Alumni Stories: Mallory Harlen

Mallory Harlen (BA 2005) went on to receive her Master’s degree in Information Studies (M.S.I.S.) from SUNY in 2010, and is now a librarian.

For Mallory, the elusive glass slipper after graduation was writing and reading: “I knew that I needed to do something that would allow me to read and write to my heart’s content.” With her English degree and her Masters in School Library/Children’s Services in tow, Mallory gained a position as the Teen Services Librarian at the Ossining Public Library. Mallory is quick to dispel any assumptions that her job as a librarian is just carting around dusty books.

“I know what the public librarian stereotypes are,” she says, “and I’m here to refute them: I never shush, I hardly ever wear my hair in a bun and… well, the cardigan stereotype is on point. But for the most part, public librarianship is much different from what most people might realize.”

Mallory comments on the variety of tasks involved in being a librarian: “I love working with teens and talking to them about books, television, and movies and coming up with creative programming ideas. I’ve done things like host a Pretty Little Liars party to celebrate the release of the newest books in the YA series and the premiere of the ABC Family television show, and I’ve started a “Crafts for a Cause” program—this month, we’re beading earrings and sending pairs to a women’s shelter. I’ve also been coordinating the purchase of e-readers for the library, which is exciting because I get to put technology in the hands of people who might not otherwise use it. I’ve written grants, coordinated a summer reading program and spend much of my day talking books. Getting paid to buy and recommend books? It’s amazing.”

When Mallory is not bringing her interests and innovations into the library, she is curling up with a computer and a soap opera—well, a lot of soap operas! Mallory writes a monthly “My Take” column that appears in the print edition Soap Opera Digest. Mallory’s humorous writing and honest opinions bring her perspective on recent events, writing, and acting on soaps like Days of Our Lives and General Hospital. “My job basically consists of watching television and then writing in sweatpants,” Mallory comments. “I hope that the pride in that statement comes across in print!” In addition to her print appearances, Mallory also blogs several times a week at Serial Drama (http://serialdrama.typepad.com), the website responsible for her landing the Soap Opera Digest gig.

Mallory’s long-time interest in soaps and in pop culture is the driving passion that brought her to her current writing jobs: “I am obsessed with pop culture; from highbrow movies to lowbrow reality shows (for my senior seminar at Saint Rose, which I took with Dr. Middleton, I actually studied celebrity reality TV shows back when the only games in town were The Osbournes and The Anna Nicole Smith Show) to celebrity gossip, I could talk your ear off about, basically, anything, and many of my papers and projects at Saint Rose wound up incorporating this fascination.” It was love at first soap for Mallory as well: “Starting back in elementary school, I fell in love with soap operas (fun and addictive entertainment on five days a week, no repeats? I’m there). I will defend serial dramas up and down to anyone who mocks them, but even I have to admit that some of the writing and acting is…iffy. I found myself with a whole lot to say about the soaps I watch, so I decided to start a blog. I never thought anyone would actually read it, but it turns out that I greatly underestimated the number of disgruntled soap fans out there, because I started to get regular visitors and traffic increased over the first few months. After about six months of blogging, I got an email from Stephanie Sloane, who is now the Editor-In-Chief of Soap Opera Digest, asking if I’d be interested in writing a monthly opinion column for her. I screamed the kind of scream Olive let out in Little Miss Sunshine and agreed without a second’s hesitation. I’ve been writing the magazine column for going on five years now and it still gives me a thrill to know that a magazine with my writing in is appears in stores all over the country. Being able to write about something I’m passionate about and have it reach such a broad audience is a dream come true for me.”

Mallory’s dreams-come-true have only been supported and helped along by her English degree and her time at Saint Rose. “You do SO much reading and writing as an English major,” she says, “that it starts to become normal after a while and that’s been a huge help for me these days, when I have to juggle working, writing, and reading a few books a week. It also taught me a lot about how to approach writing deadlines and how to find inspiration with a deadline looming.” The professors at Saint Rose that helped her on her educational path also deserve credit, Mallory mentions, for giving her the freedom in her projects to explore her particular interests: “I was incredibly lucky to have professors who taught English with a twist and allowed me to think creatively. My professors–especially Kim Middleton, Megan Fulwiler, and Doug Butler—contributed hugely to the development of my voice and to my ability to think critically and creatively about novels, poems, film, and television. They were fantastic about allowing me to approach their courses through my pop culture lens and that led to work that I’m really proud of about reality television, or the 21st Century cult of Jane Austen.”

Because she has faced the question that can be daunting for upcoming English degree recipients— What do you do with an English degree? —and has come out ahead, Mallory has some advice for the next group of graduates: “Entering the job market, especially in an economic climate like this, is incredibly daunting. I’d like to tell upcoming graduates to be creative about their skills—if you’re a great writer, but can’t find a journalism job, try something like grant writing. And don’t let job postings scare you off; even if a job posting asks for three years of experience in the field and you have, well, zero, it’s worth a shot to apply, since there could be something in your resume or portfolio that winds up being exactly what a hiring committee is looking for.”

Being tenacious and hardworking are essential assets for every English major, and with her successes in writing and in passing on the love of books and pop culture to others, Mallory only proves the rule. The English Department is proud of you, Mallory, and we expect to hear (or read) more great things from you in the future!

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