The Great Experiment: Of pets, Pokemon, and the purple hair librarian

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  • University of Massachusetts Student Success & Outreach Librarian Annette Vadnais, dressed as Batman, leads a Superhero Trivia game on Zoom with fellow librarian Lauren Weiss - on screen, in the persona of sidekick Robin - from home on Thursday, April 29, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • UMass Student Success & Outreach Librarian Annette Vadnais, dressed as Batman, helps lead a Superhero Trivia game on Zoom on Thursday with questions devised by assistant Lauren Weiss. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts Student Success & Outreach Librarian Annette Vadnais, top center, dressed as Batman, helps lead a Superhero Trivia game on Zoom for nine people with Library Marketing and Outreach Assistant Lauren Weiss, top left, dressed as Robin, on Thursday night, April 29, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Annette Vadnais, left, Student Success & Outreach Librarian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, meets with Library Marketing and Outreach Assistant Lauren Weiss in her office in the W. E. B. Du Bois Library on Friday, April 23, 2021, to work on plans for next year. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Annette Vadnais Student Success & Outreach librarian at UMass Amherst, meets with library Marketing and Outreach Assistant Lauren Weiss in her office in the W.E.B. DuBois Library on April 23 to work on plans for next year. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • UMass Library Marketing and Outreach Assistant Lauren Weiss, left, dresses as Robin for the Superhero Trivia game. Below, she makes plans with Vadnais.

  • Some props that University of Massachusetts Amherst Student Success & Outreach Librarian Annette Vadnais and Library Marketing and Outreach Assistant Lauren Weiss use in their work. Photographed in Weiss' office in the W. E. B. Du Bois Library on Friday, April 23, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts Student Success & Outreach Librarian Annette Vadnais helps lead a Superhero Trivia game on Zoom with questions devised by fellow librarian Lauren Weiss on Thursday, April 29, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts Student Success & Outreach Librarian Annette Vadnais helps lead a Superhero Trivia game on Zoom, with questions devised by fellow librarian Lauren Weiss, from her Granby home on Thursday, April 29, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts Student Success & Outreach Librarian Annette Vadnais helps lead a Superhero Trivia game on Zoom, with questions devised by fellow librarian Lauren Weiss, on Thursday, April 29, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts Student Success & Outreach Librarian Annette Vadnais leads a Superhero Trivia game on Zoom with fellow librarian Lauren Weiss on Thursday, April 29, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • University of Massachusetts Student Success & Outreach Librarian Annette Vadnais, dressed as Batman, helps lead a Superhero Trivia game on Zoom with Library Marketing and Outreach Assistant Lauren Weiss, on screen, dressed as Robin, on Thursday night, April 29, 2021. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 4/30/2021 5:11:11 PM

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Great Experiment, a series produced by Professor Kathy Roberts Forde’s Longform Narrative class in the Journalism Department at the UMass Amherst.

By MADISON BETHUNE and TRISTAN SMITH

A new breed of campus celebrities made their debut appearance at the UMass Libraries Outreach Program’s “Pet Show and Tell” event one evening in late March.

In a not-so-typical Zoom meeting, those now-ubiquitous Zoom squares were packed with furry faces. AJ, a 14-year-old Brittany spaniel with a rabid following on his @GoodBoyonCampus Instagram account (6,060 followers and counting!), stole the show.

Jaws dropped at the unveiling of each student’s furry friend. Corgi cuteness and Dachshund delight filled screens and inspired conversation. Cameras that were off when the event began turned on as more pets made their debuts.

Students discussed breeds and pet names and shared laughs over the silly things pets do. Laura McDonough, a recent UMass graduate, said she loves these events and has attended two of them already. “I’m just here to see the pets,” she said.

Annette Vadnais, better known as “The Purple Hair Librarian,” is the student success and outreach librarian at UMass, and works alongside Lauren Weiss, the library’s marketing outreach assistant. This friendly and fun-loving duo hosts weekly Zoom social events to help UMass students connect in a time when safe ways to socialize are scarce.

“Selfishly, I do it for myself,” Annette says. “I miss students just as much as I think they miss me. Well, I hope they miss me. But I’m selfish in wanting the events so that I can connect and engage as well.”

A UMass alum herself, Annette recalls previous librarians who were aloof and impersonal. She sports purple hair to appear more approachable. She wants students to know about library resources and not be afraid to ask for help. “I will keep my hair purple till I retire,” she said.

Annette calls Lauren the “Director of Puns.” “We just have different strengths and they play really well together as a team for this series,” Annette says.

The Zoom events began last summer when the library hosted “Get Your Game On,” an in-person board game event for first-year students. The event could no longer be held in person once the pandemic hit, so it went virtual.

“We did five [game nights] last year as kind of a pilot program in the fall and it was so well-received,” Annette says. “Students really wanted to connect and engage with fellow classmates.”

The Library Outreach Series staff collaborate with other on-campus organizations to expand the reach and impact of their programs. On March 11, the library partnered with the Yoga and Meditation Club for “Yoga for Success Night.” The library events range from Valentine’s Day card-making to a costume-integrated Pokemon trivia night, when Annette and Lauren dressed up as the iconic Pokemon characters Jessie and James.

“It’s the little things that we have to find joy in,” Annette says.

On evaluation forms, students say they love the friendly atmosphere and are ecstatic to meet people outside the classroom.

“The feedback we’ve been getting, I’m not a super-emotional person, but you get the feels,” Annette says. Students made a Discord group to maintain the friendships forged at the outreach events.

Alexis Monti, a junior environmental science and natural resource conservation double major, is studying remotely from Vermont and attends the library events on a regular basis.

“The library’s program has been like my only interaction with campus other than classes. So it’s been cool getting to talk to other people during the outreach events,” Alexis says. “I’m usually put into teams with random people I don’t know. And then we end up joking and having fun, so I love that.”

When campus life returns to normal — or at least something close to normal — Alexis says she hopes students will still attend the Library Outreach Series “just to get Annette’s energy, because that should be UMass bucket list.”




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