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Meet Tiffany Conner: Library Development Intern for Spring 2018

2018 May 22
by Cindy Fisher

Tiffany Conner, MIS student and Spring 2018 TSLAC intern

From January through April of this year, the Library Development Division of the Texas State Library was extraordinarily lucky to have Tiffany Conner complete her Capstone with us as part of her course work for her Masters of Information Science at the University of North Texas. We asked Tiffany a few questions so we could share her wonderful work with a wider audience. We hope you learn just as much as we did from her research.

1. What was the focus of your Capstone project? Why did you choose this topic and what did you learn?

My Capstone project involved researching how the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) might become more involved in providing information resources (books, databases, grant opportunities, for example) to incarcerated communities in Texas.  The first step was determining whether there were any statutes preventing TSLAC from providing this type of assistance, and then determining whether there were prohibitions against inter-departmental cooperation.  In other words, if opportunities arose to design programs would TSLAC be allowed to work with other state entities like Texas Education Agency or Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  Also, I was tasked with researching what, if any, other states offered services to incarcerated communities at the state, county, or municipal level.  I also put together an Annotated Bibliography of literature, videos, and articles, which I hope will be useful as a starting point for any interested in learning more about the subjects of prison librarianship or correctional information services.

As for how I chose this topic, truthfully, this topic chose me.  In my meeting with the Library Development Network Division Director, Jennifer Peters, I was given a list of potential Capstone projects from which to choose and list my order of preference.  Originally, I thought my Capstone would involve studying TSLAC grant-writing best practices, but my Capstone supervisor, Erica McCormick (with whom it was an absolute joy to work), talked to me and told me that researching Correctional Libraries was more pressing and I began working on that project.

One of the most significant things I learned is that there is not nearly enough work being done to help incarcerated communities with information resources.  There have been a few grants awarded for wonderful projects like the WiderNet eGranary server with Lee College, but nothing widespread and consistent.  At the state level I learned that only Colorado and Washington State have departments which deal directly with serving this community.  Prisons do have libraries, but they’re not always very well staffed, stocked, or prioritized.  On a positive note, from the literature I found I learned that a lot of information professionals do care about this community, and when possible strive to provide small-scale programming or resources.

2. How will you use what you learned from your Capstone in your professional career?

Much of my Master of Information Science coursework has revolved around the question of how to keep libraries relevant in the Age of the Internet and how to do “more with less,” and I’ve learned that as important as those questions are, it’s also important to ask in terms of our fundamental, basic professional values and mandates, who are we not reaching that we should be reaching?  How do we start a conversation about getting under-served communities access to information resources?  Regardless of the library type—public, special, academic, etc.—what contribution can a library make to improving information resources for incarcerated communities? And how can we as information professionals use our intellectual, creative, and political energies to bring more attention to incarcerated communities’ information needs?

I have no idea where I’ll end up professionally (anyone want to hire me?), so I couldn’t say how I’ll use what I’ve learned in a specific professional context, but one important lesson I took from this Capstone was that Texas libraries are very fortunate to have TSLAC—an institution staffed with some of the most vibrant, passionate, and capable people I’ve met in quite some time.  Texas libraries should use the skills and knowledge of TSLAC staff to establish and maintain their information institutions as powerful engines for local economic, intellectual, and cultural growth.

3. Why did you decide to intern with the Library Development Division at the Texas State Library and Archives?

I contacted a number of Austin-area libraries but they were either unable to help due to staffing, lack of projects, or time; quite honestly, I was very discouraged when I first began looking for a Capstone opportunity as it didn’t seem that I was going to find one.  Then last Fall, during a visit to the public library I told the Managing Librarian at my local Austin Public Library branch, Barbara Harris, that I was having a hard time finding a Capstone, and she mentioned TSLAC.  So I went home, browsed the site and sent an email to Vanessa Siordia in HR.  Eventually I got in contact with Jennifer Peters, we scheduled a meeting, and after she had time to work out the logistics with Library and Development and Networking staff, she messaged me that we were a go with the Capstone.  I was so relieved as the Capstone is a requirement for graduation.  Jennifer made it all possible.

4. What is the biggest take-away you would like librarians to know as a result of the work you did for this project?

I’m hoping that the proposed Working Group on libraries and information resources to prisons is created, and that ALL Texas librarians and library staff learn more about the subject.  When I gave my final presentation to Library Development and Networking staff I tried to stress that a vast majority of Texas’s prison population will eventually be released.  Helping those released ex-offenders reintegrate into society is of economic and social benefit to Texas.  Texas has an opportunity to lead in this area of the information ecosystem.  There’s the potential for really important work to be done in this area, but it won’t be easy.  Library staff must be willing to think differently, create community awareness, utilize TSLAC resources (databases, grants, etc.) when available, engage one’s colleagues, reach out to other local organizations for potential partnerships, and remember that any work done to improve the overall well-being of our users is central to our profession’s Core Values.

5. Anything else you’d to share?

I’ll always cherish my time with TSLAC.  TSLAC is truly a hidden gem.  I hope that it doesn’t remain hidden forever.  Texas residents deserve to know about the sharp, dedicated bunch working so hard on behalf of their state’s libraries, schools, and communities.  You all make us better.

About Tiffany:
Tiffany M. Conner is a reader, non-professional dancer, shower singer, lover of black coffee, and single mother.  Tiffany is poised to complete her Master’s of Information Studies from The University of North Texas this summer, at which point she will be the only person in her family with a graduate degree.   Tiffany holds a bachelor’s degree in History and Government from The University of Texas at Austin.  Tiffany has lived in California, Oaxaca, and the Republic of Korea.  Her favorite book is The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch. And her favorite color is yellow.

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