Welcome Katrina Spencer! Librarian for African American and African Studies

""We’re thrilled to welcome Katrina Spencer, UVA’s first Librarian for African American and African Studies! Subject Liaisons specialize in topics relevant to academic study, and offer expert guidance to researchers and learners in those areas. 

What drew you here?

While I was working in Middlebury, Vermont, I was the library liaison to the multicultural student center and I found that the work that was most meaningful to me was in service to people who frequented the center and was rooted in social justice and race discourses. So I set my sights on pursuing a position that would allow those themes and engagements to be central to my work.

What’s it like to start a new job in a new state during a global pandemic?

To avoid infection and the spread of the coronavirus, many library workers, including me, are working from home. The library has set me up with excellent equipment to use at home: a computer, a webcam, a headset, and speakers so that I can interface with colleagues and library users. Interaction with colleagues is mostly done over Zoom and Slack. And my work attire is definitely casual. While I am learning more and more about Zoom features — breakout rooms, background photos, sharing screens, etc.— I look forward to the time when I can occasionally get dinner at a restaurant with my co-workers after work.

What have you been working on?

Many things! I’ve just turned in the proofs for an article called “Black History Month Jeopardy at a PWI: A How-To” with Public Services Quarterly. I’m consulting with Dr. Anne Rotich about the creation of a research guide for people studying Kiswahili. And I’ve participated in several presentations regarding how to navigate the library in the era of COVID-19, including two for Carter G. Woodson Institute faculty and fellows. One of the beautiful things about being a librarian is the sheer variety of work one gets to engage with.

What has surprised you?

I accidentally stumbled upon Al Carbón on Seminole Trail. And let me tell you: I was mesmerized. I highly recommend the cactus and the yucca! I also happened upon La Guadalupana where chorizo and pupusas can be purchased. And JM Stock Provisions has the most excellent sweet Italian sausage. So, in terms of food, I’ve been enjoying these novelties. I didn’t know Charlottesville had this many delectables — if you know where to look. I want to check out Feast when we’re able to go inside again.

What are you anxious to see get off the ground?

The process of shaping the Kiswahili research guide underscores the need to create a guide that helps people jumpstart research on Africa overall. While we have one for African American Studies, there isn’t one for the broad expanse of 54 countries on the African continent. I don’t expect the process to be quick or easy as the disciplines covered will be many: agriculture, gender studies, history, politics, religion, and many more. But minimally I’d like to launch that effort before the academic year is out. In addition to seeking faculty input, Al Kagan’s and Dr. Atoma Batoma’s Reference Guide to Africa should be useful in steering me.

Do you have any ideas churning you can tell us about?

I’ve initiated a reading group (that is now at capacity) within the library that will last for this academic year. We will be discussing About Us: Essays from the Disability Series of the New York Times, edited by Peter Catapano and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. One of my goals is to learn more about a variety of disabilities and how they manifest so that we as library staff can better prepare to reach and accommodate the needs of a broad variety of library users. After reading the book, I want all members in the group to think critically about how our services might be expanded/altered to serve more people and to share our findings with decision makers.

Who can you count on to collaborate?

Librarians Keith Weimer (History and Religion), Sherri Brown (English), and Erin Pappas (Gender, Media, and Slavic Studies) have shown themselves to be very generous in helping me to acclimate to the online teaching environment. I appreciate the time they’ve taken to support me as I venture into the new-ish world of teaching online.

Final words?

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See the full list of Subject Liaisons, or read more in our recent interviews

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