Scholar Spotlight: Jerrell Jones (2021) in Conversation with the Spectrum Advisory Committee

Jerrell Jones headshot

The Spectrum Scholarship Program actively recruits and provides scholarships to American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Middle Eastern and North African, and/or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander students to assist them with obtaining a graduate degree and leadership positions within the profession and ALA. Spectrum Scholarship Alumni are part of what makes this program successful -- we are thrilled to highlight Jerrell Jones (2021 Spectrum Scholar) who currently works at Rice University Library to talk about the Scholarship, as well as current work. This interview was conducted via email with Spectrum Advisory Co-Chairs, Kay P Maye, and Ramon Garcia in December, 2023.

What area(s) of librarianship have you worked in thus far?

I am now four months into my first position as a librarian, contributing as a Digital Initiatives Coordinator at Rice University. My work entails providing digital project facilitation, project management, and focused consultation to faculty, staff, and students. I have worked in the digitization and digital libraries realm for over 11 years in several staff roles. I remember beginning my work in digitization back in early 2007 and finding my way into the field through my experience as a photographer. A lot has changed from those early days of slow SCSI scanners, fuzzy optics, questionable color reproduction, and clunky digital library interfaces. When I think back on most of my roles over the years, there has always been some element of customer service and maintenance of partnerships. In digital libraries, it has been a combination of educating people about the work I do, the true time and expense of that work, and the necessary complexities of carrying digital projects through to completion. I have always been interested in that “human element” of library service - using libraries as a means to connect people not only to the information they seek but to each other as well. Overall, I think this is an exciting time to be a new librarian because of how libraries are evolving towards inclusion. The road to true, sustainable inclusion in libraries is frustratingly non-linear but I take joy in watching the profession improve for future librarians.

What are some current projects that you're really excited about right now?

I am excited about a collaborative research and teaching program that is hosted by my library, The Fondren Fellows program. This program provides a paid opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to research while collaborating with the teaching faculty, our librarians, and fellow students on impactful projects. I especially appreciate the mentorship model and exposing students to project management. These students are doing some amazing work and providing them a stage to confidently flex their strengths while making a positive mark on the university is great stuff. The students refer to our library as “Fondy” and to know that it is a place they love and rely on is a good feeling as a librarian.

Additionally, I have been consulting on a project to establish a large-scale digitization and archives program in Barbados that will prepare the nation to undertake a massive effort to arrange, digitize, digitally preserve, and provide access to Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and genealogical records. In the wake of global warming and other forces that threaten physical archives, nations traditionally left out of the digital archiving process are showing an increased interest in digitizing their content. It is an honor to have a seat at the table to advise and empower other countries to prioritize their history through digital means, on their terms.

What has the Spectrum community provided you in the years since you've graduated library school?

The Spectrum community has provided me with a sense of belonging that is genuine, refreshing, and pure.

I exist in a society that was not made for me. I have entered rooms that my ancestors dreamed of entering and I do not take that for granted. Some rooms are built for me, some welcome me, others tolerate my occupation, and others won’t allow me entry until I prove myself worthy of entry. I speak about rooms because when you live your life knowing that rooms are by default, not yours for unconditional entry, it can exhaust you in ways that are hard to recognize. The 2022 ALA Spectrum Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C. provided a room I have not forgotten. There was a ballroom full of LIS students and new librarians of color supporting each other. The feeling was nothing short of electric.

The level of acceptance and peace was palpable. Person after person stood up and recited personal anecdotes about their lives and tables of strangers cheered for each other from across the ballroom. Those beautiful individuals are working and will work in libraries across the country and that alone is a cause for celebration because their talents and transformative power will bolster the profession for years to come. That room lives through positive text messages, encouraging and celebratory emails, and smiling embraces at conferences. Spectrum collectively provides a message of “I see you, I celebrate you.” It is like a candle that the Spectrum community keeps lit - one that can’t be extinguished.

How do you carry that sense of camaraderie and connection forward to others in the LIS profession?

I know how impactful it can be to be celebrated so I spend time making sure people feel seen, heard, and supported. I do my best to spread the word about Spectrum and all of the resources in the LIS community that are available for BIPOC individuals in library school. I believe that LIS programs can do a better job of at least being familiar with the landscape of BIPOC resources in the LIS field. I believe carrying camaraderie and connection forward means showing up when and where it counts. Internally asking things like “How do I show up for this person, based on what they have going on?” or “What does showing up mean in this context?” or “What work do I need to do to be a better ally?" can help support this community, especially those new to libraries. I also think that the power of providing a true listening platform can’t be underestimated. Many of us are programmed to listen to respond instead of listening to understand and I’ve seen some amazing things happen when people truly feel heard. Libraries are notorious for being siloed so camaraderie and connection can easily fall through the cracks. Forced camaraderie and connection can cause another set of challenges. I try to check in with my colleagues, read the room, and respond with action that makes sense. Overall, I try to keep it consistent and genuine because the alternative is no good, and unfortunately, all too common.

Working in libraries can sometimes take us far from home. What are some favorite regional foods that you look forward to getting if you ever return for visits? Alternately, what are some favorite dishes that you discovered along the way?

I have been lucky to work close to home and my family for most of my career, so I have easy access to my favorite dishes. My family is from Louisiana, so Cajun food is something I prioritize when being away from home for a while. As such, I have very strong opinions about what does and does not go into gumbo. I am based in Houston, Texas, and so I am a big fan of the Southwest area of the city which is a prime destination for food from all over the world. It is a nondescript-strip-mall heaven of deliciousness. Yes, I will take that hot and delicious Ethiopian teff injera that is 24 inches in diameter. Thank you, Houston. I sometimes take for granted how easy it is to get decent Vietnamese food without traveling far in my city. I recently traveled to Baltimore and I did enjoy the seafood and serious crab cakes quite a bit. I will now gladly make an excuse to put Old Bay on something. Thank you, Baltimore. When traveling for conferences, I try to venture off from the city center to places where the locals eat. Always grateful for library travel and the great experiences along the way.