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 – Mallary Rawls
Contact Information – firstname.lastname@example.org
City & State – Tallahassee, FL
Position Title – English & Interdisciplinary Subject Librarian/Diversity Resident
Length of time in the library field – 8 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 originally from Asheboro, NC, and moved to Tallahassee, FL when, I was 24 years old. I’m married to a Ph.D. candidate, and he’s the reason why I live in Tallahassee (I followed him down here). I use she/her pronouns and I’m the mother of a 3 year old and 3 (very bad) cats. I jumped around a lot after graduating high school, but really started to focus and enjoy school the spring before I moved to Tallahassee. I was enrolled in classes at Alamance Community College (ACC) and it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I made lifelong friends and really became interested in American history and our government during my time at ACC. When I moved to Florida, I finished my AA at Tallahassee Community College and transferred to Florida State University (FSU), where I completed my bachelor of arts (BA) in Interdisciplinary Humanities. The summer after I graduated with my BA, I enrolled in the Master of Library and Information Science program at FSU’s iSchool. I worked part-time at a health food store and was a graduate assistant in the Goldstein Library (now The Hub), which was the library in the library school. I volunteered at the Claude Pepper Library and was hired as the Archives Assistant at the Claude Pepper Library, which is part of Special Collections at FSU Libraries. I worked there for two years, finished my library degree then applied for a job at the main public library in Tallahassee. I was hired (while 6 months pregnant) as one of the Youth Services Librarians at the LeRoy Collins Main Library, and that was another wonderful experience. I learned so much about being a librarian, the public service role of librarianship, and really enjoyed my time there. I wanted to go back to school to earn a second master’s degree, but I couldn’t afford it without some assistance. When the Diversity Residency job was posted at FSU libraries, I applied and was hired as part of the first cohort, along with three other librarians. I’m currently still a resident, but I don’t introduce myself as a resident. I knew when I began my residency that I wanted the experience of being a subject librarian, and that’s what I’m getting. I’m currently the subject liaison to the African American Studies program, the English department, International Studies, Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Middle Eastern Studies and Women, Gender and Sexual Studies. I co-liaison interdisciplinary programs such as Asian Studies, Latin American /Caribbean Studies and Russian/Slavic Studies with our Modern Languages Librarian. The best thing that’s prepared me to do what I’m doing now is patience and working on my communication and listening skills. My definition of diversity is simple, acceptance. Accepting people as they are and realizing we’re all a work in progress. I don’t think this means accepting people who have hateful ideologies, but I think it means that we all need to know when it’s time to listen to others and when it’s time to talk and speak up for ourselves and others. I think there lots of interesting and vibrant conversations taking place about diversity and the commodification of diversity and I hope to keep reading, learning and growing not only as a librarian, but as a person and an active citizen.
What drew you to a career as a librarian and what is your current role?
I grew up in a small town in North Carolina (Asheboro – where the NC Zoo is located) and my mom worked at the courthouse, which is across the street from the library. I would hang out at the library after school and always found it to be a calm, comfortable and safe space. I had an up and down career as a student, but once I was able to focus, I knew I wanted to be a librarian because of the service part of being a librarian and because I loved the library as a space. My current role in librarianship is the English and Interdisciplinary Subject Librarian at Florida State University, I’m also part of the first cohort of Diversity Residents. I cover subject areas in both the humanities and social sciences.
What are some of your hobbies and are you still finding time for these activities with your busy schedule?
My current hobby is being a graduate student, again. I started a second master’s degree in American History with a concentration in the Reconstruction period, post-Civil War. It’s been difficult, but I’m happy that I’m doing it. I’ve got a wonderful major professor and, I’m learning more about the history of libraries in American society.
Is there anything more that you would like to see NMRT or ALA as a whole do as a method to ensure the promotion of diversity and alternative voices?
I would like NMRT and ALA to be a space where there’s a broader conversation about residency programs and their effectiveness. There lots of great LOC (librarians of color) who are doing this work and critically evaluating the use and value of residency programs, but to have a national organization like the ALA address that diversity residencies are not the best and only option to ensure the promotion of diversity in librarianship. Diversity residencies can be a bridge or a step in the right direction, but are rife with problems and are incredibly institution focused as opposed to individually focused. NMRT and ALA can also address the contingent labor issue that is prevalent in librarianship. Contingent labor can help a new librarian or a librarian wanting to change their career trajectory to gain relevant experience, but we want and need permanent jobs. NMRT and ALA can help librarians that currently endure contingent labor gain their agency back.
How well do you see libraries responding to the current political climate? What could they do better?
I think libraries could have a better and more cohesive response to our current political climate. American democracy and institutions are under attack, and I think libraries, especially public and academic libraries, have spent a lot of time trying to “prove our worth” when we’re part of the infrastructure that has built and maintained democracy in this country. There’s been a movement away from constantly proving our worth, but we can’t remain neutral in this political climate, we have to stand for something. We need to stand up for our communities, know our worth and not cower. In public and academic libraries, I think that means having book displays for underrepresented groups. It means holding book discussions about uncomfortable topics, and it means standing by and up for the communities that have supported and need libraries.
How do you think the field will change most dramatically in the next several years?
In academic libraries, I think Open Educational Resources (OER) have the most potential to dramatically change the field of librarianship and education in the next several years. Libraries have always been a place where we’ve supported open and free access to materials, and I’m lucky that I work with librarians who are working hard to provide information to our faculty and students about the possibilities of OER. Librarians can’t do this work on our own or for educators, but we have been advocates and will continue to do so.
What book do you find yourself pushing onto patrons the most?
Anything by Toni Morrison, she’s changed my life more than any other writer or figure. Sula is my go-to, but I constantly tell people to read her work.