Communication Librarian in Research, Teaching, and Learning. American University, Washington, DC
How long have you been in the field?
Started library school and service hours at various libraries as part of my program in 2010, completed MLIS in 2012.
How Do You Work?
What is your office/workspace like?
I have a corner cube where I can spread out a bit, phone, pens, books, headphones, etc., all at an arm’s reach. The bulk of my instruction colleagues, as well as the supervisors of our Research, Teaching, and Learning unit, are nearby. I often will pass through the admin office to say hello and check in with technical services. I may do this a couple times a day as a reminder to get up and away from my desk, and to encourage and maintain dialogue with other departments and units for which I have the utmost respect; there’s no way that I can do the job I do without the efforts of others who work so well and seamlessly with myself and others in research and instruction. At my actual workspace? Headphones, tunes, water bottle, post-its.
How do you organize your days?
There’s a lot of email wrangling. I’m sure that’s prevalent for many folks, not just those of us in libraries. I check in regularly with my faculty to make sure books, resources, course reserves, and so on, are up to snuff or if there are new titles/products that should be on my radar.
What do you spend most of your time doing?
I spend a lot of time planning and working on my instructional load for the School of Communication students and performing other liaison duties for that school. Between that and prepping for classes, and individual appointments with my students, that’s the bulk of my day! I’ve been surprised in the time I’ve been here at AU that many of my appointments are working with graduate students. Some are working as GA’s for faculty and their respective research and others are just returning students who’ve been out of school for ten or twenty years so research and libraries are different from what they remember. Getting them back on track and familiar with the resources we have is important.
What is a typical day like for you?
I’ve been here at AU for a little over two years, and now that I’m settled in, I focus primarily on instruction with students, supporting my faculty, and tending to the research needs of both within the School of Communication. With that, my typical day is rather atypical. But there is email, meetings with various teams and colleagues, collection development, and staying on top of new trends and things happening in the field. I also keep one foot rooted in diversity and inclusion issues on campus and in the profession as well.
What are you reading right now?
Everything! I used to be a very dedicated reader because it helped me with my writing, but after returning to school and reading mostly textbooks and academic articles, I had to abandon it. I’m really excited about writing again and reading good work gets me there in terms of inspiration. I just read the most fantastic short story called “Charity” from a short story collection by Charles Baxter called, There’s Something I Want You to Do. There’s this amazing shift in the narrative halfway through the story that I just loved. Masterful. I’ve also really enjoyed Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, and I’m nearly done with Morrison’s God Help the Child. She is just so powerful and skillful with how she uses language and voice. I miss the verve of her earlier work, but I feel like I see a lot of it in this new novel. Lots on my to-read shelf: Purity, Americanah, Drown, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, A Brief History of Seven Killings, A Little Life, and in non-fiction Between the World and Me, Ghettoside, and Negroland.
What's the best professional advice you've ever received?
Someone told me once, essentially: What makes you a good librarian was already in place before you ever thought about becoming a librarian. All the tools were already there. In hindsight, I think that’s true. I try to be kind but firm, honest but real, exercise compassion and consideration because we all know what it’s like to lose, to suffer, to be on the outside looking in. It sounds cliché, but I chalk it up to my parents who worked so hard so that I could have the life I’ve had. I mean, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain,” to quote James Taylor, but I love what I do; I honestly do.
What have you found yourself doing at work that you never expected?
Buying games. Board games, video games, old consoles and cartridges from eBay, Ticket to Ride, Game of Thrones games, Twister. It’s cool and I love being able to support our new gaming master’s program. I’ve had to learn a lot rather quickly with how our program approaches gaming which isn’t say, designing games to be a game designer, but looking at how something like Pandemic can be seen as an analog and teaching tool to say the recent Ebola outbreak from last year. It’s pretty great.
Inside the Library Studio
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What profession other than your own would you love to attempt?
Part of me still thinks I’m somewhat of a pastry chef. I enjoy cooking and am very ambitious once I’m ready to make things happen in my apron. I thought about culinary school but I don’t know if I want my enjoyment of food things to extend beyond my current hobby status. I went to film school before I became a librarian and in many ways having that kind of insight into something can alter your perception and enjoyment of it. With that, I always thought I’d be a great pharmacist. I enjoy working with and helping people and I think working with people in that capacity...kind of like a doctor, but not a doctor would be pretty awesome.
What profession would you never want to attempt?
What superpower do you wish you had?
The ability to take away someone’s pain.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Interestingly, it’s not one big thing or event, though there have been some great moments and achievements. I honestly am proud of the opportunity to engage with someone in the midst of a research dilemma and to witness when they “get it”. Something clicks and you can see it in their eyes. People come to you in crisis, right? At the last minute and feeling like they’re painted into a corner, which is awful. But even then, seeing someone back down from the ledge a bit when they realize that they’ve figured out how to make the assignment or capstone or dissertation happen; how to find the citations and articles and books that will ensure the literature review is going to work, or their term paper. I think people have a pretty set definition on what a librarian is, and I’m probably not that at all. We can do a lot of things and helping people? I’m pretty proud of that.
If you're willing to share, tell about a mistake you made on the job.
This isn’t really a mistake, but almost four years out from my library degree, there’s still so much I don’t know much about. Scholarly communication, governance issues, open access, grants, impact factors; some of it is just the nature of higher education, but there is a lot of crossover with academic libraries. In some ways I feel woefully ignorant of how that aspect of the job works and I owe it to myself as well as my faculty, to stay current on these things as it certainly informs the work we do. [Editor's Note: I'm almost 13 years out from my degree program, and there's still so much *I* don't know. I think most of us feel that way, at least if we're being honest.]
When you aren't at work, what are you likely doing?
I love music. So I’m almost always cruising around either in real life or online for used records. I grew up on hip-hop, just as it was springing forth as a cultural art form. But I can’t keep up with a lot of the new stuff, so I listen to 80’s and 90’s golden age stuff. Also, a lot of soul, funk, and groove tunes. Lately, I’ve been in a big jazz frame of mind getting lost in Miles and Coltrane and Monk. And Nina. Always Nina Simone. I do love the physical act of playing a record and playing it through.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Shawn Calhoun, Eamon Tewell, Gina Murrell. Three people I only really kind of know through social media circles, but admire and would love to know more about.
Derrick Jefferson is on Twitter as @geekandahalf.
Derrick Jefferson is on Twitter as @geekandahalf.