What Our Members Are Saying: Carla-Mae Crookendale


Image of Carla-Mae CrookendaleCarla-Mae Crookendale is the Arts Research Librarian and Assistant Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries.

What do you love about your work? 
I have an art background, so I enjoy working with aspiring artists and their teachers. I’m always learning new things and being challenged to view the world from a variety of perspectives. It’s tough to find time for my own creative practice these days, so I get to participate in the process vicariously!

What are you reading? How is it informing your work?
I’m currently reading Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez. It’s startling to see how so many of the structures and systems on which we build our lives aren't as neutral as we assume, setting us all up to maintain and replicate the gender-based injustices of the past. This works in concert with the systemic racism we’ve all been made more conscious of right now. 

I’m very aware of the different aspects of this bias in my work. It’s evident in the lack of women and minorities in the Western art history canon, in the design profession, and in roles for performance, just to name a few. I’m fortunate that a lot of the faculty in my community are also concerned with this. We collaborate to work with students on assignments designed to help them grapple with this reality, and we struggle together to find diverse reference materials.

What are you finding challenging about adapting library services during this COVID-19 pandemic?
I really miss meeting with classes face-to-face. I’ve adjusted to doing instruction via Zoom, and I’m doing my best to make it interactive, but not unlike in a dance or theatrical performance, I underestimated how much energy I drew from even non-verbal feedback from students. I also miss the serendipitous opportunities for outreach that arise from attending arts events on campus. You never know when a chance meeting with a faculty member will turn into a future collaboration!

On the plus side, I’m working on mastering tools for creating learning objects and adapting instruction for asynchronous learning. I think these skills will expand the tools at my disposal for teaching and outreach even when we’re back to meeting in person.

Tell us about the kind of library you work in. What do you wish other librarians understood about the kind of library you are in? What makes it great? What makes it challenging?
I work in a university library that is the main branch on campus. I work with colleagues to ensure art is displayed on our walls, on the digital screen in front of the building, and in rotating exhibits. While the opportunities for interdisciplinary cross-pollination are exciting, I sometimes wish I had the ability to tailor our spaces and collection displays to the needs of art students and faculty in the way that a dedicated branch library can.

How many years have you been a librarian/worked in libraries? What is the biggest change you have experienced in your career thus far?
I’ve been working in libraries for just over 10 years now. I started out as a page at a public library and a volunteer in an academic library and then had a few paraprofessional positions before officially becoming a librarian in 2012. The biggest change I’ve noticed in my library career thus far has been social justice becoming a focal point of librarianship rather than a niche concern. I’m sure the turbulent political climate over the last few years has something to do with this. Librarians are turning a critical eye on the role we play in establishing culture. I’ve been really inspired by the ways in which librarians are not just remaining neutral supporters for their communities but leveraging their positions to uncover hidden resources from the past and to advocate for a more inclusive future.

Carla-Mae Crookendale is the Arts Research Librarian and Assistant Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries