Faces of Colby: Librarian and World Traveler Marilyn R. Pukkila

Marilyn R. Pukkila, Colby’s Research and Instruction Librarian for Social Sciences and Humanities, has been at the College for nearly 33 years. In that time she has brought a wealth of knowledge, specialties, experiences, and interests to her work at the main Miller library.

The libraries at Colby are some of the most important places on campus. Students at Colby often go to Miller Library to study and use the library’s resources, yet we often forget about the librarians who make all this possible.

Pukkila’s work goes far beyond the responsibilities of a librarian. She is the liaison from the library to ten different departments at Colby: African-American Studies, American Studies, Anthropology, Education, History, Jewish Studies, Religious Studies, Psychology, Sociology, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. In doing this, she helps both students and faculty to not only understand how to utilize the library’s resources, but also to find new ones. Pukkila gives workshops for faculty to help them understand how to maximize what the library has to offer and works to find new books, journals, digital archives, and other resources for the departments she assists.

Beyond the library, Pukkila also teaches several English, Religious Studies, and WGSS courses on campus. Fulfilling her interest in fantasy novels, her course topics include Harry Potter, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, religion of contemporary witchcraft, and fairy tales. In addition, Pukkila served as the faculty sponsor for the former Quidditch team on campus, is currently the faculty sponsor for  Istari, the campus’s fantasy club, and recently became the faculty sponsor for Powder and Wig. She stays active in student outreach on campus, regularly attending theater performances, campus talks, and the occasional athletic event, and going to dining halls five days a week. Despite this extremely busy schedule, Pukkila does not mind having so many commitments on campus. “You make your choices and that’s that,” Pukkila said, adding that to keep track of everything, she has three calendars: one she keeps with her at all times, a Google calendar and one she keeps at home.

All of this work does not keep Pukkila from having a long list of hobbies and interests. Luckily for her as a librarian, she loves reading, especially fantasy novels. When she began teaching a class on the Harry Potter series, some of her students expressed to her that the series had helped college students that grew up without a religion to answer broad spiritual questions that everyone thinks about. These questions, according to Pukkila, include “what happens when we die? What is a soul? And why is there evil?” This inspired Pukkila to write a book called The Skill of a Seeker: Rowling, Religion and Gen 9/11, published in April 2015, about how young Harry Potter readers used the series to think about these type of questions, and to “explore those questions without feeling there’s any particular spiritual practice imposed on that.”

Besides her literature-based hobbies, Pukkila loves gardening, studying genealogy, opera (going frequently to the Waterville Opera House), and theater. She is a member of the Vassalboro Friends Meeting, a local Quaker Meeting, and practices earth-based spirituality. In addition to all this, she finds time to travel all over the world, and has been to every continent except Antarctica. Her past travel destinations have included England, Finland, Iceland, France, Israel, Jordan, Japan, New Zealand, the Dominican Republic, and Wales, where she lived for a year.

When asked about her most memorable experience in her over three decades at Colby, Pukkila said she could narrow it down to three. Her first was when information literacy, the idea of learning what information is reliable and unreliable, was introduced as a concept at a Colby faculty meeting. Pukkila has long felt that students need to learn how to distinguish between  information in the world they can and cannot trust, something she believes has only gotten more important in the recent era of “fake news.” When this idea of information literacy was brought up at a faculty meeting, Pukkila called the ensuing discussion a “moment of professional pride.” Her second memorable moment was seeing acclaimed novelist Salman Rushdie speak on campus and being able to ask him the first question. Her final memorable moment was receiving the PCB Commitment to Multiculturalism Award last year.

Pukkila says she is proud to be part of the Colby community because she considers it a “community of scholars.” This phrase, similar to one used when Colby awards honorary degrees at the commencement ceremonies, refers not just to the scholarly work done here, but the fact that we come from all over the world and find ways to work and live together. Pukkila believes that this allows us to “learn how to be a community” and to use that experience to make change in the outside world. She notes that even being a community together at Colby has challenges, but believes that “the fact that tensions come up shows the extent that we are making change, because if we were not making change there wouldn’t be any push back.”