Next Steps and Black Joy

I had written a whole different kind of post to announce this. But this has been a hard week, especially for Black and Brown people. The world seems to be doing its best to stamp us out of existence through police brutality. Between that and Latanya’s death, I know that living life full of sincerity and joy is paramount. And that’s what I’m going to do. But wait. Let me back up and start from the beginning.

It has been almost 7 years since I stepped into Lincoln Middle School as a School Library Media Specialist. I had just graduated Rutgers with my MLIS and NJ school certification and I was excited to get into the field. While library school had already started to disillusion me with its racism and homophobia (more on that here), I was still so happy to be a librarian. And for the most part years later this hasn’t changed. I loved working with the middle schoolers. I loved teaching and doing displays and listening to the kids stories and I even liked grading at times! In another world I would be tenured at a school in NJ laughing at how much 13 year olds still love MCR (aka My Chemical Romance).

But, as I worked at the middle school, I saw pretty quickly that in order to best pursue the research I had started in grad school about intersectionality in librarianship (article here) that I would have to switch to academic librarianship. Even if I limited myself to just Midwinter and Annual, those conferences fell during awkward times in the K-12 school year. Not to mention the costs! I knew that academic librarians had more money and time to pursue research. And so, I switched to academic libraries. First as a Resident Librarian, and then afterward as a Undergraduate/Student Success librarian.

There are definitely things I love(d) about being an academic librarian, and especially one whose focus was the first year freshmen/undergrads. I got to use my school library background, I got to do outreach and social media, and programming. Best of all, I got to work with the student affairs folk. They are the best when it comes to student relations and so much fun! I would definitely recommend any librarian working in an outreach role to connect and collaborate with the student affairs folks in their various departments.

But the part that I’ve loved most is research. The act of researching and writing the Vocational Awe and Librarianship article was stressful but amazing. And the subsequent workshops and keynotes based on that research have been life-changing. It has been such an honor to speak with library and archival workers about vocational awe, labor practices, social justice, white supremacy, and so on. And as I get invited to more places to talk about my research and I think about the different ways that vocational awe fits into larger scholarly conversations, I’ve realized that this work is what brings me joy. I want to research. I want to write. And even the most lenient academic library job has a cap on that. Usually 20%. Only 1/5th of my week every week can be dedicated to that. And it’s not enough.

So, all this to say I’ve left Rutgers and don’t see myself working a regular academic library job for a while. Latanya taught me that life is way too short to waste it. I’m heading off to get my PhD! I will be joining the iSchool at the University of Illinois’ Urbana-Champaign. I’m excited to see how my scholarship expands and grows as I learn more. I can’t wait to focus on what truly makes me happy. I think that I can help libraries more through my research than through being a practitioner. It’s bittersweet because I never got to tell her, but I know she would have been so proud of me. And I know she’s jumpin for joy for me on the other side.

So yeah! That’s my update. Perhaps eventually I’ll end up back in a library, but for now I’m more than happy to start a new chapter in my life. #BlackJoy #BlackExcellence

p.s. If you want to reach me for speaking engagements feel free to email me at my personal email I have message forwarding for my Rutgers email but better safe than sorry!

For my friend, Latanya- in memoriam

This is a story about my friend and mentor Latanya Jenkins.

Now Temple Libraries has an absolutely barbaric medical absences policy. If you are absent more than 3 days within a 6 month period, you are subjected to a disciplinary meeting. These actions can ramp up from there to being fired(!!!). Latanya had cancer for years. And throughout her time at Temple, they would force her to come in. Come to work or get written up and eventually fired. She and I would discuss our respective methods of coping with such a draconian policy. We would laugh at our stories about sleeping in our offices. We would groan at the idea that being in the building was somehow more productive than working from home (telework was dependent on supervisors and limited to one day a week).

Throughout all of this pain, the expectation at work was that the library (and library work) was more important than everything else. Libraries after all, serve The People. Librarianship is a calling. You shouldn’t go into the field for money-only love! Meanwhile Anastasia and I were literally being called “the Black and Asian ones” and other horrible racist things. And the ableism was unimaginable. But after any chats with Latanya I would feel empowered and willing to try and change the world…or at least change librarianship.

Today I learned that she has died. And all I keep thinking is how Temple Libraries refused to let her take the time she needed to heal. How “the love of libraries” was used as a bludgeon against advocating for your own health and wellness. Not only was she unable to take sick days w/o being punished, but she, like so many of us disabled folk, couldn’t work from home. She had to come to work directly after chemo or risk losing her job and health insurance. All that wasted energy to drag oneself to work-and for what?

Latanya was an amazing woman and librarian. As one of the few Black librarians (at a primarily Black school btw) she served her community in ways her colleagues couldn’t. And librarianship bled her dry. She took the time she needed when she could but she had to fight for every bit. All I keep thinking is while Latanya lived life to the fullest despite the shenanigans, she shouldn’t have had to spend so much time going to work instead of resting. She shouldn’t have been made out to be a “bad librarian” just because she was sick.

The last message she sent me was on thanksgiving, reflecting on our friendship. I am so thankful to have had her friendship. She was a beautiful soul who spread light and love wherever she went. She was especially important to Black women in LIS. I mourn her today and I mourn that librarianship didn’t thank her for all she was by offering her the space to heal.

I love you Latanya. Rest In Peace. Rest in Power. And know that your life and your memory has and will continue to be a blessing to everyone.