Q&A with Mayumi Miyaoka (2009), interviewed by Nia Lam (2005)

Mayumi (my-you-me) Miyaoka was born and raised in Saitama, Japan. She is a Librarian & Archivist at St. Joseph’s College New York by day and an accordionist by night. Mayumi received her master’s degree in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University and her Librarian Certificate from Meiji University in Tokyo in 2010. Before joining St. Joe’s, she worked at several special libraries including the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts as a project researcher and cataloger for a special collection of audio recordings in the Japanese language. Her professional interests include oral history, public archives, outreach, the role of librarians whose first language is not English, and the information professional’s impact on diversity. Mayumi has presented at METRO NY and ACRL/NY workshops on library instruction and outreach initiatives. She is a proud 2009-2010 ALA Spectrum Scholar.

Miyaoka is interviewed here by Nia Lam, a 2005 Spectrum Scholar and current chair of the Spectrum Advisory Committee. Nia is currently a Research and Instruction/Media Studies Librarian at the University of Washington Bothell & Cascadia College Campus Library. She holds an MLIS and a BA in communication from the University of Washington.


NLHow has being part of the Spectrum community had an impact on you?

MM: As a proud member of the Spectrum Scholar 2009-2010 cohort, I participated in the Spectrum Institute at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. in 2010. It was my very first national professional conference, and being able to participate as a part of the cohort was a great way to immerse myself in the professional conversation and network. In my graduate program, the topic of diversity was only a small segment in the Reference and Information Services course; the resources dedicated to exploring diversity in Library and Information Science were limited. It was an eye-opening experience for me to be able to connect with professionals in the field and aspiring information professionals from all over the country, some of whom I am still in contact with. Participating as a protégé in mentoring programs such as the APALA Mentor Program and the ACRL Dr. E. J. Josey Mentoring Program for Spectrum Scholars was also a great way to gain insights from mentors from both public and academic libraries. Conversations with them helped broaden my view of how information professionals could impact people’s lives through library instruction, outreach programs, and collection development.


NLCan you tell us more about the Voices of SJC oral history project and the panel discussion about the project?

MM: The idea of capturing an oral history of St. Joseph’s College was raised by Sister Susan Wilcox, CSJ, the former Coordinator of the Campus Ministry at St. Joseph’s College New York, where I have worked as a librarian/archivist since 2011. The College celebrated its centennial in 2016, and my colleague, Lauren Kehoe and I curated an oral history project as a part of the commemorative initiatives. In Spring 2017, 11 students from the Brooklyn Campus Honors Program visited the College Archives to conduct research on the College history, then researched their interviewees to construct their questions. We were fortunate that several Sisters of St. Joseph, who had been with the College for many years and lived next door to the Library, agreed to be interviewed to share their stories. Since then, we have been continuing to collect stories from the Sisters of St. Joseph and also long-standing faculty members and alumni.

The panel discussion was a collaborative effort with the Academic Center for English Language Studies (ACES Program) after the successful completion of the first set of oral history interviews. The ACES program is a diversity recruitment initiative established in 2001 for gifted students who are recent immigrants and whose first language is not English. A majority of the honors students who participated in the oral history project happened to be ACES students, and the interviews inherently touched on the topics of diversity on campus. We brought in the Sisters and the ACES students to the panel to continue their discourse on diversity on campus. The Sisters who participated in the panel discussion were SJC alumnae who graduated between the 1940s and the 1970s and served as high ranked academic officers at the College. They shared their insights reflecting their own experiences and the changes at the College over the years.


NLWhat do you think students, librarians, and interviewees learned from participating in oral history interviews?

MM: Through the oral history project students engaged in creative peer learning experiences and public discourse with people from different generations, which is, sadly, a rare opportunity. I hope that this project fostered their “curiosity about the past and appreciation for historical sources and actors” and helped them discover an “authentic sense of place” and feel a sense of belonging to the institutional community (ALA ACRL). The project was also an engaging and practical way to strengthen competencies in research, communication, group work, leadership skills, problem solving, and interviewing techniques.

I hope that the interviewees, all of whom have a long connection with the College, enjoyed their conversations with the current students, and that the conversations assured them their legacies are carried through by the new generation of students.

Through this new oral history project, we have been able to contribute to preserving the College and neighborhood history and have created a special collection for the institutional archive. Oral history could be a great marketing tool for institutional advancement and alumni engagement by bridging alumni members and retired faculty/staff members with the current happenings on campus.

I would like to share a quote from one of the students’ project reflection papers:

“After conducting my oral history interview with Sister Mary Florence Burns [SJC alumna ‘46 and former Dean], I discovered a new portion of my school’s history I would have never known if I had simply read a yearbook or newspaper article… After completing the interview with Sister Mary Florence, I realized this oral history project is just one piece in the puzzle that will help future generations better understand and connect with not only hard facts but also personal stories, mementos, and experiences of past generations and how they can relate to today’s society.” [Freshwoman - Spring 2018]


NLHow do we build diversity in organizational culture, library services, and/or education?

MM: I think there are a lot of small initiatives that could help promote diversity at the library. For example, at my current position at St. Joe’s, I try to attend as many student club events as possible. Recently, I attended the Diwali festival hosted by the Asian Awareness Club. After the event, I posted photos from the events on the Library’s Facebook and shared a link to the Library’s catalog for a book on Diwali. Participating in club events is a great way to get to know students and build a relationship with them outside of the library.

Another small idea is to promote diversity through a book display. It does not have to be a huge display, but having a book or two on a specific theme, such as LGBTQIA issues, with books on LGBTQIA topics and books by LGBTQIA authors. An eye-catching flyer can also help promote awareness and create opportunities for discussion on the theme. I often receive positive student feedback on the displays. I also collaborate with the ACES Program to curate a monthly book display titled “Books without Borders” to highlight books from all over the world selected by the ACES students.

Additionally, we are working with the Brooklyn Campus Accessibility Coordinator to start a book club on accessibility and diversity. This is still in a planning stage.


NL: What are some of your interests outside of work? Hobbies, etc.

MM: I am a founder and organizer of the Brooklyn Accordion Club, a community gathering of accordionists and accordion enthusiasts of all ages, levels, genres, and backgrounds. It is a beautiful scene to have a group of people from different backgrounds come together sharing one thing in common: curiosity towards accordion. I enjoy building the community and creating educational and networking opportunities for people who share the interest. Community organizing involves some of the core values of librarianship such as access, diversity, education and lifelong learning, and social responsibility. I am excited to be able to apply and exercise these values in what I am passionate about outside of my professional work.