The Legacy of the Residency Program

We are celebrating 15 years of the implementation of the Diversity Residency program at the University of Tennessee Libraries in 2018. This project came about to demonstrate the impact the Diversity Residency program has made on the participating individuals, the UT libraries, and the library profession as a whole. Narratives were collected from past residents to detail their experiences during the program and how their experience at UT libraries has helped them in throughout their career.

Jayati Chaudhuri

I was a resident librarian at the University of Tennessee Libraries from 2003-2005. I was one of the three librarians who were first cohort of resident librarians’ at the UT Libraries.

As part of the rotational program, I worked in cataloging, digital services and reference department during my first year. Being a multi-lingual person, I always thought I would be a cataloger since I would be able to catalog many foreign language titles. But once I was given the opportunity to work in reference services department and served on the reference desk, it made me realize how much I like interacting with students. As a fresh academic librarian, I was never confident enough that I would able to be a reference librarian. But the unique rotational exposure totally opened up a new opportunity for me.

After my residency at UT, I accepted a science librarian position at the University of Northern Colorado libraries. My varied experience at UT gave me skills to learn and effectively handle new set of responsibilities. I have become involved with open access initiatives on our campus and spearheaded first a library-wide open access resolution and then a campus-wide open access resolution. I believe UT libraries have trained me to handle this leadership role at the beginning of my academic librarian career.

Currently, I am working as an Instruction and Reference Librarian at California State University, Los Angeles. I continue to use my knowledge and skills that I learned at UT. Additionally, UT libraries truly made me realize how unique I am and trained me to reach out to other unique group of population to attract them to use our library services.

It is worth mentioning here that diversity is an area I am truly passionate about and UT libraries and its’ diversity committee nurtured me to continue to work with my passion. I have worked in several academic libraries, but regardless of my position descriptions, I have always tried to embed a small set of my professional activity related to diversity issues. I never hesitate to reach out to minority groups on campus. I have always been involved with the diversity committee at an institutional level or at a state level. I salute UT libraries to give me that confidence to work with diverse issues.

Whenever I look back, I feel proud and truly blessed for invaluable professional experience that I received from UT libraries.

Kawanna Bright

I was one of the first three diversity residents at the University of Tennessee when the program began in 2003. As one of the first, my experiences helped to determine the direction of the program as the next group of residents were hired. The rotational aspect of the program was already in place and I chose to work in The Studio (the media center), Digital Initiatives, and Reference. No one was surprised that I selected Reference as one of my rotations, but many were surprised by my other two choices. But I can honestly say that I learned so much working in two of the less main-stream areas of the library and learned skills that I continue to lean on even today.

While my rotations in The Studio and Digital Initiatives were enlightening, my heart was always set on Reference and that is where I chose to spend my year. While there, I was given the opportunity to gain experience with instruction, curriculum design, collection development, liaison work, and of course, reference work. It was the amount of time I spent teaching that led me directly to my career path in instructional services. Moving from someone who was afraid to be in the front of the classroom to someone who loved teaching was probably the biggest change that occurred during my residency. Add to that the opportunities to attend conferences and network with others doing instruction work, and I was well on my way.

I was delighted to accept a full-time position as an Instructional Services Librarian following my residency, and grateful for the opportunity to further develop my instruction skillset while still working in the supportive environment created by the UTK Libraries. I honestly do not think I would have been able to land such a position without the residency program. While I did choose to leave UTK after two more years, I cannot express enough how important the four years that I spent there were for my future success.

I moved on to be an instructional services librarian at the NCSU Libraries for three years and then was able to move up into a position as the Head of First Year Services (later the Head of Information Services and Student Engagement) at the University of Texas at San Antonio. After two more years I transitioned into the position of Head of Information & Research Services at Florida International University. Following two more years learning and growing, I made the decision to pursue my PhD in Research Methods & Statistics and am currently a 3rd year PhD student at the University of Denver.
While I have moved away from working in libraries directly, I have not lost my connection to libraries and continue to work with and in libraries, including my current research areas. My intention is to also complete my dissertation on a topic related to academic libraries. While I never expected to find myself in a PhD program, I am not surprised that I still rely on a number of the skills I gained as a resident – including my abilities as an instructor. I will forever be grateful that I had the opportunity to be a resident at the University of Tennessee; grateful for the time, the people, and the place itself.

Shantel Agnew

I participated in UTK Libraries resident program from 2005-2007. During the first year of my residency, I worked in The Studio, Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine Library, and Digital Department (I don’t recall the exact name of the office but my supervisor was Marybeth Manoff). During my second year, I chose to return to the Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine Library. It was here that I worked at the reference desk, was responsible for the collection development of assigned sessions, and became familiar with various electronic resources. The impact that I felt I had during the second year of my rotation was giving a different perspective on some of the library operations and assisting with collection development alleviated some of the workload from the other librarians.

The residency gave me the opportunity to see how academic libraries operated. It also equipped me with the training and skills to become an effective librarian. I was afforded the opportunity to present about the residency and other library related information to my colleagues, to work on search and interview committees, and memberships with various library associations. After I completed the residency, I was able to apply what I had learned in the two years during my time as a Reference Librarian at the Williamson County Public Librarian. I can say that working at UTK libraries equipped me with the knowledge and skill set needed to succeed.

LaVerne Gray

The residency program at the University of Tennessee was an experience unlike any I have had since in the world of libraries. Initially, the members of the libraries courted the residents, gave us the scope of the committees, and the types of projects we could engage in, etc. before we selected our areas of focus. I began residency with the Digital Library group with Anthony Smith, after his impressive presentation, despite the fact, I previously had little interest in the area. My next rotation was in Reference and Instruction, where I completed as many available projects as I could. My third rotation was with Special Collections. I completed my full year rotation with the Reference and Instruction department. Overall, I recognized my ability to work with a variety of people and eventually presented two different projects at TennTLA.

One of the strengths of the program was the fact that it was cohort driven. It provided a support system, through which it was easy to rely on each other. The program also gave access to opportunities to a variety of places in the library, this included early access to search committees, multi-layered mentoring, and access to colleagues in areas beyond the traditional, including work with staff members and administrators. Another strength seemed to be no staff-librarian divide, which was a good experience after library school. I learned that relationships matter, as you may have to circle backwards. Indeed, soft skills are the most important tool you need. The advantage of being a resident was that we could spend a lot of time observing rather than doing in order to gain a better understanding of necessary soft skills.

I got a chance to see what it takes to succeed. I had very little experience before coming here, although I had done a practicum, and this experience demonstrated what it took to succeed in an ARL library. It also demonstrated what it takes to be a tenure track librarian, what it means to work on a committee, to work collaboratively, and how to navigate the world of meetings. It was a spot on experience and provided an advantage as compared to those who did not engage in residency. The fact that I could explore/ask questions/interact at every level of the organization set me up for success. I believe things are done really well here. I was able to accomplish quite a bit the little time afforded based on freedom given, while learning how to work hard, do a lot and be free to work as a faculty member. I learned how to give opportunities to others as they had been afforded to me, and how to engage in diversity at a campus wide level. I feel the program was beneficial through my years in academic librarianship and has provided a good basis for my work in the PhD program.

Mark Puente

My experience as a minority resident at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville Libraries was invaluable to me professionally, as well as personally. The position allowed me to gain practical experience across many functional areas of the library. The many projects I completed or contributed to during my tenure at UTK helped me to gain significant expertise that rendered me highly competitive when I made my transition to my next professional position. Of course, never had I anticipated that, two years following my residency experience, I would be transitioning into a major leadership role for an international library association (ARL), but my work at UT and the many professional development opportunities that were afforded me as part of the program, allowed me to build my confidences and make significant connections that positively affect the work I do every day.

From a personal perspective, the thing that I remember most from my Knoxville experience is the relationships that I built during my time there. My cohorts and I collaborated on multiple projects and we supported each others’ work in meaningful ways. My program mentor was tremendously supportive and guided me to a deep understanding about local organizational and campus politics and how those play out in the profession writ large. She helped me to think strategically about my experience at UT, my engagement in professional organizations, my professional development, and about creating and pursing a vision for my professional future. She remains a lifelong friend.

Overall, the most valuable part of the experience, for me, was the support and encouragement I received from library administration, my supervisors, my mentor, my cohorts, and from several of my library and campus colleagues. The UTK diversity residency program was exactly what I needed, when I needed it. Many of the connections I made during my time there endure, and it is exciting to engage the expanded network that has been created as a result of this experience.

Damon Campbell

I was a resident librarian at the University of Tennessee from 2007 until 2009. During my first year, I performed rotations in cataloging, systems, and reference. In my second year, I helped co-manage the serials team. The residency was my first professional position, and it gave me the opportunity to try areas of librarianship that I would not have had I followed a more traditional career path. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the University of Tennessee. It broadened my professional horizons, teaching me the value of networking and service to the profession. My move to Tennessee was the first time I had ever lived away from Chicago, IL. I had to learn to function without the familial support network and geographic infrastructure I had come to see as a fact of life, and I also had to adjust to the differences in culture between Chicago and Knoxville.

In my time in reference, I worked shifts at the desk, did chat reference, and helped to assess a portion of the reference collection and suggest updates to it. In my work with systems, I learned about the challenges of maintaining an ILS and got to help with the periodic hardware assessment performed by the department. My rotation in cataloging was most beneficial to me, career-wise, as it helped me build on skills I had developed in the course of my work as a student worker and a paraprofessional before being granted my MLIS. The year I spent co-managing serials greatly helped to compliment my experience in serials and acquisitions, and provided experience in managing full-time staff and projects, such as addressing current periodicals backlog. That year helped to prepare me for the work I did after I left UT.

My first professional position after UT was as the Acquisitions Librarian at a law library in Florida. Again, I moved to a city in which I knew no one and had never been aside from interviewing for the position. My experiences at UT gave me the skills I need to handle the workload associated with ordering and receiving series and monographs for the library and managing two full-time staff members.

My next position was at the University of Oregon – doing the same sort of work but on a much larger scale and while managing a large team. This is actually a job I applied for immediately upon being granted my degree, but was unprepared for at that time. My experiences at UT and in Florida helped me become the front-runner for my current position when it came back around, and prepared me to, again, move to a new location and build a new network for myself. This is the position I hold currently. Without my time at UT and the opportunities it provided, I doubt I’d have reached this point in my career by now.

Rabia Gibbs

Gibbs joined the UT Libraries in 2010 as a diversity resident librarian. She spent her first year as a resident both in the Digital Library and Special Collections focusing on the physical and digital preservation of the University of Tennessee Libraries unique collection materials.

Gibbs had a great talent and passion for working with special collections material and in 2012 she was appointed Digital Services and Access Librarian in Special Collections. Gibbs was enthusiastic about digitizing manuscript materials to create better access to these rare materials. Over the next year, Gibbs spent her time focusing of local Civil War material and curated the Digital Civil War Collection. She created an access point for four newly digitized Civil War collections. She also worked diligently to receive a grant to digitize and preserve over 300 hours of World War II Oral Histories that where collected by the Center for the Study of War and Society over a 25 year period. Gibbs was awarded a substantial grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to complete this project.

Throughout her career Gibbs was dedicated to, diversifying the archival record through sustainable outreach practices, and creating collaborative digital projects that provided open access to underrepresented collections. Gibbs served on the Diversity Council of the Society of American Archivists and was formerly editor of the organization’s Archives and Archivists of Color Newsletter. 2012 American Archivist, the peer-reviewed journal of the Society of American Archivists, published her article, “The Heart of the Matter: The Developmental History of African American Archives”

Prior to work at UT libraries, Gibbs receiving her master’s in library and information science from the University of Pittsburgh, she also taught at several schools in Philadelphia, PA.

Gibbs passed away from cancer in 2014. Her colleagues will miss Gibbs’ keen intellect, tremendous work ethic, humility, courage, and sharp wit. Even in her short amount of time with University of Tennessee, she has left a lasting impression on her colleagues, friends and the library itself.

Ingrid Ruffin

During my time as a diversity resident librarian at the University of Tennessee Knoxville I was able rotate between several departments before I found the office that where I concentrated and began my career as a librarian in earnest. I rotated between Special Collections, Digital Initiatives, Marketing and Communication, Diversity and Community Learning Services, and the department formally known as Instruction User Services, now Learning, Research and Engagement.

Projects I worked on included:
• Digitizing special collection acquisitions
• Hosting library open houses and fairs
• Assisting with instruction
• Developing the Library Take Out program
• Creating the Big Orange STEM Symposium (now Big Orange STEM Saturday)
• Representing the library in serving the student veteran population

Those are just a few of the programs and projects that I was able to assist with during my time as a Diversity Resident. What I enjoyed most were to develop new skills, work in a diverse array of settings within the libraries and being able to substantially contribute to the culture and operations of the UT Libraries.

Not only did this experience provide me with opportunities to grow and learn in the profession it also led to my next position as the Student Success Librarian for First Year Programs at the UT Knoxville. I like to believe the Diversity Resident Librarian position was a great launching pad that allows me to innovate in my current position.

Kenya Flash

As a resident, one is often told that the residency opens doors and lays the foundation for your career. Yet as a new professional, it is hard to see that. It therefore becomes surreal, when one enters a new workplace dynamic and is considered an expert on arrival. The context and the experiences that one has adapted to over the time of the residency and the personalities that one engaged becomes a medium through which to view the experiences to occur in your new role.

The residency at the University of Tennessee was the first of many doors to open in my career and has prepared me for success in my current role. The ability to engage faculty, to serve as a liaison, to work on several committees were all experiences that were novel prior to the University of Tennessee, that have been replicated within this role.

Indeed, my rotations in Instruction, Collection Development, and in Assessment have prepared me to better handle the vagaries that come with working in a library system comprised of 15 libraries. My experiences have led to my incorporation on two library committees- one focused on resource purchase and marketing and the other focused on instruction and reference. My time at the University of Tennessee was invaluable, and I am excited to see how best to utilize these experiences in the future.

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