Derrick earned his degree in 2012 from Louisiana State University’s School of Library & Information Science. Currently, he is Associate Librarian at American University (AU), where he focuses on research and instruction. He is also is a subject specialist and is the liaison to AU’s School of Communication.
If you are a creator/maker, what do you make, and how does that creativity help or inspire your library practice?
At my organization, I’m very lucky that I’ve been supported not only as a librarian, but also in my pursuing another master’s degree in Creative Writing. AU has an excellent program and I’m having some success in getting my work published – and I’m also working with the best faculty and fellow colleagues in the Literature department.
Because of how the university looks at scholarship (my opening up my research, which has primarily been looking at equity, diversity, and inclusion [EDI] issues in higher education and mentoring new librarians of color), I’ve expanded that to also include my creative work. EDI work is very important to me as a queer librarian of color, and I think a lot about identity — both our own in how we put ourselves out there to the world — and in how we are received and are then congruent. I also explore a lot of identity issues in my creative work. So, even though it may not seem like it on a surface level, a lot of these things overlap and mash up against one another and sully and stain the other while also supporting it. It’s a very beautiful ugly thing, if that makes sense — and it keeps me really pushing and pulling both sides of the brain.
Share a career decision. What did you learn about yourself in terms of your career?
I came to librarianship later in life. I already had a master’s degree in Film and was working in Los Angeles as a graduate advisor at the art school where I went to grad school. I was also freelancing and writing and doing other things on the side. So, by the time I went back to school for library science, I was thirty-seven years old. I think what really helped me out was that I’d already had a life, had achieved things, failed at other things, been disappointed, taken risks, experienced highs, had my heart broken, established credit, and knew that I didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do, if I didn’t want to do it.
I learned a lot in my MLIS program, being in post-Katrina New Orleans, working at a half dozen different libraries and thrown into library instruction my very first semester without a lot of resources. You are forced to learn quickly, get creative, and for me, I think a lot of that came from having to be savvy in life, in film, working as a producer, and being flexible at a moment’s notice. Summarily, I think what prepared me to be a good librarian was the opportunity to be in and of the world, engaged in things that had nothing to do with librarianship, being able to think critically, and understanding concepts about the larger world that now, I can apply to other things, including in my work as a librarian.
Share a useful tool or application that you use in your work or non-work life.
I never in a million years thought I would come to be so dependent on the Notes app on my phone, but hoo boy, I love that joker so much. I use it a lot, and even though the old-school, pencil-and-pad-vintage-throwback person that I am also utilizes those tools, I love how a thought can be quickly tapped into a note, saved to the cloud, and is instantly synced across my various workspaces and platforms.
While I’m waiting for the bus, or for my number to be called at the deli, or in between appointments, I have so many quick blips of nascent, still-to-be-fully-formed-or-investigated nuggets that I’ve come to rely on. Much of my use is for my creative writing, and I have a very long list of potential names for characters that really grounds me when I’m developing a character. There’s another note including little snatches of plot or events that a story could be based around, and another of a timeline of the classes I need to complete to finish my degree…but there’s also stuff for my work as chair of the ACRL EDI Committee, thoughts on the upcoming ALA Midwinter Conference, chord progressions from songs I’m interested in learning more of the theory behind, recipes…lots of recipes as I love to cook, comic books or zines I want to know more about, records I want to buy. It’s an unwieldy trove of information, but it’s *my* unwieldy trove of information.
Describe a current project or idea that you’re working on or have recently completed.
I am so excited that I just signed on to work with D-Craft, which is a project for digital libraries. They’re creating a toolkit for essentially best practices for reuse, and in my consulting role, I’ll be examining and assessing how to incorporate equity, diversity, and inclusion into these best practices. I’m looking forward to taking my EDI work and applying it to a different (at least for me) context.
I’m aware of digital libraries and repositories, but haven’t had much involvement with them professionally. The team received an Institute of Museum of Library Services (IMLS) grant, and my library science education was funded by an IMLS grant, so part of me feels indebted to the organization and this is just a small token of my appreciation, being able to pay it forward.
Finish this sentence: “A challenge that I face as a librarian of color is…”
…in no means a burden, obstacle, or something that defines me.”
I am very aware of my Blackness and my queerness, in addition to my other intersecting identities, and as someone who looks at EDI and identity issues, I think about these things a lot, maybe sometimes even to a fault. But in thinking specifically about race, I find it hard to really get so entangled in foolishness, gaslighting, or shenanigans. My color is a joy. I come from this lineage of African-Americans who have endured so much so that I could be here today and that isn’t something that’s taken lightly. But when you talk about race, you are inevitably also talking about power. So, when one sits down and thinks about racism, its construction, and its total nonsensical practice and application; that there are people who lean into these manufactured prisms of looking at people through this lens that ultimately puts them at an advantage, makes them more powerful, makes their standards of what’s right, what’s beautiful, what’s appropriate; when you see people who rely and fall back on this warping of fact as a defense mechanism, as a way to justify why they are better and I am allegedly worse, I’ve already lost interest. I don’t have time to fight or argue when I already know, very simply, that I’m right.
Racism is a malignancy that causes great harm, but what can you say to someone who, no matter what you do or disprove, or show to be lacking or ineffectual or flat-out wrong, is always going to feel contrary? That’s their problem, not mine. It is such a waste of time to try and deal with people informed by that toxicity and I just won’t do it.
So, are there challenges? Of course — but I also know that these issues are bigger than libraries or the profession, and I also know that I’m generous and kind and smart and funny, and I enjoy my life immensely. I can’t be invested in any kind of service to or engaged with people, concepts, or ideologies that aren’t worthy of my attention, and so I’m not. I hope my fellow librarians of color know how important it is to be selective in how they also face the challenges we encounter – as well as looking out for and supporting each other.