MPDR Spotlight: Alternative Voices

Interview for NMRT Alternative Voices

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 – Alessandra Otero-Ramos 

Contact Information – 

City & State – Geneseo, New York 

Position Title –  Research Instruction Librarian 

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 attended college at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus.I have a bachelor’s degree in Theory of Arts and a Masters degree in Information Sciences.

Both programs prepared me for my current position which is Research Instructor, Librarian Liaison to Arts and Humanities. As part of the team of the Milne Library at State University of New York (SUNY) Geneseo, my main responsibilities are to serve as research instruction librarian and as liaison librarian to the Departments of Art History, Dance, Theatre, Music, Philosophy & English. My roles include providing research skills instruction and information literacy concepts to students, as well as teaching research skills sessions for INTD 105 classes. I offer research help to faculty and students in different fields by either helping them directly or referring them to the appropriate person or resource. Furthermore, I develop and manage online resources and tools such as: research guides, tutorials and assessments to support information literacy instruction. In addition, I am co-chair of the Social Media Committee and a member of the Marketing Committee of Library Instruction Leadership Academy (LILAC 2020) Conference. I also study and stay current with trends, developments, tools and techniques in the digital humanities and support activities that foster the values of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Before you became a librarian, what were you thinking about doing professionally or academically?

It never crossed my mind to become a librarian. In fact, while in high school, I didn’t have an agenda or idea of what to do. Much less knew that you can do formal studies in library and information. I did my bachelor studies in Art Theory because I knew I can handle and memorize information, especially visual information and this made me feel confident. While pursuing these, I was hire to catalog a private collection of approximately 800 books. The main task was to input the author, title, publisher, date of publication and a brief description of the book in a local software that doesn’t exist anymore. This software served as a private OPAC to the owner of the collection. While doing such a meticulous job, I discovered a skill; I had the patience to do detailed tasks. The owner of the collection confirmed this realization when commented: “You seem to have the aptitude to do this”, follow by, “there is a master program dedicated to library studies in “la UPI” (meaning the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras). These words stuck in my mind. Consequently, a few years later, I moved to the capital city to pursue a master degree in library and information studies. 

Do you have any advice for new graduates applying to jobs?

Yes, I do. First, before or during the job hunting process, make a list of the skills that you have and the ones you would like to develop. Doing this will help you reflect on how do you want to focus your professional experience and distinguish those positions that will help you achieve your professional goals. 

Second, be patient and kind with yourself during the process. Job hunting can be overwhelming. When the mind gets overwhelmed the tendency is to think about the things we did wrong. When feeling like this just remember that you do have the qualifications for the job you need and that persistence is the key to finding that job.  

Finally, do not forget that job hunting is a job too! Be proactive during the process, research the institutions goals, ask questions, reach out the librarians to know more about the institution’s culture and do not be afraid to ask questions. 

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

I think the first thing is to acknowledge that making the library open and accessible to everyone is a collaborative work. Therefore, one way to assure accessibility is by actively participate in library committees as well as community committees. This are good forums to advocate on the importance of this subject and meet people with similar points of view. Also, I think each of us should contemplate on how our interaction with the user reflects the phrase “open and accessible to everyone”. 

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

I think the most dramatic change will be seen in the library architecture and interior design. Due to the user behavior changes caused in part by the introduction of technology libraries are in need to adapt their spaces to meet the user’s behavior needs. For example, the use of padded and ergonomic furniture has replaced the heavy, solid wooden chair as the user spend more time sited than walking through the shelves. Today’s users interact with the library space in a different manner and as long as technology keeps evolving the spaces will do as well. See some examples here and here.  

What’s the best lesson you’ve learned on the job?

I teach at SUNY Geneseo, a public liberal arts college. Even though the new generations are used to electronic devices, I have noticed that the majority is not technology literate. They may know how to navigate some applications and software but they don’t know how to best use those skills to enhance their research process. Thus, the best lesson I’ve learned so far is: “Not to assume that students are technology literate or that they already know how to use Google Scholar for their research assignment”. 

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

If you had to attribute your success to one skill or trait, what would it be?

In my case I would attribute my success to two personality traits, inquisitiveness and assertiveness. 

What podcast are you listen now?

I really love to read and listen to short stories, fables and legends from around the world. Right now, I am listening to the podcast “Cuentos y Relatos” which is a space dedicated to the reading of classic stories from around the world. The readings are in Spanish and of different genres: Mystery, Science Fiction, Horror, Fantastic, Police, etc. I highly recommend this resource for those who are learning Spanish and the Spanish speaking community. The reader has good diction and the application has a feature to speed up or slow down the reading pace.  

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