New York

Q&A with A.J. Muhammad, 2020 Spotlight Award Winner for an Individual

  • 1.  Q&A with A.J. Muhammad, 2020 Spotlight Award Winner for an Individual

    Posted 11-09-2020 09:00
    Edited by Darlene Davis 11-09-2020 10:12

    What first attracted you to a career in library and information management?

    My first library job was as a student worker in what was formerly the Course Reserves/Microforms/Current Periodicals department at NYU's Bobst Library many years ago during and I haven't left the libraries since. Having all those resources at my fingertips was unimaginable and life changing. I also got to meet some folks including my former supervisor Pat Warrington, and coworkers who became my second family.

    What  do you enjoy most about your work at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture?

    Everyday I learn something new about the history of people of African descent through each interaction with researchers, colleagues and others. I enjoy making new discoveries about the collection and thinking of ways to help promote the resources. There is so much history in the documents held at the Schomburg Center that it is awe inspiring, humbling and just plain unbelievable and it's an honor to be on staff there.

    The Schomburg Center has an impressive number of important manuscripts, photographs and other artifacts. What for you are the highlights of this collection?

    I'm discovering the collections all the time. The collections that come to mind are the original issues of The Negro Motorist Green-Book, a resource that was published in the mid-20th century to help Black travelers identify safe places to dine, lodge and vacation. The Green Books have been digitized and have experienced a renaissance in the past few years.

    One my colleagues, Tracy Crawford, recently created a LibGuide highlighting pamphlets that were sold in the Onitsha Market in Onitsha Nigeria and I'm looking forward to learning more about this wonderful collection. The department where I work, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, has a massive periodical collection of publications from across the African diaspora and every time I pass by the periodical section in the stacks I'm intrigued by what's on the shelves. The Schomburg Center also has a robust digital humanities presence called Digital Schomburg and I encourage everyone to find out more about the digital exhibits, and other resources that are available to anyone who has access to the internet.

    What do you find are the most successful ways to promote the Center’s resources to the local and wider community?

    The most successful ways to promote the Center's resources include blogging about the resources; LibGuides; the "Schomburg Connection," which is the Center's weekly e-newsletter; exhibits; and, special events such as a program called "Open Archives" which was initiated by the Center's Public Programs Division where staff from across the Schomburg Center's research divisions got the opportunity to highlight materials from the collections during a short show and tell like presentation to the public.

    What advice do you have for colleagues embarking on a career in library and information management?

    Many have already said this, but I would encourage anyone who is planning on embarking a career in library and info management to take advantage of all of the resources (panel discussions, internships, attending events, etc.) you can as an LIS student when possible. I would also say to attend conferences and symposia locally and nationally. There are usually scholarships to help offset the costs if the fees are a hardship. If you can, become a member of different organizations that align with your interests including ethnic caucuses and organizations. Also, you must meet Ray Pun, who is a great connector, gate opener and all around fascinating mover and shaker! In addition to Ray, I'd also say that you've got to connect with SLA's Clara Cabrera who is also friendly, inclusive, and couldn't be a better representative of SLA. Get to know SLA's Victoria North and Eileen Rourke as well.

    We are living through exceptional times.   In your mind how will the notable events of 2020 change the way library and information services are delivered in the future?

    I would say that now more than ever services are pivoting to electronic delivery for remote access of resources, virtual consultations, etc. For libraries to help make resources available, materials must be described as best as they can and equitable access to the high speed internet, smartphones and other portable devices is necessary for all! Unfortunately too many people don't have access to the internet which should be free or some may not be able to afford the devices they need to do research remotely. It's imperative that we advocate for everyone to have access to the equipment and connectivity they need to be able to function in the world. 

    I'm also inspired by hearing about the ways librarians are shifting to deliver instruction online and the ingenious ways librarians and library staff are being very innovative with technology to help facilitate this.

    What advice do you have for successful networking within the library and information community?

    I would encourage everyone to learn about the great library related organizations such as SLA where you can meet great people and participate in some insightful and informative programs.

    What are your favorite ways to relax when you finally get some downtime from your busy job?

    Reading is a great way to relax although I wish I had more time to read. Also, attending or rather watching cultural events that are available virtually as live, in-person events have been suspended due to COVID-19.

    Darlene Davis
    Digital Product Analyst / Product Catalog Manager
    Eversana (Contractor: Johnson & Johnson)