common Council to repeal No Mow May and enforce the city’s lawn height ordinances year-round. When she reached out, he responded that planting pollinator gardens is a better option. While she appreciated his response, she pointed out that not everyone has the time and money to build a pollinator garden, and was glad that his resolution was defeated. Vanden Elzen said that while she understands why Lawrence might not be able to refrain from mowing throughout the entirety of May, she would like to see more space partitioned off during the month that won’t be mowed.  

As she is approaching her 17th year at Lawrence, Vanden Elzen still feels aligned with Lawrence’s mission statement and appreciates the open and welcoming community. She would like to stay at Lawrence for the foreseeable future, and she may be promoted to Associate Professor status in the near future.