Staff profile: Gabriela Castro Gessner

Seeing an outsider's perspective through the eyes of a librarian/anthropologist...

Who she is: Gabriela Castro Gessner, research and assessment analyst

What she does: I evaluate our library services so that we can constantly improve to make sure we’re doing the best we can for our users. I’m the qualitative voice in our Research & Assessment Unit — I interview and observe people, I run focus groups, I do a lot of looking at context and interpreting and analyzing.

Why it’s important: The Library tries very hard to figure out what people want and need from us. We want to understand what they’re thinking and how they use our services, so that we can do all of it better.

Where she comes from: I’m Mexican; I was born in Mexico City. I use my experiences with other cultures and different backgrounds as a way to think about different voices and positions. I like to look at all the angles and try to see the outsider perspective. I want to make studies and research questions accessible to a wide audience, because I recognize that Cornell has such a diverse community and we want to make sure we reach as many people as possible.

Education: I’m an anthropologist by training, from my bachelor’s to my master’s to my doctorate. My PhD is from SUNY Binghamton in anthropological archaeology. My dissertation explored learning and how ancient people acquired knowledge and skills in painting pottery. I read a lot about theories of learning, and some of that directly applies to my job now.

Years at Cornell: Ten! I thought I’d only be here a couple of years! I’ve worked in Olin Library the whole time, first in reference for seven years and then in my current assessment role.

Best part of her job: I have the ability and the freedom to design studies. If someone wants to find out more about what students are doing in Uris at 3 a.m., for example, I love to think about what all the variables are, what ultimately do we want to know and what’s the best method to figure it out. I love to see studies from the very beginning to the very end.

In her spare time: I see myself as wearing two professional hats: one is what I do in the Library and the other is pursuing archaeological interests in the Near East. I spent last summer in Turkmenistan doing an archaeological survey, and now I’m putting together the analysis of what I found. I also love to bake and experiment with new recipes.

Dream job: Something where I could do different things creatively. I want to think big and do detail work at the same time — which is part of why I like my current job, because it allows me to put details into practice in service of a larger goal.


In this LibeScope series, interviews with library staff reveal their skills, talents, interests and backgrounds.