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!