Stacy Torian: Interview with Arnetta Girardeau
by Stacy Torian
MLIS Degree Candidate
Stacy Torian is a writer and MLIS degree candidate with a strong interest in providing library services to marginalized and underserved populations. Prior to beginning her library studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, she worked as a communications specialist, an administrative assistant, a freelance reporter, a community college instructor, and a bookseller. During her second year of library school, she served as an outreach volunteer for the Alamance County Public Library system delivering resources to people in residential group homes. She blogs about learning, libraries, and literacy at storianblog.wordpress.com.
Copyright and Information Policy Consultant in the Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communications at Duke University Libraries
Arnetta Girardeau (J.D., MLS) is the Copyright and Information Policy Consultant in the Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communications at Duke University Libraries. Prior to joining Duke, she worked as a business and nonprofit librarian at the Greensboro Public Library (North Carolina) and a reference librarian for the North Carolina Central University Law Library. Before becoming a librarian, she was a practicing attorney in the family law division of a corporate law firm.
Girardeau recently spoke with WOC + Lib about the work that she does.
ST: How did you get started on this path?
AG: I started off practicing law and didn’t think that doing divorces was what I wanted to do. I was able to work my way through library school while holding down positions in public libraries and ended up finding a position at Central [North Carolina Central University] in the law library. That was my first chance to bring the two [law and libraries] back together. When this position came open, it was a chance to focus on copyright, which is a specific area of law that is really important to libraries and that intersects with libraries.
ST: Had you always been interested in library work?
AG: When I was in college, library work wasn’t open to me, because I wasn’t a work-study student. It’s something I always kind of thought about, but didn’t have the opportunity for. But, of course, having spent such a long time in college and graduate school, the library was an important part of my education.
ST: So, can you talk to me a little bit about what projects you’re working on?
AG: The kind of projects I do have a lot to do with people either using illustrations or creating digital projects in new ways. We have to figure out how to use different materials - from different time periods that come from all over the world. Things that are created in the 20th century are the most problematic because they tend to be in copyright, or they’re more likely to be in copyright, but are of interest to researchers. Then there’s the information policy, which is pretty broad, but kind of divides into the work I do with the people who do licensing in the library. I also work with a lot of projects, digitization, and other projects that arise out of the Rubenstein (Rare Book & Manuscript) Library. They’re a lot of diverse projects out there. Then there’s just kind of miscellaneous projects that come up.
ST: What gets you most excited? What do you really enjoy doing?
AG: Honestly, I love the fact that there is that variety. Contracts is the hardest class in law school for a lot of people, but actually doing contracts is really interesting. There’s just something about it, the combination of their structure of the way it’s supposed to be, and then there are nuances of how any particular contract looks. Then, there’s copyright. There’s always something different in copyright. It’s very interesting to be gaining expertise in that and all the other things. I think the library is a really interesting place to be working on these issues.
ST: When a project comes to the office, how is that work divvied up?
AG: There are a couple of different ways. One is there’s a link on our website that directs people to email questions to a listserv, and I monitor the listserv. Other people see it, just in case I’m not there. Then, probably the bulk of them are direct, either face to face, telephone, or email, because people just know, or because they either get my name or people within the library know that “Oh, yes, she’s the person.” Then sometimes I get them either from another staff member in the library or directly from my supervisor.
ST: So, you mentioned that you started out in litigation. How did you transition? What was that transition like?
AG: I was working in a corporate firm in the family law department, so I just left the firm and moved on to other things, so that I could kind of prepare myself for the library track. It was the right thing for me, so I didn’t have any qualms looking back. I feel like I’ve brought everything I’ve ever done together, so this is really good.
ST: What are some of the main attributes you need to have to be successful in this line of work?
AG: One of the things that I see on a recurring basis is [that] I naturally see the difference between what the legal issue is and what somebody wants to do. There might be an ethical issue, or there might be a business, practical kind of side. I can focus on the legal issue. I can tell you what is legal or if it’s not. I can’t tell you whether you should do it. I think that’s really helpful, especially since scholarly publishing is a newer field.
ST: Is there any advice that you would give to people of color specifically going into this profession?
AG: I think that the advice I would give to people of color is, no matter what your background is, and no matter what your interests are, start with networking and getting to know people. I think that that’s what I’ve seen to be the most helpful thing that we don’t necessarily know about. So, if you’re interested in academic libraries, just go out and start meeting people. Volunteer for organizations and events and things that intersect with your interests so that you know what it’s about and so that people know your work.
ST: You have this dual identity as a lawyer and as a librarian. How do you balance that identity? How do those two sides kind of work together and complement each other, and how do they challenge each other?
AG: Well, the first thing is that we cannot give legal advice. We can only educate. And I always have to tell people that. It’s kind of obligatory for me to tell people that and to make sure that, throughout the relationship, that’s very clear. I love what I do because I get to think about legal things, but I am in no way practicing, although I have to be aware of the line between what is practicing and what is not practicing. I feel like I need the legal content and knowledge. The legal content and knowledge help me get this done, but this is something that someone could do without a legal degree, without a JD. It’s the best of both worlds for me.
ST: Do you have experience mentoring people, or is that something you’ve thought of doing?
AG: It’s something I haven’t had a chance to do. I’m really looking forward to meeting as many library students and newer librarians as possible, because I just didn’t know very many people who look like me in our profession starting off, and I think that’s a relationship that gives back both ways.
ST: How would you see that mentoring happening? Would you be doing it in academia or for organizations?
AG: I’m open to people from all backgrounds, because I didn’t come from any one place, and I think people of color especially don’t have these linear lines to a particular profession. And I think that’s what we benefit from - opportunities that we didn’t even know about.
Being a librarian - that’s not something that was necessarily pushed when I was younger. It wasn’t even something that was on the table. I had more exposure to law, but the kind of joining that I’m doing now isn’t something that I would have even conceived of back when I was in school.
I think it’s great that this blog is at that intersection and the fact that people are able to do more, to be more creative, and also take ownership of their careers. So, you might be in library school but working with people from a variety of backgrounds, and kind of nurturing that thing that makes us unique.
ST: What unique qualities do you bring to this position that you have now?
AG: I think it’s a diverse background because I have done so many different things, so that gives me a wider perspective. Of course, having a law degree helps me with it. There are just a few people that do this kind of dual thing. And I do think being a person of color and being African American, in particular, gives me a perspective that is unique because I just see the world differently. There may be something broader, you know, that touches African American issues that I already have knowledge of, but I also think there are things that are not just “academic” to me. They are people’s lived experience that comes out of my culture.
ST: How important is knowledge of a foreign language in this profession?
AG: I think it’s important in general in life, especially now, because it’s invaluable for, number one, communicating with people. It broadens your interests. It broadens your knowledge base, and it also, of course, helps your thinking. I think there are specialized areas where it’s also necessary for the position. One of the things I’m also interested in is that there are opportunities to serve in other communities in other countries. There are ways to bring your library knowledge to another country. Duke, in particular, collects things from other countries. So, I find it to be positive.
ST: I always like to ask this question of people: If you weren’t doing the work that you do now, what would you be doing?
AG: It’s hard to say because I’ve done so many things that I’m glad I did, and this is kind of the best of all possible worlds. I can’t think of anything else that I would want to do. I don’t want to run away and join the circus or anything like that (laughs).
ST: [Laughs] So, it seems like you’re happy.
AG: I’m really happy about this. It’s got a combination of structure and creativity that have been really great. The place where I am is really good. It’s a very good situation. The Triangle is a great place to be doing what I’m doing. It was really important to me in leaving Central to make sure there were still connections, as many connections with Central and with African American librarians and other people as possible. I was very graciously given the go-ahead to hold a NCLA (North Carolina Library Association) Round Table for Ethnic Minorities workshop at Duke, and that was the first time we had anything at Duke.
ST: Is there anything else that you want to add?
AG: I’m just really happy to have the opportunity to talk to you. I’m really excited about this blog and the fact that women of color are creating a community in this area.
(NOTE: This interview is a condensed version of the original.)