Orr does so much more than just check out books

As Librarian Appreciation Week comes to a close, we present this profile of a librarian that has transformed the Mac library into a far more welcoming place

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Dave Winter

Librarians Jain Orr and Lauren Alindogan pose for portraits to promote reading and the library in general. Alindogan said that Orr is a terrific mentor and also an excellent big-picture thinker who embraces change that will make the library better serve the community’s needs.

Chloe Lewcock, Mac photojournalism

Head librarian Jain Orr thinks of the library as much more than just a place to check out books. She sees it as a space for all of the McCallum community to feel welcome. 

The first thing that a visitor notices upon entering the library is the calming vibe the space exudes. The library offers an immediate break from the demanding fluorescent lights found virtually everywhere else on campus. 

I’ve always worked with teens. I think it’s because I had a hard time as a teen. I don’t know, maybe it’s like healing my own wounds.”

— librarian Jain Orr

Orr has curated this ideal environment over her three years on the job. 

The space, illuminated by dimmed lights and enveloped by the quiet buzz of students working, feels like a welcome spot for whatever a student might need. 

Orr transformed the library to suit herself and the students who occupy it on a daily basis. Every carefully picked aspect reflects her aesthetic and her commitment to making the library a place where students feel comfortable and welcome. 

But Orr didn’t always aspire to be a librarian with a highly developed sense of space-designing style. Long before she joined our Mac community she had far different plans in mind. 

Throughout college and even before she knew that she loved the research and organization processes, she was enthralled by deeper topics like culture perspectives and differences that make each society distinct. As a result of this interest, Orr considered working in museum archives, but she quickly realized that something was missing from that career path. 

“When I toured, the archivists, like, who worked at UT, and like, and saw their working conditions, I mean, they were in basements, because you’re not supposed to expose anything,” Orr explained. “They were at desks, they were doing, like, seated. And I was like, Oh, you know? That’s not what I want to do.’”  

Orr established the habit of making books available for free. During Black History Month for example, she set up a book case of Black history and culture books that students could check out permanently. Photo by Dave Winter.

So she looked to chart a different path. She never wavered in her love for cultural appreciation, research and organization, but she had to figure out a new way to incorporate them into a career that allowed her to deal more with people. 

While working in the engineering department at UT, Orr had the chance to teach writing workshops on technical and scientific writing. She learned teaching those workshops how much she enjoyed working with young people.

I’m not like someone who blindly follows trends, but I do see that there is a serious need on our campus for space to make things.”

— librarian Jain Orr

“Midway through my information studies degree,” Orr said, “I pivoted into school libraries.”

Eventually, Orr joined McCallum after years of working with high school, and college students. She was at UT for three years and then at Lake Travis High School before finally landing at McCallum.

“I’ve always worked with teens,” Orr said. “I think it’s because I had a hard time as a teen. That’s what I’m kind of drawn to. I don’t know, maybe it’s like healing my own wounds.” 

One of the first things she tackled after replacing the legendary Jane Farmer as head librarian was the mural that fills the wall right outside the library. It’s a solar system with the words “McCallum Library: Our safe space.” 

Not only did it give the library a glamorous facade, but it also had a function: to bring attention to the library. Before the mural, the library entrance blended in with the walls and did not stand out to the sea of students who passed by it on a daily basis.

A DAY IN THE LIFE: Librarian Jain Orr works on her daily tasks in the library, which range from a simple Sharpie request to figuring out how the newest configuration of the library should look. “I think it’s good for people to have an outlet for extra energy,” Orr said, “before they require a classroom where they need to kind of be focused.” (Chloe Lewcock)

“I’m really proud of the first mural because that, and that happened in the year of COVID,” Orr said. “And it just taught me a lot about doing murals and organizing people and kind of making things happen with very little resources. And I kind of liked that challenge.” 

Her success on that project has spawned a myriad of other like-minded endeavors. At the moment, she is facilitating several new murals that are going up inside the library, in collaboration with other students, and she is working on the new teacher/student supplies area. She is also working on creating more meeting places for students, given the higher demand for them now. 

“I’m not like someone who blindly follows trends,” Orr said, “but I do see that there is a serious need on our campus for space to make things like expanded room for meeting spaces.” 

She had ideas, and envisions how all her plans will come to life to help the students and teachers in the best way possible. 

“My plan is to create more meeting spaces and just be the multifunctional places that this place needs to be,” Orr said “Yeah. I’m just following the data where it takes me.” 

Orr described her unique approach to creating this space in the library. She said that 15-20% of the population is highly sensitive to situations and will therefore react in a more profoundly positive or negative response to stimuli. Because this percentage of people is very sensitive, Orr worked to make the library more user-friendly for both students and teachers in order to make everyone who enters the library welcome. 

From the LEGO building areas that give students a second to just take a break, to murals that adorn high visibility walls, and even the simple act of dimmed lights, all make the space feel less stark and more inviting and calming for everyone. 

In September, juniors Jillian Hay and Regan Sims tape the boundaries of what would become the cartoon character mural inside the library. (Josie Bradsby)

“Highly sensitive people are good at creating a space that is welcoming and knowing how to adjust the lighting,” Orr said.

She considers herself one of these highly sensitive people who are good at designing spaces that are welcoming.

For freshman Elyza Bradsby, the library is a safe, calming zone that offers a nice break from daily school activities. 

McCallum is the first and only school I’ve ever felt school spirit about. … I just really love the culture here and feel very proud to be a part of this community. ”

— librarian Jain Orr

“The library offers a bunch of different types of space as well as a quiet place that you can just chill out in and not be as overwhelmed by the usual school environment.” Bradsby said. “I guess it’s all just the way that everyone respects this space as being a place for people.” 

Bradsby explains that the library is a place to just be who you are, and take a break with no expectations. It’s more calming to work there than in a normal classroom given all the aspects Orr has carefully incorporated into the space. And knowing that Orr is there to support any and everyone, makes the space that much greater. 

“I think she’s a very personable person,” Bradsby said. “She’s just very amicable. She feels like one of those cool teachers, you know?”  

And for Orr, helping students and being part of the McCallum community is one of the most rewarding parts of the job. 

“For me, McCallum is the first and only school I’ve ever felt school spirit about really,” Orr said. “I’m definitely not a school spirit type of person, but I just really love the culture here and feel very proud to be a part of this community.” 

Her job isn’t just about developing new ideas. Orr faces other new challenges all the time. Students’ needs vary and Orr makes sure she is there for them when they need her. It’s a multifaceted operation. Sometimes a student will come in for Chromebook help, or the keys to the prayer rooms, and other times it’s just for a Sharpie or a calculator. Whatever the need is, Orr is ready to meet it. 

“It’s kind of just to keep the ship running,” Orr said. “We do all the Chromebooks stuff. We do a lot of bathroom stuff. I would say books are kind of a small portion of what keeps us busy.” 

Orr was not one to let the pandemic shut the library down, so she set up curbside library service in the spring of 2020. (Dave Winter)

But she has help in the library. Orr runs the class of library interns that is an offered course at McCallum. They help out with projects and tasks in the library on a daily basis. Along with her student interns, Orr has also been mentoring Lauren Alindogan since November. Alindogan’s role is the library technician, but along with Orr helps out with the multitude of tasks that keep the library running smoothly. 

I have a tendency to occasionally overthink or hesitate to move things around, and she’s like, ‘Let’s go!’”

— library technician Lauren Alindogan

Alindogan has an undergraduate degree from Massachusetts College of Art and Design and a master’s of information in library science and data science from Rutgers University. Alindogan and Orr have worked closely together, and Orr has helped Alindogan learn what it takes to work at the McCallum library.

“Jain is a great person to work with because she is able to think big picture in a way that I have to warm up my brain to do,” Alindogan said. “It’s helpful to have someone who thinks in a complementary way to my more practical thinking. … I have a tendency to occasionally overthink or hesitate to move things around and she’s like, ‘Let’s go!’ It’s a makerspace right now, which is very helpful.”  

Running the library is definitely a group effort, and Alindogan gets to be a big part of that while Orr mentors them. 

“Jain’s very idea-oriented” Alindogan said. “She is able to zoom out and kind of see the big picture.” 

Taking on being the librarian for McCallum is no easy commitment, but McCallum has clearly found the right person for the job in Orr. 

“I think that I am coming at this job from a different perspective than my other high school librarian colleagues,” Orr said. “I find this work very intellectually stimulating.” 

While the library has come so far, Orr isn’t done yet. She has projects in mind for the near future and hopes to keep expanding the space to become better and better.