Katrina Spencer is one of four resident librarians at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (UW). The residencies at the UW last for two years and hers began in August 2016.
Tell us who you are in a series of tags.
African American Afro-Caribbean American female fan of Mexican food
Angelena sarcastic writer introverted good cook obsessive
supporter of black men traveler learner comic music aficionada
How has Madison, Wisconsin surprised you?
In Wisconsin, I heard Ojibwe spoken for the first time. I found the fattest blueberries I’ve ever seen in my life. And here, you can order your groceries online to be delivered to your doorstep!
How is being a resident librarian different from being a librarian?
In my case, the residency has a defined duration of two years. Other positions in academia will typically have “tenure” attached to them or some model for promotion. With my residency, there is an understanding that the resident has typically just graduated from library and information science school so s/he/they is/are still being introduced to the field, its trends, and idiosyncrasies. Therefore, there is room to explore, make mistakes, and to recuperate from them. Many long-term posts have largely defined duties and roles. For example, a copyright librarian, a cataloger, or an assessment librarian have a set of assigned responsibilities. With this residency, my position description is more aspirational and flexible. That is to say, some of my core activities include reference and instruction. However, I choose to attend conferences that are of interest, I publish much of my writing online, and I liaise with academic departments that I select. These last three activities are largely shaped by me.
What does it mean to be a diversity resident librarian?
Well, it means a lot of confusion. (Laughs.) This is a great question because what that title means to me, what it means to my colleagues, and what it means to administration are all different.
For me, it means that the central impetus for all my work is to educate about otherness. My ultimate goal is to be an international and area studies librarian, so my take on “otherness” is informed by that paradigm: I want people to know more about the Israel/Palestine conflict, the differences between “Hispanic” and “Latino,” and what historical phenomena differentiate Africans and African Americans.
What it means to those of my colleagues that know me only minimally is that I will volunteer for/lead/collaborate on projects and initiatives that promote social justice for the U.S.’ underrepresented minority populations. I do engage with these discourses frequently, however my primary, professional brand is somewhat different.
What it means to administration is that we need to populate the library and information science field with more underrepresented groups including people of color that reflect the overall U.S. population, infuse our service with a diversity of experiences and opinions, and prepare for a more integrated society in all ways imaginable.
All of these takes are valid. However, they are not identical, hence the confusion.
What are you paid?
$45,000. This is not an exorbitant wage. It is, however, livable, and I appreciated that my institution made its intentions clear from day one. In most job descriptions encountered in our field, transparency regarding wages is nearly non-existent. Typically there is a statement in a job advertisement that says the salary will be determined based on the candidate’s experience and qualifications. I think a better alternative, if nothing else, would be to at least list a range. For example, “Reference librarian sought. Two years experience required. Salary range: $42,000- $48,000.”
What is a typical workday like for you?
I arrive at work around 9:30 a.m. and read any new emails I have. Between 10:00 and 2:00 p.m., there are many different types of meetings that are held. For example, I am on the Marketing & Events Committee, so we talk about planning and promotion. Various professional development sessions are held across campus and many academic departments host events and I attend what I can. Between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m., I’m responding to e-mail and/or working on various blog posts. I’m an avid writer and the topics I engage are diverse: serving Spanish-speaking patrons, Africana librarianship, debunking myths about librarians, and more. All of this is peppered with chit-chat with my co-workers, the many stations of Pandora, phone calls, the requesting of library materials and technology, lunch, and emails.
Do you feel library school prepared you for your work?
Yes and no at the same time, but mostly yes. [LIS] grad school gave me a vocabulary that was new to me: circulation, vendors, buying trips, collection development, metadata, etc. This is a jargon that is rather particular to our field. I wish that I’d created the opportunity for myself to absorb some more technical skills like coding. My current position does not require me to code, but I imagine my impact could be even greater and my collaborations broader were I even more tech savvy.
What trends are most impacting the field?
Well, I have to provide a brief preface to my answer here. I think the trends we notice are the ones that interest, invigorate, and/or challenge us. Moreover, I work in higher education– the world of academia. So, what’s impacting, say, the Library of Congress in D.C. or the Newberry Library in Chicago may not be impacting Wisconsin’s public, flagship campus of 40,000+ in the same ways. We have differing missions, service models and patrons.
All of that said, one of the trends that interests me is the appetite demonstrated by many librarians to respond to our patrons, particularly students, as whole people– people who are impacted by the environment in which we live and people who approach the reference desk with a complex set of identities. For example, there is a lot awry in our political system that can negatively influence campus relations, particularly at institutions that receive many international students in areas that can be rather ethnically homogeneous. The efforts we are making to foster and sustain safe, sanctuary-like spaces and even therapeutic and meditative ones really touches and inspires me.
Advice to job hunters?
See these two posts here and here. Also, when you’re being interviewed, pause to reflect on your answers before speaking and use a narrative style.
How can people get in contact with you?
You can visit my website, www.katleespe.com. There’s a lot of information there about what I’m up to and I update it multiple times a year. There’s also a “Contact Me” tab there.
The questions were created by Katrina Spencer. RIG will feature a monthly interview with a current or past resident on the RIG blog. Please contact me at Twanna Hodge email@example.com if you are interested in being featured. The resident of the month for January will be Laura Birkenhauer, Academic Resident Librarian at Miami University, Ohio.
2 thoughts on “Resident of the Month: Katrina Spencer”
I enjoyed reading about your experience. I too, am a diversity resident at UNC-Greensboro. I really liked your take on what it means to be a “diversity” resident. I meet people all over campus and to those outside the library, they look at me with some confusion and I sometimes wonder if all they think I is deal with “diverse” issues, which is only part of what I do on a day to day basis. Anyway, I wonder as one of 4 residents, what is that like? Does UW Madison hire one each semester and how do you work together, or do you? I am the sole resident here and I feel like I get chances to work more one on one or part of a group of tenured librarians than if I was one of multiple residents, however you may not see it that way. I’d like to hear more about how that model works.
Thank you for your feedback, Jenay! It’s always nice to know what you’ve written has been read!
What you describe is a challenge we will possibly have to navigate for the duration of our careers. As people of color, there are expectations figuratively written on our bodies. There is an expectation by many non-POCs, and POCs, too, that we are politically engaged, vocal, and visibly at the forefront of struggles against social injustice. And sometimes, because we have to be, we are.
I should clarify that each of the four residents on this campus has a different focus and generally works in a separate library. This campus is large enough for that to happen. While many of the residencies that stood out to me while I was on the market were diversity residencies, many budding LIS workers in the ACRL Residency Interest Group are resident librarians—minus the “diversity” prefix. The other three resident librarians are *not* diversity resident librarians at UW Madison. One, for example, helps run the instruction program in the agricultural and life sciences library. The other three residents are white women who all attended this institution for their library science degrees. In that respect, I am the “odd one out” who is a POC that earned her degree from another institution and is new to Wisconsin.
Beyond that clarification, I can say that by our own initiative, we meet once a month and chat about what it’s like to be new full-time employees within a large—some might say “sprawling”—library system. The idea that you reference, however—having multiple diversity resident librarians on what campus—is stimulating, indeed!