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 fobettarh@gmail.com. I have message forwarding for my Rutgers email but better safe than sorry!

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