Academic Movers Q&A: Stacy Collins on Structural—and Personal—Change

When Stacy Collins was named a 2021 LJ Mover & Shaker, she was the research and instruction librarian for Boston’s Simmons University Library, where she developed the highly regarded Anti-Oppression Guide. LJ reached out to her to learn more about what she’s been doing since 2021, which includes a new position at a boarding school.

Stacy Collins head shotWhen Stacy Collins was named a 2021 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, she was the research and instruction librarian for Boston’s Simmons University Library, where she developed the highly regarded Anti-Oppression Guide. LJ reached out to her to learn more about what she’s been doing since 2021, which includes a new position at a boarding school.

LJ: What are you doing now?

Stacy Collins: I'm at the Phillips Academy [MA] Oliver Wendell Holmes Library. I’d love to say that there was some big reason [for leaving Simmons], but it was really morbid curiosity about a job posting at a library that’s academic but serves the high school student population as well as on-campus staff and their families. They have academic services, which is more or less what I’m doing. But the library also provides community services, youth services, etc. How does all that actually work in one library? I don’t think I've ever done a job interview where I felt I didn't really care if I got the job—I just needed them to answer questions about what was going on there. I’ve since found out that libraries at boarding schools are typically interdimensional pockets of services, which is cool. Also, I love a good easy library mascot, and you can't do better than an owl.

What is your role at Phillips?

It's very similar [to what I did at Simmons]. I’m an instruction librarian. I work primarily with the history department, if only because the history students are the ones that come in more than anybody else. When you’re talking about information literacy instruction, it’s not all the same. But you end up answering the same kinds of questions and talking about the same kinds of things from a slightly different perspective, which is a lot of fun.

The other part of my job is geographer at large, which I like a lot. I’m the map master at this school, which has a beautiful historic map collection that was donated by previous heads of the school. A lot of it has been digitized, I’m pretty sure by Boston Public Library. You can see the map collection online. I’m there to increase engagement with [the maps], get faculty to think about how they can use them in study, and also for students who are thinking around geospatial information. They’re on this historic campus that has been there for many, many, many decades. It was the first boarding school in the country, sitting smack dab in Massachusetts, in New England. There’s a lot of capital-H history happening there. But also getting [students] to think: You’re on this campus today. You experience time here. But you also experience space. What does that mean? And how do you how do you map that? I’m getting into a whole little side branch of information literacy—geospatial information literacy. And I am not a math expert, so I’m learning as I go, which is probably my favorite position to be in.

What is it like working with high school students?

It's definitely a different pace. It’s not that it’s faster or slower, just a different—maybe cadence is the right way to say it. I’m working with extremely talented, thoughtful high school students who are going to college somewhere. It really is like preparing them for what I know they’re going to be doing because of my work with undergraduate and graduate students. Being able to provide academic and information literacy services that start getting students thinking about their digital citizenship, and where the information in their lives comes from, is very cool.

Are you still involved with the Anti-Oppression Guide?

The Anti-Oppression Guide is now in the hands of the wonderful folks at Simmons. How they plan to move it forward is up to them. In my new role at Phillips, I'm hoping to build something similar but more focused on resources, and an emphasis on supporting and uplifting marginalized folks, as opposed to an emphasis on educating privileged folks. The nature of intersectionality is that you’re going to have folks that fall into both camps, for different reasons. But I think that emphasis is a good model. The students at Phillips are gifted to receive the enormous benefit of a highly resourced campus. The library is not the only place that provides this kind of information and access to thought work. We have the privilege of being able to center marginalized experiences and narratives and change work without it feeling like we’re somehow leaving folks who haven’t thought about this before in the dust, because there are other services at Phillips, even whole offices, devoted to that kind of work.

I’ll probably get started this summer. I’m not sure exactly what it will look like yet, but [it will] center marginalized perspectives and narratives. There’s so much room and interest. You could start with Star Trek, which would be my preference—something that a number of these students are already familiar with. Star Trek as a franchise and phenomenon of cultural expression does a wonderful job of holding a mirror up to ourselves. And that—from the individual to the global—is where anti-oppression work always starts. Star Trek also enthusiastically encourages questions, especially when it comes to what we often take for granted about our society or about ourselves. Stamina for question-asking is something else essential for anti-oppressive and liberatory work. And Star Trek often (though not always) modeled the inclusion it envisioned for our future—Nichelle Nichols will forever be an icon.

You can do it with children’s literature, or you can do it from anywhere that tangentially gets at some of the things that they’re studying, but also incorporate some of who they are as people interested in pop culture, entertainment, and recreation. This too is academically scholarly and relevant, part of progress, and part of how we build up a cultural consciousness.

What advice would you have for an academic librarian who’s thinking of making a career change but worries that they don’t have enough knowledge?

I’m fully stealing from the advice I got when I was fresh out of undergrad and realized that publishing was not for me. My undergrad reference librarian would talk to me about how she did not have all the answers to everything, but she could find the answer to anything. And she would say that I didn’t need to know everything. In fact, no one does. If you look at how academia is structured, when you get to the upper echelons of scholars, as opposed to the management side—the folks that hold the research degrees, who produce new knowledge and new research—they actually know very little. The structure ideally is that we have many people who know a lot about a few things, and they talk to each other. It’s not so much about knowing. It’s much more about asking, but it’s a skill, right? Asking questions, finding answers, finding more questions to ask is a skill set. That’s ultimately the skill set that I focus on with students too.

That doesn’t have to mean doing things the same way. My undergraduate reference librarian has been a reference librarian since God was young. She’s excellent at it. But she’s never given up on the idea that she has things to learn. She learned from every student that came in asking a question. It was always this idea of, “I don’t know everything, I can find answers, and the skill set I have is one that has to constantly expand.” It was always [about] learning being something that she was participating in, not delivering to students, but helping them ask and explore questions, not prescribing answers. You participate in learning, you explore it, you help explore questions, and ideally, you get a little choked up from the novelty of a new thing that you didn’t know before.

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