Vlogmas 2021: That Life!

The life of an academic librarian. Who knew?

My first semester in graduate school, I took a class on International Librarianship. The professor gave lectures on career paths, along with stories about his personal travels, as a member of an international librarian organization. I already had a graduate degree in Public History, but felt that the salaries were too low. All the better paying jobs required a library degree. I enrolled at the University of Michigan and completed the MILS degree, in eleven months. I applied for an archivist position at The College of William and Mary, half way through my coursework. I interviewed in April. They made the offer in May. I was to start the position around the first of July. There was one “small” problem. Although I was taking enough classes to complete the two year degree, in eleven months, I would not be finished until the end of the summer session. I had to tell my dream job that couldn’t start work until the first of September. They said, “We’ll wait!”

Director of Archives and Special Collections Department

I worked at William and Mary for three years. Then, I almost doubled my salary by taking a position at a state school in California. I was the head of the Archives and Special Collections Department. There was also a small rare books collection and the entire archives from the California State University Chancellor’s Office. My other duties included being the bibliographer for Geography/ Earth Science and African American Studies. It sounds so crazy now. The new job was four jobs and I only doubled my old salary. Who would take a job like that? Truth be told, I had a blast! I lived on campus and worked all the time. I became friends with the workers in campus dining. They fed me for free. I was always on campus.

My next stop … Duke!
My going away party, CSUDH

Librarians in the CSU system had faculty status. I wrote articles, applied for grants, and presented papers, like everyone else. It was around this time that I began to present papers at conferences in the USA and overseas. I did four talks in the UK and one in Spain. I had just received a travel grant to do research in Italy, when a friend told me about a position “reopening” at Duke. Why in the world would Duke University need to reopen a job search? I was perfectly happy (and now well paid) in California. The Duke position was named after John Hope Franklin. I had to apply. I ended up having to turndown my travel grant. I was leaving California for a new position in North Carolina.

The long road to Duke
Teasie Jackson Blassingame, Dr. John Hope Franklin, Tia Blassingame, and me.

I can not even begin to tell you all the “pinch me” moments at Duke. Three weeks after arriving, I was at Princeton University, packing up personal papers, and meeting Nell Irvin Paper. A year or two later, I was in East Lansing. There, I was doing the same with Darlene Clark Hine. Then, there were the trips to New Haven, to acquire, pack and ship, the personal papers of John W. Blassingame. I just wanted to be an archivist. I had no idea where that dream would take me. One of the best parts of my job, at Duke, was driving over to Dr. Franklin’s home in Durham. It took me a few trips to sort and box up materials, from the main floor of his home. “Has she seen the basement?” Dr. Franklin asked his assistant, on what I thought would be my last run. “Not yet!” His assistant replied. Personally, I was overjoyed to learn that I wasn’t even close to being finished.

IFLA Conference … on my way to Durban
ASWAD Conference Ghana

After a few years of being Director of the Franklin Research Center and the Librarian for African American Studies, I was asked to also take on African Studies. I decided it was a good time to put my old International Librarian class to the test. I joined IFLA, the International Federation of Library Associations, I attended my first conference in Durban, South Africa. Along the way, I made stops in Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Port Elizabeth (on my Steve Biko pilgrimage). Next, I attended IFLA Puerto Rico, and finally IFLA Cape Town. I also joined ASWAD, the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora. I attended conferences in Ghana and the Dominican Republic. I think my old professor at Michigan would have been proud.

19th annual Livres en Folie (book festival) in Port-au-Prince

I was also able to attend a book festival in Haiti. Part of my subject librarian duties included the Caribbean. I met with a possible vendor, for African Caribbean materials, in San Juan. They invited me to visit their shop in Santo Domingo and to join them on a book buying trip in Haiti. Because of travel warnings, I wasn’t allow (by Duke) to stay in Port au Prince. I stayed a few miles away, in Pétion-Ville. One day, I met my vendors for lunch in Port au Prince and then did a solo walk to Champ de Mars Boulevard to see the Le Negre Marron statue. Once back in Pétion-Ville, I received a visit from Frantz Duval, (Editor-in-Chief), and Max Chauvet, (Director), of Le Nouvelliste (the French-language daily newspaper printed in Port-au-Prince and distributed throughout the country).

ASALH Conference Memphis

In the USA, I attended and presented papers at ALA (the American Library Association). It’s the largest library event in the world. I was also a member of ASALH (the Association for the Study of African American Life and History) and attended annual conferences in Milwaukee, Memphis, and Charlotte. Both in the States and overseas, I always made a point of attending sessions by faculty from the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke. In addition, I met with vendors and sat in on programs highlighting new library resources. When I add up all the time spent on donor trips, international and domestic conferences, I can’t get over how much time I spent on the road.

Course Librarian – Intro to African Studies

About five or six years before retirement, I created a library program at Duke. I named it The Course Librarian. Each semester, I sat in on the introduction classes for African Studies and African American Studies. I would also select two or three additional classes, depending on the topic. For example, I sat in on a Race and Genetics class. By doing so, it helped me to become a better bibliographer and research services librarian for that topic. I would often also pick one large class, with one hundred or so students. My thinking was if I had to provide assistance for that many students, I needed to understand what was going on in the classroom. As the Course Librarian, I could answer questions about library resources, order a book or film that a professor just talked about in class, and use the time before and after class to schedule research consultations with students.

February 28, 2017

In a few months, I will celebrate my fifth retirement anniversary. During those five years, I’ve volunteered in Armenia, Ethiopia, and the USA. I’ve traveled to the UK, UAE, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Iceland, and Zanzibar Island. Next May, my volunteering days are done. Sure, I’ll probably volunteer for something here or there, but no more 9-5 (Americorps) service jobs. No more 24/7 (Peace Corps) volunteer jobs. I’m going to be that little old lady bringing canned goods to a food drive.

That’s until, I’m bored out of my mind and looking for a way to travel, … again! —GGT

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