Ray Pun: An Interview with Academic Librarian Extraordinaire Leslie L. Morgan from University of Notre Dame
by Ray Pun
Leslie L. Morgan is currently the Africana Studies, Education, Teaching & Learning Services Librarian at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana. She has been involved in many groups and committees within the American Library Association, the Association of College and Research Libraries, and more. She’s an amazing mentor and advocate for many librarians of color and you can find her on Twitter @LadyLibrarianND.
In this interview, Ray Pun interviews Leslie L. Morgan to explore her career path to librarianship and what makes her excited about the profession!
Thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview, Leslie! Can you tell us about your work and how you got into librarianship?
I am currently the librarian for Africana Studies and Education at the University of Notre Dame’s Hesburgh Libraries. I am in the best subject areas because I get to work collaboratively with professors, students, and professionals who value my expertise from the South Bend community.
I got into librarianship as a result of my participation in a ceremony honoring the late Detroit Poet Laureate and former Librarian, Dudley Randall. At that ceremony, I read some of my work that Mr. Randall reviewed before he passed away. Dr. Joseph Mika, from Wayne State University, was part of the program. He announced that he was going to have some time to convince me to become a librarian. I was to begin graduate school in the fall to become an English professor. He was wonderfully relentless in getting me all kinds of information in the mail and via e-mail [about becoming a librarian.]
Wow, it sounds like you’ve had some great mentors! What do you enjoy most about your current position?
Leslie: What I enjoy most about my position is that both areas are incredibly inter-disciplinary, I get to collaborate in planning library instruction sessions with an extraordinary group of faculty, and I get to work with an incredible group of undergrads and graduate students who are developing transformative research projects. When I am not teaching, I look forward to my work in building the e-book and database collection in my subject areas.
What do you like to do for fun? How do you center yourself and maintain work/life balance?
I like to listen to good music, go dancing, attend art festivals, and end the day with a good glass of wine or a glass of aged scotch with my wonderful husband who keeps me laughing especially when those times calls for tears. I center myself by devoting time to doing deep-breathing, praying, and not talking to anyone daily for one hour.
I maintain work/life balance by not doing any work at home. At some point when I move into leadership, I know I am going to have to revisit this, but right now this works for my life in a really positive way. I balance my life by shopping and cooking my own food. I learned to cook by observing my father make these extraordinary Creole dishes utilizing the “holy trinity” as the base. He taught me that cooking is a meditational/praying process; our gift to our loved ones when we sit at the table in the moment sharing a meal in gratitude not only for the food, but spending time with one another.
Your examples are very helpful and we appreciate how you balance it! You have been such an amazing mentor to many librarians and library workers and students of color over the years, what motivates you to be such an advocate for us?
You humble me Ray, thank you for your kind words. I was fortunate to have had a corporate, non-profit, and higher education experiences in Student Affairs work before I became a librarian. Within those organizations, I worked with extraordinary men and women who supported my efforts as mentor/coaches in that work. In their own way, they were helping me to decipher what I wanted for my professional life. Their overarching message was this: I have a responsibility to “pay it forward.”
My students, now more than ever, benefit from our diverse [staff and faculty] presence on campus. I am motivated to reach out to my students who are first-generation, students who have not been exposed to this type of wealth, students who have never attended school with students of color not only from this country, but from other parts of the world; I am motivated because I was once 18-22 years old. I was once not sure if I was in the right major. I was once questioning what this education was that I was receiving and whether it was going to allow me to have a transformative life.
Mentor-coaching students often means making myself available to have a cup of coffee or tea, providing a safe space to cry, curse, and cry again, so that they can get back to focusing on what this education experience will mean once they graduate. Mentor-coaching my students affirms that “I see you.”
The librarians who are new to our profession and will be coming into our profession (especially in the next three to five years) are innovative and transformative. The energy and expertise they bring can sometimes be misunderstood. It is unfortunate that our profession can often reflect a “bullying-dysfunctional” workplace. When our newest colleagues and sometimes my colleagues who have been in this work as long as I have are confronted with this experience, it can be devastating. This, in turn, makes people feel angry and really disappointed, because we know ultimately, that librarians are better than that.
As a coach-mentor librarian, “how can I talk you off the ledge” by not quitting or giving up on our honorable profession? We are librarians for a reason, and so my efforts and my underlying motivation is to help my colleagues get back to the why they became librarians in the first place (especially in the academy). I ask questions (not to be answered right away) that I want my librarian colleagues to reflect on, especially if they have a vision of what their career will look like. The questions I ask are questions that have been asked of me. At the end of the day, I am that librarian that will cheer you on in the stands of your success.
So fascinating that you had a career before becoming a librarian! Last question: can you tell us what projects you are working on and what gets you excited about the profession?
I am presently working on my first digital project that will articulate the African American narrative of South Bend, Indiana from the Underground Railroad to present.
Part I of my project will focus on the Underground Railroad in Northern Indiana. I am excited about this project because I have living descendants with artifacts who are entrusting me to tell their family’s important narrative from this region. I am especially grateful to my two colleagues, Mikala Norlock and Monica Moore who are the project manager and copyright/intellectual property experts in my efforts. Stay tuned!
What gets me excited about our profession? The fact that I get to be an Academic Librarian within an extraordinary institution at the University of Notre Dame! My faculty and staff colleagues literally come from all over the world, and have always made me feel an important part of their teaching and learning efforts. Certain times of the year, we get together to break bread, eat delicious food, and have the most engaging, sometimes politically, racially-charged, and religious-based conversations I have ever had. I really look forward to these times. To a newbie, you would think a brawl is going to ensue. We are too classy for that. This experience is as close to “utopian” as I could get, because the foundation of these important collegial relationships that are now friendships is rooted and based in not only love for the intellectual, but also for the love of humanity.
As a librarian, what gets me excited about our profession is being in places and spaces with our colleagues at the ACRL or ALA conferences. I love getting on a plane, and seeing my sister and brother librarians flying with me. We really do have a look.
The librarians who have been on this incredible journey with me to date are never short on hugs, affirmations, compliments, and amazing support. “I see you” resonates. I was introduced to so many new and emerging colleagues recently at ACRL-Cleveland. I got some of your cards, so you will be receiving an uplift card in the mail from me.
Raymond Pun is an Instruction and Research Librarian at the Alder Graduate School of Education. He uses he/him pronouns.