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Humans of Charles Sturt: Jessica Lewis

Humans of Charles Sturt: Jessica Lewis


”When the Charles Sturt Library job came up at Port Mac, I took the chance and applied for it. I very almost didn’t, as I had only toyed with the idea of retraining as a librarian and didn’t have the paper to show for it yet!”

Interviewed and written by Grace Carpenter

We continue the Humans of Charles Sturt series by sitting down with our next staff driven piece, Jessica (Jess) Lewis…

Jess works in the library at the Port Macquarie campus, where she has been based for about a year.

Her role is vitally important to many people’s university lives, with her knowledge of research and navigating university resources enabling so many students to progress and grow in their studies.

Keep reading to learn more about Jess’ life and her journey to becoming a Human of Charles Sturt.

Humans of Charles Sturt Jess Lewis trying try fly fishing for the first time!

What is your role at Charles Sturt?

‘I’m a Client Services Librarian with Charles Sturt. I work within the Faculty of Arts & Education Library team.

I’m based at the Port Macquarie campus on beautiful Birpai country.

Essentially, what that all means is that I’m a librarian you will see in the office or behind the desk at Port Mac, or perhaps in some of your online classes teaching library research skills.’

Can you tell us a bit about your pathway to becoming a Client Services Librarian for Charles Sturt’s Port Macquarie campus, and how long have you been there?

‘The pathway to becoming a librarian for me has been a little round-about.

I’ve always loved reading and learning and was definitely a regular at the school library (Premier’s Reading Challenge anyone?) and my public library in Armidale, where I grew up.

My first real understanding of what the information sector actually does though – spoiler alert, it goes beyond just libraries and lending out books – didn’t come until a few years into my uni study.

I did some work towards the commemoration of the First World War Centenary between 2014 and 2018 and had the incredible opportunity to sit on the NSW Centenary of Anzac Advisory Council.

While much of the work was quite focused in the cities, living in Armidale gave me the chance to organise regional events and really get involved with my community.

This is where I got a taste of a different branch of information work – the UNE Regional Archives & Heritage Centre, along with its amazing staff, was a goldmine of historical information and a key support for the commemorations.

Working alongside the archives enriched my understanding of the New England area’s history; my own family history (finding a previously unknown photo of a relative who had served in WWI); and gave me a real sense of how important information institutions such as libraries, archives, and museums are to our societies.

I took a slight detour after finishing my study – a Bachelor of Arts and then a Master of Teaching – and looked to pursue work in a similar vein to my commemorative involvement.

I landed a spot in the graduate program with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in Canberra.

While I learnt a lot about myself and gained stacks of new skills, I decided this wasn’t ‘on the ground’ enough for me, so decided to return to my original route of teaching.

I was successful in gaining a job at a high school in Port Macquarie, teaching English.

This saw me often working closely with the school librarian and library. As many people know, teaching is an incredibly rewarding job, but also incredibly tough.

After a few years, I struggled for a while, desperately wanting to stay in a role that I loved but knowing it was burning me out.

When the Charles Sturt Library job came up at Port Mac, I took the chance and applied for it.

I very almost didn’t, as I had only toyed with the idea of retraining as a librarian and didn’t have the paper to show for it yet!

Fortunately, my partner convinced me to give it a go, and after a lot of moral support, I fired off the application thinking I didn’t have a chance!

I was so thrilled to land the role and have been here about a year now, also while studying the Master of Information Studies. I love that I’m still working in education, and still get the chance to teach the occasional class!’

Jess Lewis celebrating a friend’s wedding.

What does your typical day look like?

‘My days are quite variable, which I love!

It also very much depends where we are in a session; for example, at the start of session, I’ll likely be busy planning and delivering library research skills classes, making online recordings or updating resources for subjects that I’m embedded into.

If you’re a first-year social work student, you’ll likely see me in some of your subjects!

Apart from classes, I help answer any student or staff questions from people who visit the Library desk.

Several times throughout the week, I also answer library questions via our Chat and Phone services – you can message us, and chat live via the Library webpage – look for the ‘Chat with a librarian’ button.

Chat with a Librarian button on the Charles Sturt Library Website.

Most weeks, I’ll also have several one-on-one student appointments where I assist students with research for their assessments, evaluating information, using the Library searches and databases, accessing their readings and more.

Twice a week I visit the First Nations Centre on Port Macquarie campus, Ngarralbaa, to help out or just have a chat with any students there.

Plus, I’m fortunate to work in a space that really values professional development, so I may also attend an online workshop or meeting and learn something new.

Finally, there’s always lots of interesting projects that crop up to keep me busy! Speaking of which, keep an eye on the Charles Sturt Instagram and TikTok accounts… you might see the Library on there too!’

What would people be surprised to know about you/your job?

‘I very rarely work with actual physical books!

A lot of work is based online, and our wonderful Student Library Assistants do most of the book handling, like shelving, borrowing, and mailing to other campuses.

I think people are also often surprised by just how useful the library and librarians can be – there’s no need to be painfully wading through thousands of irrelevant results, looking for resources for your assessments!

Learning some basic research skills, that we can share with you, will make the research process a lot quicker and more effective.

The other big misconception people have is the librarian stereotype – we probably won’t shush you or ferociously glare at you over the top of our glasses, believe it or not!

We are actually really keen to help you and love it when students, or staff, ask us for assistance.’

What do you most enjoy about your job?

‘For me, the highlight of my job is the one-on-one interactions with students via Library appointments and seeing their ‘ah-ha!’ moments.

It might be when they’ve cracked a tough assessment question, found the perfect journal article, or understood how much easier the whole process is with solid research skills (and the Library of course) behind them.’

Jess Lewis at Kosciuszko National Park.

What has been one of your proudest achievements in your role at Charles Sturt?

‘I’ve had a few students who make regular use of the Library, or have attended several appointments for research assistance, let me know how much their grades have improved.

One of the best moments was when I had a student who had returned to study after a long time. They had a tough start, sought help from us, and then returned to tell me that they had achieved a High Distinction on an assessment!

Knowing that we’d helped even a little bit on their study journey was an awesome feeling.’

What were your interests as a child growing up?

‘Unsurprisingly for someone who became a librarian, I was a massive bookworm as a child (and still am, although life responsibilities sometimes get in the way of my large reading wish-list)!

Like many kids from regional areas, sport was commonplace too, with many freezing Armidale winter Saturday mornings spent at the netball courts.

I also learnt and played classical guitar, eventually going on to teach younger students.’

As a child, what did you aspire to be growing up?

‘I went through a few career aspirations, but one of my earliest plans, funnily enough, was to work in a bookstore!

I feel like I’ve got my early wish, but better, because in libraries the books are free for use!

This changed perhaps in late primary school, after which I was very much set on teaching. So in the end, I’ve been lucky enough to really get the best of both worlds.’

Jess Lewis at the Sydney Opera House about to see Phantom of the Opera for a third time!

How do you like to relax or de-stress?

‘My dog Rusty, the retired rescue greyhound, is an excellent companion for a de-stress walk – he’s also a great motivator, and sometimes alarm clock!

One of my other favourite activities is swing dancing – it’s an incredible style of dance, an art form with African American roots incorporating things like Lindy Hop, Balboa, Blues and more.

It’s just an expression of pure joy, fun and creativity and something that I love to do when the opportunity arises.

The only downside is it’s mostly based in the city, so I do have to travel, but I love attending big workshop weekends when I can.

If you want to marvel at the skill of some of the top dancers and watch the general awesomeness of swing, do yourself a favour and look up Remy and Ramona swing dance on YouTube!’

Who has influenced you most in your life?

‘My Mum is my biggest influence.

She is an incredible woman who is one of the kindest people I know and handles anything with both grace and grit – definitely an inspiration’

What’s your biggest challenge right now? Or what’s the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome?

‘By far the biggest challenge I’ve overcome is endometriosis and adenomyosis.

After going undiagnosed for 15 years, and even having an unnecessary appendectomy as the result of a misdiagnosis, I found a doctor who listened and told me that it wasn’t ‘just part of being a woman’ to be in pain regularly.

It meant some surgery, then a lot of physio, plus working on the emotional and mental side of things, but I’m busy living my best life now, pretty much pain free!

It’s very important to me now to talk about women’s health and advocate for improved education and further research (if anyone needs it – the Endometriosis Australia website is a great place to start).’

In your life thus far, what has been the biggest life lesson you have learnt?

‘Grab, chase, and jump on opportunities!

Self-doubt is pretty much inevitable, but life is way too short to not go after the things that matter to you, even if it’s scary. I never want to look back and think, ‘I wish I’d done that’.’

Jess Lewis at the Elvis festival in Parkes, so much retro goodness!

Do you have something planned in the next year that you are very excited about?

‘Yes! I’m getting married! My partner and I will be getting married in Armidale in December this year.

My parents are about to move from the home and town where they raised their family, so it means a lot have our wedding back in my hometown. I can’t wait!’

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

‘This one was from my Mum, because she knows that I’m a bit of a perfectionist and care too much sometimes:

“Don’t worry about what people think or say, especially if it’s unkind – they’ll forget it in a few minutes, but it’s your choice how long it sticks with you.”

What advice would you give to students starting at university?

‘Be kind to yourself, but also give it your best shot. It’s likely to be a big life transition, whether you’ve come straight from school or are coming to study for the first time after being in the workforce, so it’s going to take some adjusting!

On a more practical note, one strategy I used from about halfway through my undergrad, after way too many 3am panic induced essays and all-nighters, was to set myself ‘dummy dates’ for all my assessments.

I’d create a list and write the due dates as one to two weeks in advance, so I’d have them finished early. I wouldn’t have the real due dates anywhere visible so I couldn’t be tempted to stretch it out!

That way too, when life happened, I had some extra time up my sleeve.’

What is one thing you couldn’t live without?

‘Not a ‘thing’ as such, but the people I love are the most important in my life.’

What is your proudest accomplishment?

‘I’m proud of lots of things in my life and recognise how fortunate I am to have had lots of opportunities.

I’ll pick my most recent ‘proudest’ – last year I made it onto the longlist for the 2022 Richell Prize for Emerging Writers (from Hachette Australia publishing), an award for an unpublished manuscript – with 20 writers selected for the longlist out of 700 entries.

Although I didn’t make it any further, it was a massive affirmation of my writing and very exciting! It’s a long shot (and definitely a journey!), but eventually I’d love to be a published author.’

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

‘I can’t live without my Mum’s roast lamb!’

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

‘Still working in the Library on Port Mac campus! Now that I’ve settled into the coastal environment, I wouldn’t be anywhere else.’

A final note

A big thank you to Jess Lewis for being a part of our Humans of Charles Sturt blog series! We wish you all the best with your upcoming wedding and future plans for becoming a published author.

If you or anyone you know would like to participate in our Humans of Charles Sturt series, please reach out and email us at

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