The Camp 10 – Tami Albin

With the holidays behind us, it’s time to get back to work. This month I interviewed Tami Albin, who is Women, Gender, and Sexualities Studies librarian at the University of Kansas. Not only is she passionate about her work with students, but she also is constantly on the go with multiple projects, including her oral history project, Under the Rainbow: Oral Histories of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer People in Kansas. I am so privileged to have worked with this incredible woman.
1. At what point did you know that you wanted to be a librarian?
Well, I’ve spent most of my life in libraries, except in high school. I got kicked out quite often for being too loud, and I don’t think our high school librarian liked me. (I’m still very loud and have been known to be shushed by KU students.) When I was an undergrad, I was a circulation desk student assistant at my university library. One day I was helping a student and another student assistant asked me whether I was going to go to graduate school to be a librarian. The thought never crossed my mind until that moment, but it made complete sense, given my politics around access to information as a right and not a privilege.
2. I know that you’re Canadian. How did you end up in Kansas?
Oh, I fell in love with an assistant professor I met at my first academic job in upstate New York. We started dating, and she was on the market. Her position at that time was a two-year (possibly renewable) gig. So one day I asked her if she was interested in having a librarian with two cats join her on her job adventure, and she said yes. So we ended up at KU. The challenge for us wasn’t that we were a same-sex couple, but that I was Canadian. So I had to deal with visa issues, applying for various positions, and making sure all labor laws with an international employee were being followed correctly. It was incredibly stressful, but eventually everything worked out, and we’ve been at KU 12½ years.
3. What do you find most rewarding about your job?
There are many aspects to my job that I find incredibly rewarding (like running around the library dressed as a banana or Tinky Winky), but I think the most rewarding is working on in-depth research with graduates and undergraduates. I think there needs to be a certain level of trust for these types of interactions to happen, and when that trust is present in the conversations, we can really push the ways we are thinking and engaging with possible ideas or directions. It is really exciting for me to work with a student who has a speck of an idea and over many conversations watch the idea grow, morph and shape into a serious research project involving intense research. Through this process, the student is also growing, morphing and shifting into the role of student scholar, and it’s wonderful to watch. I learn so much from the students, too.
4. What is your average day at the library during the semester?
I don’t do the exact same thing every day, and often things spill outside of the 8-5 workday, but commonalities in my days would include: answering lots of emails, consultations with students about their research, research instruction sessions, working with teaching faculty and graduate teaching assistants on course and assignment redesign, and attending really long meetings about work-related things. (I have ADHD, so any big meeting over 45 minutes is incredibly hard to sit through, and I need to have a doodle pad with me.)
5. You have been working on your Under the Rainbow: Oral Histories of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer People in Kansas project for about five years now. How did you decide to do an oral history project?
A few things happened that brought the project to fruition. When we moved here, our friends (in other locations) thought we were going to get chased out of the state with pitchforks because, according to our friends, “No gays live in Kansas.” After we moved here, all we saw were gay people and maybe a farmer’s wife or two mixed in, but still there were so many LGBTQ people around us everywhere we went. Kansas has a huge LGBTQ population. HUGE. This led to us asking the question: Why do LGBTQ people in Kansas stay? Can people not afford to leave? Is it home and they don’t want to leave? Are people staying to fight the good fight? What’s going on in Kansas? I also realized that there’s barely anything written on Kansas, and what is written isn’t based much on conversations with LGBTQ people in Kansas, so I decided to begin an oral history project that would capture LGBTQ people in Kansas discussing their experiences.
6. How many people have you interviewed to date, and will you interview more people in the future?
I’ve interviewed over 60 people, and I would still like to interview at least another 20. I recognize that this will not represent all voices in Kansas. To do a project of that caliber would cost a considerable amount of money.
7. You will be on sabbatical from KU this spring, which has sent many of us who work with you into a tizzy (who will help us with our research at 3 a.m.?). What will you do with your time?
Oh, I have quite the list: conduct more interviews, take the transcripts and begin crafting them into a manuscript, write a book proposal to submit to a few publishers, and write and submit grant proposals for more funding. I’m really excited to have a dedicated chunk of time to work on the project. Birdie [her cat> is also excited. I bought him a pet sling so he could snuggle comfortably on my lap while I work at my desk.
8. You also have a very busy home life with your partner, professor Sherrie Tucker (American Studies, University of Kansas), and four cats. When you have the time, what do you do to relax?
I have a really hard time sitting still, so even if I’m relaxing, I’m working on something. It could be pottery or building something (raised-bed garden, bookshelves, cat shelves) or painting. I play with the cats (Birdie, Bowie, Casey and Idgie). Sherrie and I sometimes have long dinners and talk about everything under the sun and then play Rummikub, but we don’t keep score. We really don’t care who wins. We just enjoy spending time together.
9. Some people may not know that you and your partner have published a limited-edition book about your cat Birdie. How did that come about?
I love to take pictures of my cats. I always have. When we got Birdie and Bowie from the pound, nobody had any idea that Birdie had so many health issues, but we worked with our vet and slowly got things figured out. After lots of testing and surgeries, he was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, so his skin tears really easily and he’s quite flexible. He also has severe allergies. So we put him in dog T-shirts to try to protect the majority of his skin from potential scratches, which on his body can turn into big gashes very quickly. It’s surprising with all that has happened to him how chill and casual he is with the other cats and people. He likes to lean up against things or flop on the floor in funny ways. Whenever he is sitting or lying in a way that I think is funny, I take a picture. I’ve never posed him for a picture. They just happen. One day Sherrie was looking at some of the thousands of pictures I’d taken, and she decided she was going to write a book about Birdie. She did a great job. It’s quite funny and if people want to see part it, they can go to www.blurb.com/b/3952824-look-at-birdie.
10. If you could switch places with one of your cats for a day, which one would it be and why?
As I am working on this, I am surrounded by four sound-asleep cats. I think I could switch places with any of them and life would be good, although I do not look forward to expelling hairballs. “

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