MLA Featured Library Employee — Sandy Rodriguez

Meet our most recent Featured Library Employee for the Missouri Library Association, Sandy Rodriguez!

What is your name, your library, and your role at the library?

Sandy Rodriguez, University of Missouri—Kansas City University Libraries, Head of Digital Archives & Stewardship

What originally got you interested in working at a library?

After earning my music education degree, I wasn’t convinced that teaching music was where my passions were. That summer, I noticed an ad from a library vendor seeking detail-oriented candidates with music subject knowledge. During the interview, I had to count the number of times the letter “f” appeared in a paragraph, and I thought, “What is this job that values both my music subject knowledge and my extreme analytical skills? Sign me up!” I was hired to catalog music sound recordings for public libraries and eventually moved on to become a full-time paraprofessional music cataloger for the University of Kentucky Fine Arts Library while pursuing my graduate degree. It was then that I was exposed to preservation practices and digital libraries, and I made it my goal to work in that space eventually.

What keeps you coming back every day?

I’m a very purpose-driven person so it’s important for me understand where my work is situated within a broader historical, societal, and cultural context. What keeps me coming back is realizing the impacts and outcomes of engaging in work that supports reflection, learning, and growth. I’ve gained a deeper understanding of how digital archives and preservation contribute to shaping a system of cultural memory and how that relates to societal issues, specifically exploring the need to recognize the value of the often invisible labor of digital work and how we engage directly with the humanistic pursuit of equity and justice, particularly for minoritized communities. Being supported to learn from and contribute to the profession in this way has transformed my approach to this work and has ultimately made me a better librarian.

What’s challenging about your work?

Preserving and providing access to digital content is full of challenges, but what I am most challenged by is the level of advocacy needed to support digital archives and preservation, especially at a time when our role as a public good is being challenged and undermined as a political issue. Libraries continue to struggle to be responsive to changes in our users’ behaviors and expectations, particularly around their engagement in digital scholarship, while also navigating the fiscal realities that incentivize us to downsize or leverage efficiencies. Communicating needs on effective support of preservation and access to digital content and centering the value of doing that work is made even more challenging when much of digital labor is not visible or easily understood. So yes, I find it challenging the amount of advocacy I have to do for something that is part of our unique identity as libraries, archives, and museums, and I find it frustrating that while I am having to do this advocacy, I could be preserving digital content.

Has your work made you either curious, or passionate, or awestruck about something?

I am fascinated by the intersection of identity, social justice, and archival labor. Because of this interest, I’ve been reading quite a bit on systems and systemic issues, trying to understand how systems are designed, the rules, the feedback loops, the leverage points, etc. Applying these concepts to our social and political systems has been eye-opening, but even more enlightening has been making connections between these systems and digital archives; for instance, understanding how the choices we make when processing, describing, and presenting our content can unintentionally contribute to reinforcing harmful narratives that uphold systems of oppression. These realizations have changed my priorities and I’m passionate about advocating that all library workers locate their responsibility in the systemic issues that impact our communities’ lives, and to make conscious choices that work toward social justice for those communities. If we don’t do this individually and collectively, I’d argue that we are not fully committed to serving all of our users.

Who is one of your mentors?

People of color are not well-represented in libraries, and even less so in library leadership so access to mentors who understand the barriers and challenges we face navigating this predominantly white profession, are few and far between. That said, I’ve had plenty of mentors, but I want to take this space to recognize the community of mentors I have in the group, we here, a community of library workers of color. This community serves an important purpose that gives me hope about the future of our profession.

What book, author, artist, show, or music are you engaging with this week, either personally or professionally? Persuade us in one or two sentences that we should pick this up, too.

I just started reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, and in it, she breaks down how we continue to reinforce racial hierarchy by simply redesigning it; in modern times, taking the form of mass incarceration which disproportionately affects black and brown communities. If you’re interested in broadening your perspective to understand how systems work, how they insidiously develop and persist, how they shape our culture, and how they impact many of the communities we serve and represent, then I’d recommend this book.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Please take some time to consider and appreciate the often unacknowledged emotional labor that your colleagues from underrepresented and marginalized communities confront on a daily basis, not only in their interactions with patrons and with colleagues, but also with what is happening in our country, where our entire communities are being dehumanized. Take some time to respect the strength it takes for them to keep showing up to work, to gracefully confront microaggressions, and to be vulnerable and generous in doing the work of social justice in our workplaces, even when this work is often devalued. And then, take some time to self-reflect on what choices you are making, how you are showing support and empathy, and how you are challenging yourself to understand different experiences from your own.

Would you like to nominate someone to be our next Featured Library Employee?  Examples could be:

…a new employee you’d like to introduce

…someone with a unique job or on a unique career path

…an employee you find inspirational

…a coworker whose gifts you wish were more widely known

…someone who’s “an institution” full of interesting stories

…a role that has a new focus or is reaching a new audience

…someone you’d like to make more visible to potential employers

Submit name(s) and contact information, along with place of employment, to Shannon Mawhiney at smawhiney@missouristate.edu.  We’ll do all the work of contacting; we just need you to connect us!

MLA Featured Library Employee — Julia Wilbers

Meet our most recent Featured Library Employee for the Missouri Library Association, Julia Wilbers!

  • What is your name, your library, and your role at the library?

My name is Julia Wilbers and I’m a Reference Librarian at St. Charles Community College.

  • What originally got you interested in working at a library?

I resisted the call for a long time! My exposure to libraries came from having a mother who was a Children’s Librarian. I volunteered at the public library in high school, worked at the science library all four years as an undergraduate at Miami University… I just couldn’t get away. After a brief stint in book publishing it finally hit me that what I was most passionate about was promoting literacy and encouraging people to see how fun it is do research. Libraries were where I belonged.

  • What keeps you coming back every day?

The first thing I’d have to say is my co-workers, I work with some amazing people in my library. The very close second would be the fact that I get to spend my time helping students. I loved being in school but I didn’t really appreciate all that the library had to offer until long after my undergraduate career was over. I want to help our students avoid that delay in appreciation so I go out of my way to engage with them and try to alleviate any library anxiety. Plus, I love doing collection development.

  • What’s challenging about your work?

I think what’s most challenging about my work is needing to regularly remind myself that the stress a lot of students bring to reference interactions isn’t directed toward me. It’s easy to internalize stressful interactions because all you want to do is help. If the student is working on a tight deadline and it just seems like things aren’t working for them they can easily (and understandably) get frustrated and occasionally that frustration ends up coming your way. As a librarian my focus is helping the patron in front of me and it’s hard to feel like you can’t meet them at their point of need because of things beyond your control.

  • Has your work made you either curious, or passionate, or awestruck about something?

There are so many things! I’m all about encouraging students to embrace leisure reading. When someone comes in and asks for a book recommendation I think my heart grows three sizes. Any Readers Advisory service I can offer gets me incredibly excited. Since I work at a community college our student population is a diverse one with people from many walks of life. I’m in awe of those students I see balancing work, family, and school with such focus and dedication. I’m also fortunate enough to be the library liaison for our Education department and that gives me the opportunity to stay on top of picture books and children’s publishing. I’m so in love with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement and I appreciate children’s literature in a way I didn’t before starting this job. I could go on and on…

  • Who is one of your mentors?

This is a hard one to answer because I feel like there are so many people who have influenced the way I approach librarianship. She might not realize she’s been a mentor to me but I’d say Carol Tilley, one of my professors from the iSchool at Illinois. She is so passionate about her work and she is so intelligent, friendly, and supportive… The way Carol approaches librarianship helped show me how to curate my interests within my profession. Just because my job title says one thing doesn’t mean I’m limited to that. Pursuing what I’m passionate about through the lens of librarianship  only serves to make me a better resource to my patrons.

And I have to add my cohort of reference librarians at SCC. I work with some amazing women, all of whom have helped me grow as a librarian. Seeing the way Ying Li, Theresa Flett, and Kelly Mitchell interact with patrons, prepare for classes, work with faculty, consistently stay student-focused… it motivates me to do the best I can so I can live up to their standards.

  • What book, author, artist, show, or music are you engaging with this week, either personally or professionally? Persuade us in one or two sentences that we should pick this up, too.

I just finished Anne Fadiman’s memoir, The Wine Lover’s Daughter, and it was amazing! Her father, Clifton Fadiman, was an intellectual virtuoso who undoubtedly had an influence on your life you just might not be aware of (Cricket magazine, anyone?). Her memoir was so beautifully done and it has led me to explore her father’s work… what better testament to a book than the fact that it makes you excited to learn more?!

  • Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Just the fact that I’m honored to have been chosen as this month’s featured library employee! It was such a pleasant surprise! AND that I’d highly recommend Alexandra Gallin-Parisi’s article, “An Academic Librarian-Mother in Six Stories,” in In the Library with the Lead Pipe. I met her at The Collective conference, fell in love with her personality, and then saw my friend-crush grow after reading this piece. Anyone can appreciate it, but librarian-mothers (especially of young children) will find themselves especially engrossed.

 

Would you like to nominate someone to be our next Featured Library Employee?  Examples could be:

…a new employee you’d like to introduce

…someone with a unique job or on a unique career path

…an employee you find inspirational

…a coworker whose gifts you wish were more widely known

…someone who’s “an institution” full of interesting stories

…a role that has a new focus or is reaching a new audience

…someone you’d like to make more visible to potential employers

Submit name(s) and contact information, along with place of employment, to Shannon Mawhiney at smawhiney@missouristate.edu.  We’ll do all the work of contacting; we just need you to connect us!

MLA Featured Library Employee — Jennifer Gravley

Meet our most recent Featured Library Employee for the Missouri Library Association, Jennifer Gravley!

  • What is your name, your library, and your role at the library?

I’m Jennifer Gravley, and I’m currently a temporary Research and Instruction Librarian at Ellis Library and a part-time Evening/Weekend Library Supervisor & Tutor at Stephens Library.

  • What originally got you interested in working at a library?

I went to library school a little later in life than most, but it seemed a good fit with my creative writing background and experience in scholarly publishing. There’s not a time in my life I don’t remember libraries playing a major role. I have always relied on libraries to provide me with access to books, both the ones I wanted to read and the ones I didn’t want to read or didn’t know I wanted to read. Libraries make writers.

  • What keeps you coming back every day?

Unfinished projects! And the chance to help students have good experiences in the library that will make libraries a permanent part of their lives as well.

  • What’s challenging about your work?

I think knowing you can always do more is a personal and professional challenge. I think everyone who works in a library figures out where that line is of pushing toward that “enough” that’s never attainable while settling for an “enough” that preserves the time and space to live a fully engaged life outside of the library.

  • Has your work made you either curious, or passionate, or awestruck about something?

Working in academic libraries means being surrounded by people pursuing their own intellectual interests and helping provide them with the information and tools to do so. Frankly, that reminds me to do my own work. I think academic librarians are most effective when they have the opportunity and support to be committed to their own intellectual pursuits that enrich the profession, the university, and the community at large.

  • Who is one of your mentors?

When you’re in a temporary or evening/weekend position, mentorship is much more informal as you are on a different path from other staff—or may not see much of them. That said, I learn so much from everyone I work with. If you listen and observe, you can’t help but learn. Beyond the particulars of the professional work, what I have most admired about my colleagues and hope to emulate is their dedication to lifting each other up and supporting each other’s work. So much in libraries depends on collaboration.

  • What book, author, artist, show, or music are you engaging with this week, either personally or professionally? Persuade us in one or two sentences that we should pick this up, too.

I’m going to recommend Santa Clarita Diet. Season 2 of this zombie comedy was especially delightful. Trust me when I say you’ll find some relationship goals in Shelia and Joel.

  • Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

I’ll throw in a plug for my fabulous local public library. The Columbia Public Library was the first thing I loved about Columbia. To this day, the more time I spend in libraries as a patron, the more human I feel.

 

Would you like to nominate someone to be our next Featured Library Employee?  Examples could be:

…a new employee you’d like to introduce

…someone with a unique job or on a unique career path

…an employee you find inspirational

…a coworker whose gifts you wish were more widely known

…someone who’s “an institution” full of interesting stories

…a role that has a new focus or is reaching a new audience

…someone you’d like to make more visible to potential employers

Submit name(s) and contact information, along with place of employment, to Shannon Mawhiney at smawhiney@missouristate.edu.  We’ll do all the work of contacting; we just need you to connect us!

MLA Featured Library Employee — Kelsey Fitzgerald

Meet our most recent Featured Library Employee for the Missouri Library Association, Kelsey Fitzgerald!

  • What is your name, your library, and your role at the library?

Kelsey Fitzgerald, Ozark Regional Library, Youth Librarian

  • What originally got you interested in working at a library?

My interest in libraries was piqued as a child.  I couldn’t believe that there were entire buildings devoted to books.  As I grew older, I realized all that libraries have to offer.  I worked for a summer in my university library at Baylor University and that was when the wheels really started turning about making this a career.  I wanted to combine my love of books, education, volunteerism, and children and the perfect way to do that was to become a youth librarian.

  • What keeps you coming back every day?

The families in the communities I serve keep me coming back every day.  It is an amazing feeling when I see a child’s face light up while reading a book or participating in one of my programs.  My favorite part is seeing a shy or withdrawn child become more comfortable and start openly enjoying all of the wonders of the library.  The library is an amazing place for families to connect with others for entertainment, education, and support.

Another aspect of my job that keeps me coming back is the people that I work with at Ozark Regional Library and our shared desire to support the small, rural communities in which we live.  The library is a staple of the community and we want to offer the very best resources possible.  Combined with their desire to serve, my co-workers are kind, dedicated, and always good for a laugh.

  • What’s challenging about your work?

One of the biggest challenges I face is getting children and their families into the library.  Ozark Regional Library has four branches in small, rural communities and it is my responsibility to bring children and teen programs to all of them.  Transportation and time are the biggest obstacles in getting families through the library doors.  To help combat this, my co-workers and I offer programs in the local schools and daycares, and at community events.  Our library has developed strong collaborations with community groups, schools, extension offices, media and more to ensure that we reach as many people in our community as possible.

  • Has your work made you either curious, or passionate, or awestruck about something?

My work has made me passionate about collection development.  My Library Director, Holly Martin Huffman, strives to have a collection of the very best materials and resources that will foster knowledge, imagination, and growth.  I am thrilled that I share some of the responsibility in developing the collections for children and teens.

My passion for collection development led to an amazing opportunity for me to serve on the Missouri Association of School Librarian’s Truman Readers Award Committee.  My participation on this committee has exposed me to hundreds of books for students in grades 6-8 and has introduced me to astounding school librarians that I may not have had the opportunity to work with otherwise.   If you’re not familiar with MASL’s Readers Award lists, I recommend checking them out because a great deal of hard work and dedication goes into making those lists by school librarians, public librarians, and students.

  • Who is one of your mentors?

I have been blessed to have worked with extraordinary people in all of the libraries in which I have served.  The staff at Smith Public Library in Wylie, Texas, where I held my first youth department position, helped me get a strong start in this career.  One particular individual that helped me get out of my comfort zone is Jennifer Ilardi, Youth Librarian at St. Louis County Library-Florissant Valley.  I had the pleasure of working alongside her for the better part of a year and I loved how she challenged me and how her passion for youth services was contagious.

  • What book, author, artist, show, or music are you engaging with this week, either personally or professionally? Persuade us in one or two sentences that we should pick this up, too.

With my involvement in the MASL Truman Committee, I don’t have much time for TV, but I do read at least two books a week.  However, I don’t want to give any hints as to what might end up on that list, so I’ll just say that there have been some really good books published recently.

Personally, the book that keeps me constantly engaged is the Bible.  I read it every day and believe it is the best book ever written.  The Bible offers encouragement, courage, guidance, and truth.

  • Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Never underestimate the effect that libraries and library staff can have on a person’s life, especially the life of a child.

 

Would you like to nominate someone to be our next Featured Library Employee?  Examples could be:

…a new employee you’d like to introduce

…someone with a unique job or on a unique career path

…an employee you find inspirational

…a coworker whose gifts you wish were more widely known

…someone who’s “an institution” full of interesting stories

…a role that has a new focus or is reaching a new audience

…someone you’d like to make more visible to potential employers

Submit name(s) and contact information, along with place of employment, to Shannon Mawhiney at smawhiney@missouristate.edu.  We’ll do all the work of contacting; we just need you to connect us!

MLA Featured Library Employee — Debbie Luchenbill

Meet our most recent Featured Library Employee for the Missouri Library Association, Debbie Luchenbill! 

  • What is your name, your library, and your role at the library?

Debbie Luchenbill, MOBIUS, Evergreen Coordinator

  • What originally got you interested in working at a library?

I had a work-study job in circulation at a public library in the Boston area one summer when I was in graduate school and really, really enjoyed it.  A few years later, when I was figuring out where to go from my job in admissions there, I realized that working in libraries met all of what I was looking for:  someplace where I could help people and connect them with information or other things they needed, where I could continue learning, and where it was a good thing to be a generalist.

While my initial focus in libraries was on public libraries and especially youth/teen services and readers’ advisory (still interests of mine!), my interest in leadership and administration led me on a more non-traditional library path, to working with the National History Day program at the State Historical Society of Missouri and now at MOBIUS.

  • What keeps you coming back every day?

The people!  I have fantastic coworkers at MOBIUS and my favorite part of what I do involves my interactions with the staff at the Missouri Evergreen libraries  – especially when I get to visit them in-person for training.  Different from a traditional library setting, my “patrons” are the staff members of all the libraries with which we work.  It is a joy to be a part of helping the libraries be able to better serve their communities!

MOBIUS also recently launched its new MOSS service (MOBIUS Open Source Solutions) where we are expanding our Evergreen hosting and managing services outside Missouri, and it is very exciting to be a part of a new service from the ground-up!

  • What’s challenging about your work?

I love that every day is different, though that also brings its own challenges–my plans for the days are often derailed!  That’s certainly not unique to my particular work, but is always a challenge.  It’s also just an exciting time right now, as Missouri Evergreen continues to grow and as we launch MOSS, because there are so many details to keep track of and nurture, and because we work with people with all different skill levels and different levels of comfort/familiarity with technology.  It’s a challenge, in a good way, to explore and figure out the best ways to communicate and to convey information to people.

  • Has your work made you either curious, or passionate, or awestruck about something?

My work with the Evergreen ILS has made me passionate about library open-source software and the open-source community.  It wasn’t something I was familiar with at all before beginning this work.  The people involved in the Evergreen project are fantastic – programmers and librarians alike – and are really focused on making a high-quality product that meets the needs of the end users in the libraries (staff and patrons).  Because everyone who uses the software is a part of that community, and because there is not a company that owns the software, it’s very dynamic, flexible, and customizable.  For instance, changes/enhancements that the Missouri Evergreen libraries request and that my colleague, Blake Graham-Henderson, programs, gets contributed back to the larger community, so that everyone in the world who uses Evergreen benefits from the changes Missouri Evergreen requested.  And we benefit in the same way from developments other Evergreen libraries make.  It’s wonderful to be a part of that kind of global community.  The Evergreen community is also very focused on the things librarians are passionate about, like protecting patron privacy, equitable and easy access, and doing the best to meet the needs of our patrons.

  • Who is one of your mentors?

I have been lucky to have had many wonderful mentors, both inside and outside of LibraryLand.  One has been Kaite Mediatore Stover, Director of Readers’ Services at Kansas City Public Library, who encouraged and supported my early interest in readers’ advisory, continues to check in with me at conferences, and has helped me be involved in various capacities in RUSA.

  • What book, author, artist, show, or music are you engaging with this week, either personally or professionally? Persuade us in one or two sentences that we should pick this up, too.

I’m in the middle of reading “How to Find Love in a Bookshop” by Veronica Henry.  It’s about a bookstore in the Cotswalds and all the interconnected stories of the founder of the store, his daughter who comes to run it when he dies, and various patrons and employees of the shop (and the developer who wants to buy it and tear it down).  So far, it’s a lovely, delightful read and I like how the founder’s vision of creating a place for book lovers of all kinds becomes a reality in the little town and how it illustrates the effect that each person can have on those around them.

Also, this week is when the movie, Star Wars: The Last Jedi comes out, and I am so excited!  I can’t wait to see how the storylines of all the characters progress.  It’s great to see old friends from the original movies and I love the newer characters we were introduced to in The Force Awakens!

  • Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

I’ve loved all the connections I’ve made to library workers all over the state and nation both through my work and by being involved in MLA and ALA.  It’s so inspiring to learn from and catch up with what people are doing and passionate about.  Keep up the great work!

 

Would you like to nominate someone to be our next Featured Library Employee on the MLA website and in a future issue of MO Info? Submit name(s) and contact information (preferably email), along with place of employment, to Shannon Mawhiney at smawhiney@missouristate.edu.