Brooks seeks to inspire by completing Ph.D.


Ellie Nowakowski

US librarian Kate Brooks sorts through books. "Berlin is an incredibly diverse city. It's both racially diverse and diverse in terms of class and gender expressions. I appreciate that," Brooks said.

US librarian Kate Brooks is proving that the difference between an academic librarian with and without a Ph.D. in German lies in the experience. Brooks began to work towards her Ph.D. in 2000 when she began attending graduate school. However, after getting her master’s degree in German studies, insecurity and self-doubt led her to leave the doctoral program to pursue a master’s in library science, working as a librarian. Last year she decided to take a leave of absence to complete her Ph.D., and returned at the beginning of this year.

“I was the first in my family to go to college. When I went to graduate school, I started at Columbia University, and I really felt like I didn’t fit in. I think that made me feel insecure, like ‘I don’t belong here’ or ‘What am I doing getting a Ph.D. in something like German?’ It seemed kind of silly. All of those things made me leave the program. Being a librarian felt more practical. I thought I could do something to help people, and that seemed more fitting,” Brooks said.

After being hired as the head librarian on the Randolph Campus, she decided to finish her Ph.D. in German studies, which she’s been working on for the past five years.

“Later I realized that a lot of people, regardless of their class, background, and other things, feel like frauds in grad school. It was perfectly normal. I was like, ‘Maybe I can do this’ and ‘I have a right to do this,'” Brooks said.

After earning a fellowship from the University of Minnesota in 2014, she took a leave of absence from her position as academic librarian at SPA. The fellowship took her around the twin cities all the way to the University of Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder).

“I spent part of the year just doing research here in Minnesota. The fellowship I had allowed me to get funding without having to teach, but we went around to public high schools in Minnesota and talked about how great it is to study German, spent a total of six months in Germany, mostly in Berlin doing research. Then I taught a seminar at a German University during their summer semester. It was really a lot of fun,” Brooks said.

Brooks found herself inspired by the unique culture of Germany.  She appreciates the country’s reliance on walking or taking public transportation to get from one place to another. Things as simple as walking to the grocery store and back home after shopping were places where she found joy. And, being a librarian, she loved that people read books on public transportation, instead of just being on their phones. She enjoyed frequently attending the theater, where she witnessed a unique blend of people who also attended. While studying there, she even considered making it her permanent residence.

“Berlin is an incredibly diverse city. It’s both racially diverse and diverse in terms of class and gender expressions. I appreciate that,” Brooks said.

She hopes her experiences will leave an impression, however small, on someone with aspirations and challenges similar to hers. Whether they are aspiring first-generation college students, unsure of their ability or don’t feel a sense of belonging, she wants to show them that they are capable of pursuing what they are passionate about. She now wants to use her language and teaching skills as a way of helping others.

Berlin is an incredibly diverse city. It’s both racially diverse and diverse in terms of class and gender expressions. I appreciate that.”

— Kate Brooks

“I have been teaching German as a second language and I’ve thought about transferring those skills to teaching English. There’s a lot of people who want to learn English, and I’m a native speaker of English and I have the skills to teach language, so volunteering to do that. There’s a lot of people who have come to Germany [because of the] refugee crisis. So, maybe in the summer, I going and volunteering in some capacity there,” Brooks said of potential ways to transfer her skills to help people.

Brooks, having taken time away from pursuing a German studies Ph.D., was “a lot older than many other graduate students.” The younger students who were also part of the same fellowship program looked to her for leadership and a role model, because she already had experience in a Ph.D. program, with research, and as an academic librarian. It is the experience of learning and teaching, as well as working with younger students, that Brooks believes will transfer back to her job as an academic librarian.