Serving Those Who Have Served

Librarian veterans share ideas for providing information and programming for military members

June 27, 2021

Continuing to Serve

For Angela Maranville, director of knowledge access and resource management at West Virginia University (WVU) Libraries in Morgantown, the transition from working as a radio communications analyst in the US Air Force back to civilian life wasn’t the easiest.

“I left active duty in 1987 as part of the Gramm–Rudman–Hollings Balanced Budget Act. Basically it was peace time and they wanted to get people out to save money, so I left early and gave back double that time in reserves,” she said. “And when I came back to Illinois, there wasn’t work. So I kind of bounced around for about 15 years doing odd jobs. I worked with horses, I was an underground coal miner, I did a little bit of everything.”

In 2004, Maranville decided to pursue her college career, which she said meant fighting for her benefits and petitioning to have her DD Form 214 (service record) altered. “I’m really grateful to the Air Force, because without those benefits it’s really unlikely that I would be talking to you today as a librarian.”

Maranville and her fellow presenters at “Continuing to Serve: Librarian Veterans Serving Military Patrons,” an on-demand session at the American Library Association’s 2021 Annual Conference and Exhibition Virtual, kicked off their panel by sharing personal experiences of transitioning out of the military. The session, moderated by Sarah LeMire, coordinator of first-year programs at Texas A&M University in College Station and herself a US Army veteran, was designed to highlight the unique challenges faced by veterans, how libraries can better serve this population, and why veterans should be considered for employment in libraries.

Like Maranville, Brian Conn, who has served in the US Army Reserve and US Air Force and is now lead medical librarian at Minneapolis VA Healthcare System, also faced difficulties leaving active duty. “[I left] in 2006 and that’s when the economy … took a bit of a nose dive,” he said. “Even though I had what I would consider some significant leadership experience and responsibilities, I couldn’t even get a temp agency to call me back for a job.” He added: “It just goes to show a military member really can’t do everything on their own.” 

Panelists agreed that in order to support those who are serving or have served, people should first examine their misconceptions.

“One misconception that comes to mind for me as a veteran is that every individual in the military has deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan,” said Conn, who stressed that is clearly not the case.

Often, serving a veteran also means serving the family that accompanies them from installation to installation. “Soldiers don’t work or operate in a vacuum,” said Michael Steinmacher, director of Barr Memorial Library in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Because of the specialization and breadth of experiences in the armed forces, “there’s not just one single thing that you can really put your finger on that folks have as experienced in the military,” said Ben Sunds, associate director for customer experience at Johnson County (Kans.) Library, who spent 32 years in uniform with the US Army and US Army National Guard. “Veterans are everywhere. Just like you can’t look up in Webster’s Dictionary a picture of what an American looks like, nor could you look up in Webster’s Dictionary what a veteran looks like, because they’re all different and that’s a good thing.”

As such, panelists stressed that programming and services for veterans can’t be one-size-fits-all. 

Conn noted that information needs may vary based on the person, and the military is made up of people of different faiths, socioeconomic backgrounds, family types, political beliefs, education levels, and interests. “[Veterans] come from the broad population of the United States, and they may not be US citizens,” he noted.

Still, the library is one of the first places a veteran might show up. “Libraries are where veterans go for help, or where veterans are sent to receive help,” said Conn. 

For Sunds, the public library was a harbinger of stability when he and his family had to relocate for assignments every two to three years. “One of the best ways that we found to get to know a new area was to visit our local library and get a library card,” he said. “It was a great way to connect to a new community.”

Panelists said that some of the resources they regularly recommend to veteran patrons include the Veterans Health Library (, which contains consumer health information; My HealtheVet (, a tool for veterans to access medical records; local veterans outreach offices; local VA community clinics or medical centers; and tools that help with technology and software training.

“For academic libraries it could be … a contact person in financial aid that handles veteran claims,” said Maranville, who stressed that information professionals should reach out to veterans about their VA benefits. “Many veterans like myself, who left the military in the ’70s or ’80s, might not be aware of all the benefits given to us,” she said. “I think librarians everywhere can help spread that message.”

For libraries looking to get started with a program that caters to veterans, panelists suggested getting in touch with people already doing the work—such as a local Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion post—as to not duplicate services already in the community.

Steinmacher said that libraries shouldn’t be intimidated from collaborating with one of the US Army’s 63 Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Libraries (like his), as they might be able to offer niche services that the military installations themselves can’t offer.

The types of programs and services that panelists offer at their own libraries range. For instance, WVU Libraries created two bunkers (study rooms) that can only be accessed by student veterans, in addition to a new veterans outreach committee. At Fort Knox, Steinmacher said the library is proud of its author series, which has in the past featured military historian Rick Atkinson, thriller novelist Steve Berry, and Army Wives author Tanya Biank, and has been attended by members of the local community—not just military personnel.

“I think that there’s no wrong answer of where to connect and get started,” said Sunds.

One way to connect? Hire veterans, presenters said. Though veterans have far-ranging experiences, panelists say there are barriers to them finding work in the civilian world.

“What would probably be most veteran-friendly are job descriptions that are generic when they can be,” said Sunds. “Does a position really need a master’s of library science? The position I’m in did not,” he said of his job overseeing IT and communications.

Conn suggested that libraries and other hirers focus on capabilities rather than skills. “Often the individuals in the military have a wide range of capabilities because of what’s been asked of us,” he said. “When you focus on capabilities, that will open your applicant pool up and you will see some pretty amazing résumés.”

In closing the session, each panelist emphasized that library workers do not need to be veterans themselves in order to serve veterans.

“Please don’t let the term ‘veteran’ scare you away from working with or serving this population,” said Conn. “Really, all it takes is a willingness on the librarian’s part to move the ball forward.”

Steinmacher, a civilian who spends his workday surrounded by military personnel, agreed. “Soldiers, retirees, veterans, they don’t necessarily want to hear you say thank-you. What they want is to be treated with respect and be given good-quality services,” he said. “You’re going to work hard but you’re working for some of the most important people in the world.”


Helping Veterans

Making strides at Los Angeles Public Library and in national public policy

A volunteer (left) helps a veteran at San Francisco Public Library’s Veterans Resource Center. The center is part of the Veterans Connect @ the Library program. Photo: Jason Doiy

Bridging the Gap for Vets

California program trains librarians to assist veterans with services