Interview for NMRT Alternative Voices – Tamara Rhodes

The Alternative Voices Feature is meant to give a platform to the voices of librarians from underrepresented communities in the library field. The format of the feature is a journalistic question and answer format. It provides information that the librarian wants people to know about them, plus their thoughts on the current state of the field of librarianship. The feature will showcase one interview each quarter. This is on a volunteer basis.

Name – Tamara Rhodes
Contact Information –
City & State – San Diego, CA
Position Title – Subject Librarian for Psychology, Cognitive Science, Human Developmental Sciences, and Linguistics
Length of time in the library field – 6 years

Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you attend college? What degrees do you have? What programs (undergraduate or graduate) prepared you for your current position? Tell us about your position and what you do? What is your definition of diversity, or equity or inclusion?

I’m from a military family, so I’m from a lot of places, but mostly the South. I went to a small women’s liberal arts college in Raleigh, North Carolina, called Meredith College. It was the best experience because it allowed me to be surrounded and supported by other women while I found my voice. I started in Psychology, but I graduated from Meredith College with my BA in Sociology (minors in Psychology and Spanish), and took classes at NC State to get my prerequisites for a grad program in Cultural Anthropology. I deferred my grad school acceptance twice while working customer service jobs before I decided to become a counselor. I volunteered for a crisis hotline for 8 months before I realized I was not meant for the emotional toll it takes. Then, I randomly came across a description for librarianship, and it was like the universe aligned. So I went to library school. Each one of those experiences prepared me for my current position. I found my assuredness and confidence in an environment where women were a focus, I was educated in understanding people and the social components that affect us, I had training in ethnographic research that focuses on watching and listening to learn about others, I had intense training in active listening in a crisis, and I learned how to effectively interact and communicate with various kinds of people to deliver customer service.

I am currently a subject librarian for psychology, cognitive science, human developmental sciences, and linguistics at the University of California, San Diego. I do collection development and outreach and provide instruction and research support for those departments. I am also the designer and project lead for Tell Us How UC It, a living archive for student activism.

To me, inclusion means “The practice of treating all individuals with respect; valuing them for their distinctive skills, experiences, and perspectives; and ensuring equitable access to resources and opportunities so that all can contribute fully to…” I am on a Racial Equity Task Force, and this is the language we use for the code of conduct. It’s about removing barriers so everyone can contribute fully to how they would like. To fully accomplish that, it requires improving equity and diversity.

What are some of your hobbies, and are you still finding time for these activities with your busy schedule?

I love trying new things, so I do a lot, but the things I keep doing or coming back to are reading, writing, competitive puzzling, yoga, and, most recently, hooping. I also play bass and sing in a jam session group.

I find accountability to myself difficult. I’m an Obliger in the Four Tendencies, so it helps if I am doing things with others so that I can have accountability to them. As you can imagine, because of this, my self-care work is ongoing. I typically let work and other things sidetrack that work, but I’m slowly learning what mechanisms I need in place to make sure I take care of myself.

What can prospective librarians be doing right now to prepare themselves for a career in this field?

Be seen! And let people know who you are, what you’re about, and what you want. As soon as I knew I wanted to be a librarian, I started volunteering for a public library. I would talk to the librarians, ask questions, and let them know what I was interested in. In library school, I immediately joined the state association and attended the events. One turning point was when I volunteered for registration at a conference, and the administrative assistant for the association, who knew everyone, introduced me to everyone. I also interned a lot. These things are what helped me get my job right after I graduated.

What suggestions do you have to help other librarians make sure that their library is open and accessible to everyone?

Ask. I think it’s easy for us to assume what our community wants and to only focus on those that are in the space already. I have been doing a lot of thinking and strategizing about how we (I) can and should spend much more time in spaces outside of the library building in order to learn what folks need from us. I’m also cognizant that I don’t want to solely take from the community (i.e. going in their space and asking a lot of questions then leaving and not following up). Along with asking, librarians should research and read. As a Black woman who has chosen to work in education, I struggle a lot with education vs. self-preservation. I and many underrepresented folks don’t want others to force us to educate them about our experience. When asked a question, we are being forced in the moment of that person’s choosing to be vulnerable and give. An alternative, for all of us, is to do the research on the topic and seek out the information that folks have already shared on it. They were able to choose when and how to share, and we can all visit that information and come into conversations with other folks already having done that work.

How well do you see libraries responding to the current political climate? What could they do better?

My current interpretation of “responding to the current political climate” is libraries supporting the actions of others. Libraries, like the university as a whole, have many stakeholders and responsibilities, and the question is about who the primary stakeholder is and what weight we put on those responsibilities when other things are at stake.
I think there are some libraries that are doing amazing things with events and exhibits. My library is one of them. But I also think a lot more can be done. Libraries can appeal to our imperative of being a “third space” by being inclusive; creating a space where the community can express its sentiment, connect with each other, build coalitions; and by doing what a library does in providing information.

How do you think the field will change most dramatically in the next several years?

Many amazing people are already doing this, but I think on a larger scale, the academic library will not only have to contend with but also change the underlying systems and thinking that position folks in our field and profession as gatekeepers. With equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), open access initiatives, and social justice imperatives, we’re analyzing and rethinking what we do to be more community- and user-focused. I think, and hope, big changes are coming.

What’s been your most valuable experience at your employer so far, and why?

Meeting so many smart, amazing, and talented colleagues, at my employer and in the field in general. I am continually impressed by my fellow library peeps, both personally and professionally.

Do you have a blog/website?

I just created one!

Why did you choose to do this questionnaire?

I really like to share my experiences and mentor in the hopes that my roundabout journey and my mistakes will give the insight to help others achieve whatever they wish

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