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A photo of Jennifer Ferretti, a member of the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI) Advisory Board.
Jennifer Ferretti is a member of the CCDI Advisory Board. Image courtesy of Jennifer Ferretti.

CCDI Advisory Board Member Spotlight: Jennifer Ferretti

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The Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI) Advisory Board advises CCDI staff on program administration, supports initiative outreach activities, and helps the Library imagine ways that it can deepen connections with Black, Indigenous, Hispanic or Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color. Its members include nine professionals ranging from senior scholars to leading librarians, archivists, and early-career professionals in Libraries, Archives, and Museums.

Jennifer A. Ferretti is the founder of We Here®, an information professional, artist, and Director of the Digital Library Federation at the Council on Library and Information Resources.

In this interview post, Jennifer shares how she started We Here®, unpacks the meaning behind “art is information,” and emphasizes the importance of making the librarianship profession more diverse.

You’re a member of our first Advisory Board for CCDI. What made you want to get involved in this effort?

I was interested in getting involved with the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative after having a conversation with Laurie Allen about the initiative and advisory board. She reached out to me and as I remember it, we had a really great, genuine conversation about digital projects. It felt like an initiative I would be proud to be part of and it truly has been.

You’re the founder of We Here®, which aims to provide “a safe and supportive community for Black and Indigenous folks, and People of Color (BIPOC)” in Library and Information Science educational programs and professions. What was the inspiration behind the creation of the We Here® community? What have been some of the significant outcomes?

We Here® was created in 2016 out of the need to connect with people who identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC) who work in  libraries or archives. At the time, I was working at a library where I was the first and only librarian of color. Being the ‘only’ was and is common, unfortunately. I went to Pratt Institute for graduate school in library and information science where I met so many folks who identify as BIPOC. I hadn’t had the opportunity to be around so many BIPOC in the library, archives, and cultural heritage field up until that point. I wanted to collaborate with more BIPOC because I was tired of feeling tokenized by those who make up the majority of the profession – white women. If I couldn’t work with a diverse group of folks, I felt the next best thing was to connect with folks in a virtual space where we could feel safe and understood.

The business side of We Here®, the LLC, was created after we hosted a webinar with a life and career coach who led a workshop about salary negotiation. We wanted a way to pay people for their time, skills, and knowledge, while also protecting us as individuals and to separate our own finances from that of We Here. Since developing the LLC in 2020, we launched the Community School, which hosts professional and personal development workshops, most of which are open to the public; Community Study, a community-led initiative for BIPOC to study and learn together; up//root: a we here publication; We Reads, a community-led project of curated reading lists of works by BIPOC; and We Together, our mentorship program. We’ve held several events over the years that are open to the public, but also for We Here® members only. We’ve also organized a couple mutual aid opportunities.

Reading a salvage book by one of the Salvage men on the salvage truck of the A.T.S. salvage office. St. Nazaire. Nazaire Saint France, ca. 1919. Photograph. (Prints and Photographs Division)
Reading a salvage book by one of the Salvage men on the salvage truck of the A.T.S. salvage office. St. Nazaire. Nazaire Saint France, ca. 1919. Photograph. (Prints and Photographs Division)

As an artist, what are some of the ways that you see art as an opportunity to develop new methods of knowledge making and sharing?

I’ve given a couple versions of a talk called “Disciplines as Domination: How Interrogating Traditional Research and Knowledge Will Help Make Our Libraries and Archives More Equitable.” In it, I provide a frame of reference for research for a non-traditional discipline as a means to interrogate research within traditional disciplines and how research is associated with power and domination, particularly outside European and Western culture. The work of librarians depends on systems that work within traditional disciplines, which have come out of European and Western ideas of what constitutes knowledge, how it’s organized, and how it’s disseminated. As Linda Tuhiwai Smith wrote in Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, “Most of the ‘traditional’ disciplines are grounded in cultural world views, which are either antagonistic to other belief systems or have no methodology for dealing with other knowledge systems.” And what a major loss.

When I was a librarian at a fine art and design college, I gave a presentation every year on my career called Art is Information, which is also the title of my website and Substack. This is because I’ve had the privilege of being in a fine art and design space as an art student, artist, and curator, as well as in a space of more traditional disciplines. I’ve seen the research process for traditional and non-traditional disciplines and how one can inform the other. But I haven’t seen a lot of acknowledgement and discussion in these spaces of other knowledge systems. Art can be a universal, sensory language in which we go a bit deeper into what we’re seeing, reading, smelling, or feeling.

Art, however, has its own issues. The idea of what constitutes art, its monetary value, and who has the privilege of making, curating, writing about art is a whole other conversation worth keeping in mind.

Robertson, R. H. , Architect. Metal stacks in book room, Pequot Library, Southpot, Connecticut. Southpot Connecticut, ca. 1893. Photograph. (Prints and Photographs Division)
Robertson, R. H. , Architect. Metal stacks in book room, Pequot Library, Southpot, Connecticut. Southpot Connecticut, ca. 1893. Photograph. (Prints and Photographs Division)

What do you believe is the value in exploring, reusing, and remixing Library materials?

Having the ability to explore, reuse, and remix library materials means they have been made accessible to you or the public somehow, which has huge value. I developed a workshop I led when I was a librarian, but also for the public called Researching Community History with the goal of giving folks the tools and knowledge they need to navigate a library or archive. I developed it because before going to graduate school for my library and information science degree, I didn’t know the full potential of the library, including how to use its tools or navigate organizational structures within it. I wanted to share this knowledge because knowing it opened so many doors for me, not just within my college education, but general life education. Folks might think their library materials are accessible because they’re on a shelf, but not everyone has the knowledge necessary to locate materials within a library.

Once materials are discoverable, exploring, reusing, and remixing library materials is extremely valuable because it reveals more about the materials, sheds new and different light on them, making them richer or diminishing their once intrinsic value.

Lomax, Alan, photographer. Mexican girls, San Antonio, Texas. United States San Antonio Texas, 1934. Apr. Photograph. (Lomax Collection/Prints and Photographs Division)
Lomax, Alan, photographer. Mexican girls, San Antonio, Texas. United States San Antonio Texas, 1934. Apr. Photograph. (Lomax Collection/Prints and Photographs Division)

What ideas/solutions do you have for changing the library profession, which is primarily comprised of white women?

I always say I never wanted to be a librarian because I didn’t know what librarians did. There’s two parts to that. The first part is because I didn’t see myself in the library. I didn’t see myself in the staff, the other patrons, in the collections, or in the environmental design of the spaces. And when I reference “myself” I mean my culture or that of any culture that was familiar to me. The second part is because I truly think librarianship and libraries have a bit of a public relations problem. Generally, people overwhelmingly love libraries, even if they haven’t visited one in 20 years. But most people don’t understand what library and archives workers actually do or why they’re needed in 2023. With things like Google, ChatGPT, etc. are we even relevant anymore? The answer is of course we are, but the general public wouldn’t be able to tell you why. If you’ve never experienced the full potential of a library or archive, how could you see yourself working in one?

This is especially important to consider whenever discussing BIPOC. The profession has struggled for decades to become a more diverse workforce. There are countless programs that have made big differences in people’s lives within the profession, but generally those folks are already somehow connected to libraries and archives. Recruitment needs to spread its reach (e.g. starting in high school or middle school) and retention needs to be structurally developed and implemented.

I think one of the biggest issues within the profession is the people or entities who are examining the lack of diversity within the profession represent institutions, not people. Many initiatives to diversify the profession are grant, or otherwise temporarily, funded, which typically bring with it a beginning, middle, and end to a diversity program. There are certainly ways in which institutions or organizations can shift to develop people-focused programs.

I think if we want to make the profession more diverse, much more funding, an accountability map, and a review of library and information science educational programs absolutely needs to come with it.

CCDI is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path program with support from the Mellon Foundation. This program provides fellowships and grants to individuals and institutions for projects that innovate, imagine, and remix Library materials to highlight the stories and perspectives of Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latino, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color from any of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and its territories and commonwealths (Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands). Learn more about CCDI here.

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