Meg Metcalf dreamed of a career at the Library of Congress from the time she was 17, inspired by a job at a Borders bookstore in northeastern Illinois, where she worked the reference desk. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in women’s and gender studies and information science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2012, and then obtained dual master’s degrees from the university in 2015 in library and information science and gender studies. Afterward, she applied to the Library and was delighted to be hired as a reference librarian in the Main Reading Room. Meg also serves as the Library’s women’s, gender and LGBTQ+ studies collection specialist.
Here she answers a few questions about her Library career and her advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ+ issues in honor of National Pride Month.
How did you arrive at the idea of combining librarianship with women’s studies?
I was already a self-identified feminist when I realized I wanted to go into librarianship, but I think these two fields have a natural compatibility in that both are concerned with justice, equality and access to knowledge, power and resources. I come from Wisconsin, which had the first women’s studies librarian, a position created at UW-Madison in 1977. That’s why I decided on Milwaukee for school, because I knew that I could pursue my library degree and conduct feminist-focused interdisciplinary research at the same time. When I was in grad school, I was working and teaching both in the women’s and gender studies department and at the university library, which gave me ample opportunity to explore the way these worlds collide.
Tell us a little more about what you do at the Library.
I wear many hats, and all of them are fabulous! I am a reference librarian in the Main Reading Room, where I provide research assistance for both general inquiries and those that fall within the scope of women’s, gender, and LGBTQ+ studies. As the collection specialist and recommending officer for the Library, I also have responsibilities in collection development, outreach, teaching and programming.
But my primary responsibility is to facilitate access to Library collections and services. It’s important to raise public awareness of Library resources in order to facilitate access. I get the word out by producing events like book lectures, research talks, monthly discussion sessions, outreach visits, workshops and more. I also do a fair amount of instruction through research orientations, Library and Main Reading Room tours and material displays and exhibits.
I have a background in teaching and instructional design, so I was excited to take the lead for a new video tutorial project shortly after I arrived at the Library. The project alleviates common barriers to use of Library collections and services by increasing instructional content on the website in the form of tutorial videos.
I want to make the user experience here as meaningful as possible, and often that starts with outreach. Many people don’t know that we are a working public library open to everyone, and we need to do what we can to make this as visible as possible. We live in an increasingly visual culture, so videos and image-based learning objects are essential to my instruction style.
Describe a couple of your favorite projects.
Recently, I put together a customized tour and display for “The Lily,” a new women-focused publication from the Washington Post. It is named after the original Lily (1849), considered the first U.S. newspaper edited by and for women. A lot of people don’t realize that newspapers and periodicals were one of the first publishing venues available to women. To witness this resurgence of women-focused publishing, and to be able to provide it with context using the collections, is a thrill.
I definitely had a pinch-me moment in September 2016 when I was approached to prepare a gallery talk for the America Reads Exhibit. In “Between the Waves: Reconstructing Feminist Narratives at the Library of Congress,” I discussed how barriers to publishing for marginalized peoples often results in a less-than-authentic historical narrative – that is certainly the case for mainstream conceptions of U.S. feminism. I encouraged listeners to imagine the great potential of Library collections to illuminate what mainstream history often gets wrong. Later, I presented an expanded version of the talk at the National Press Club for the American Women Writers National Museum, a reading partner of the Center for the Book.
How have you been involved in the LC-GLOBE?
LC-GLOBE is the employee organization for the Library’s LGBTQ+ staff and allies. I’ve been a member since I arrived at the Library in August 2015. In 2017, I was elected to serve as chair of the LC-GLOBE steering committee, and in 2018 I was elected vice-chair.
Our goal is to connect our members with the essential resources they need not just to succeed but also to feel safe and welcome in the workplace. I think perhaps the most crucial resource we provide is a sense of a community and belonging. Throughout the year, we provide educational and recreational opportunities by hosting film screenings, author events, exhibits, workshops, trainings and more.
Among our members and leaders, we have more creativity, intelligence and talent than we could ever possibly use at once. It’s an honor just to be a part of this incredibly supportive group. They’re my work family.
How is GLOBE celebrating National Pride Month this year?
We organized a phenomenal Pride this year! Early this month, we had two major author events: an interview and book signing with André Aciman, author of “Call Me by Your Name,” and with Becky Albertalli, author of “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.” We had a fabulous display of LGBTQ+ materials set up for both events, and LC-GLOBE members talked with attendees about LGBTQ+ resources available here at the Library.
We also partnered with other library groups in Washington, D.C., and with our congressional LGBTQ+ colleagues to participate in the DC Pride Parade. It was my third time marching with LC-GLOBE and our congressional colleagues.
What has surprised you most about your Library career so far?
Getting this job was probably the biggest surprise of my life! This Library holds so much potential for discovery and creativity – it’s an enriching environment for patrons and staff alike.
I think most librarians hope to make a difference in the communities they serve, but I could never have anticipated getting to work in an institution with arguably the largest global reach of any Library currently in existence. It’s difficult to describe how it feels to know your work has meaning beyond your own limited conception of time and space. The work we do has a rich history behind it and an incredible legacy in front of it. It’s a great feeling.
I really look forward to continuing to make an impact on the breadth, depth, visibility of and access to the women’s, gender and LGBTQ+ studies collections and services here at the Library. I hope that by continuing to grow the collection and produce one-of-a-kind events and programming, we will be able to engage wider and increasingly diverse communities of people.