“Connector, Problem Solver, Motivator”: An Interview with Kelcy Shepherd 11

This inaugural Scene Report finds the chairs of the 2015 Digital Library Federation Forum Liberal Arts Colleges preconference in conversation, in the final weeks leading up to the event. Here, Kelcy Shepherd, Head of Digital Programs at Amherst College is interviewed by Laurie Allen, Coordinator for Digital Scholarship and Services at Haverford College.

Laurie: What do you think your role is as a librarian/archivist who does DH?

Kelcy: Connector, problem solver, motivator, project manager, teacher, idea generator.

Laurie: Is there advice you give to people who are considering becoming a librarian/archivist? What is it?

Kelcy: I love to talk to people who are interested in the field. I’m a huge cheerleader for the profession – I probably give potential librarians/archivists way more information than they’re looking for! In terms of advice, it’s usually: find good mentors; look at job descriptions to make sure you’re getting the knowledge and/or experience you’ll need when you’re looking for positions; and do it, because librarians and archivists are great people to work with, and we generally love what we do. The first two are actually relevant at any career stage. I’ve been lucky to have had smart, supportive mentors throughout my career, and I try to pass that on.

Laurie: You’ve worked in Liberal Arts Colleges and big ARL environments. Is there anything you’ve learned at Amherst that you think you might not have learned at ARLs?

Kelcy: I feel like this question should have some grand, far-reaching answer, but for me it’s really been more personal. I’ve learned how important it is for me to feel like the work I do has a direct impact – even if it’s a small one – on making the world better. And, I’ve realized that can happen through individual connections. I’ve never been in the public services side of things, but in my position at Amherst I’ve had the opportunity to create programs like our Digital Summer Scholarship Internship, and to collaborate with amazing librarian colleagues and faculty to integrate digital humanities into the classroom. In the best cases, these kinds of experiential, collaborative projects can be transformative for students, and it’s rewarding to be a part of that.

Laurie: What would your dream academic conference be about?

Kelcy: Is it cheating to sidestep what it would be about, and instead talk about how it would work? I would love a conference that brought together people from a broad range of disciplines to consider a single topic from a variety of perspectives. It would be one track, so everyone was getting the same information, and include a lot of time for interaction, questioning, and discussion. It would be both inspirational and down to earth. Oh, and it would be held in Iceland.

In my last semester of college, I took a graduate seminar on the Plains. We studied the region through multiple lenses: geology, natural history, anthropology, history, political science, literature, and art. It’s my favorite class I’ve ever taken, and I would love to attend a conference that followed the same approach. So much of what I do, even outside of my job, is related to librarianship. I’m trying to work on that.

If you held me to picking a topic, I’d say librarianship as social justice. That would be amazing, too.

Laurie: What’s one thing you’re working on now that you’re excited about?

Kelcy: We just got an IMLS planning grant for a project called the Digital Atlas of Native American Intellectual Traditions. We’ll be bringing together Native Studies scholars, Native librarians, tribal historians, and a variety of other experts to discuss cultural and technological issues around improving culturally appropriate access to digital collections of Native-authored materials. We’ve got great partners and advisors in the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums, the Mukurtu project, and the Digital Public Library of America. Our biggest objective in this is to create a space for ongoing conversation and collaboration between Native and non-Native collecting institutions and build trust across communities.

Laurie: You did cheat on that perfect conference answer. But now we might need to talk about co-chairing a seminar-style meeting about librarianship as social justice.


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