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.

Name – Amanpreet “Aman” Kaur, CFCS, MLIS
Contact Information – amankaur@upenn.edu
City & State – Philadelphia, PA
Position Title – Community Health & Engineering Librarian
Length of time in the library field – 6 years for paid work (As K-12 student, I spent a decade of my life volunteering in school and public libraries. As an undergraduate student, I held many jobs. None were in the academic library. I had no idea that I would return to libraries as an employee after graduating college.)

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 was born and raised in Morris County, New Jersey to working-class immigrant parents who stressed the importance of formal education as a means to succeed in life. I am currently the most formally educated member of my immediate family. I obtained my BS in Family and Consumer Sciences Education and Studies with a minor in Engineering Studies from Iowa State University and an MLIS from Rutgers University. Today, I utilize all of my undergraduate and graduate coursework in my work as the University of Pennsylvania’s inaugural Community Health & Engineering Librarian, in which I serve as a traditional liaison librarian for the School of Engineering and Applied Science and assist Penn’s ever-growing health sciences community on health literacy, interprofessional education, and other outreach initiatives. I am also an Associate Fellow at the Center for Public Health Initiatives, with whom I am currently rolling out Weekly Themed Wellness Walks, a university-wide initiative in which on-campus wellness walks are transformed into informal networking and learning opportunities for students, staff, and faculty.

To me, diversity is the measure of variety or assortment of demographic identifiers such as gender identity, race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, status, ability, etc. Greater diversity in classrooms, workplaces, and communities leads to exposure to more perspectives, which ultimately leads to better ideas and innovations in the long run.

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

Before I enrolled in my MLIS program, I wanted to be a Family and Consumer Sciences educator and a robotics club advisor in a public secondary school. You might think this is oddly specific, but this almost was my reality. Days before the MLIS program orientation at Rutgers, I turned down a full-time teaching job in my hometown district, so I could be a full-time MLIS student instead. While this was a risky move, it worked out for me. However, sometimes, I do wonder if what it would have been like to work in my hometown school district, which laid the foundation for my career in education.

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

During my precious spare time, I am at the gym in a group exercise class or lifting weights. I make the effort to exercise multiple times per week. Since I go to the gym on campus, there are students, staff, and faculty who recognize me from the library system. I don’t mind that interacting with them as the unofficial librarian at the gym.

What do you know now that you wished you’d known when you were just beginning your job hunt?

I did not know how expensive it was to interview for jobs. I wish I knew that I needed to spend my own money on travel and wait for reimbursements, so my advice is to try to save money as much money as you can as you begin your job search.

When you were growing up, did you feel that the libraries accurately reflected the community you lived in?

I had started using my hometown public library system as a Pre-K student. I volunteered at the public library from 5th through 12th grades. My family couldn’t afford for me to be involved in expensive extracurricular activities like sports or band, so I found the library to be the place, where I can participate in summer reading challenges, arts & crafts activities, science experiments, and more. I served on the inaugural Teen Advisory Board, while I was in middle school, so I got the opportunity to shape the then-new Teen Room into a place I needed and wanted. While I was growing up, my hometown transitioned into an increasingly diverse community, and I believe that the library did a good job of reflecting that in its offerings of origami workshops, dance lessons, English classes, etc.

What trends are most impacting the field right now?

Over the past few years, I have noticed that there are many more conversations about diversity, inclusion, and equity going on at conferences that typically attract LIS students and professionals. I hope that these conversations are not just trendy and would like to see outcomes that increase the diversity of the profession.

What surprises you the most about your job/field?

I was a Community (Residential) Advisor for most of my undergraduate years. In my current job, I am drawing from this experience far more than I am drawing from library-related experiences.

Do you have a blog/website?

Yes, please visit tinyurl.com/amankaur for more about me. You’re also, welcome to follow or message me on Twitter at @akaur0.

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