I Love My Librarian Award Winner Natalia Fernández: Archives and social justice

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by Steve Zalusky

Our nation’s archives preserve our history, but, thanks to the work of Natalia Fernández, they also promote the cause of social justice.

As curator of the multicultural archives at Oregon State University and as the co-director and lead archivist for the Oregon State Queer Archives, she has preserved and shared the stories and histories of LGTBQ+ community members in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.

At Oregon State University, she has enhanced the library experience of both students and faculty, working, for example, on various projects with the office of Outreach and Engagement.

According to Bradley Boovy, her nominator for the 2017 I Love My Librarian Award, “Natalia is patient and generous with her time. In introducing students to archival materials, she helps bring those materials to life through creative activities and exercises. For example, for the past two years Natalia has facilitated an event called Glitter in the Archives that gives students and community members the opportunity to craft with copies of archival materials. This is just one example of the kinds of innovative and creative ideas that she brings to her work with library users.”

She has also encouraged students from diverse backgrounds who have often felt excluded from library and archival spaces.

Boovy said, “(I)n an era in which US culture is STILL struggling with the legitimacy of non-heterosexual relationships, Natalia helps students, and library users more broadly, to normalize and accurately historicize the experiences and contributions of LGBTQ individuals and communities.”

As a leader in social change on campus, she has been involved in issues of equity and culture, particularly campus-wide discussions on renaming four buildings on campus bearing the names of individuals with possible connections to white supremacy. She provided teams of researchers to investigate these histories, using expertise as an archivist.

In her work as the archivist for the Oregon State Queer Archives, she has worked with undergraduate students in HST 368 (Lesbian and Gay Social Movements in the United States) to gather oral histories for the Oregon State Queer Archive.

The oral histories included interviews with Brenda McComb, a retired Oregon State University faculty member who grew up in a conservative, blue-collar family but struggled with gender identity.

Boovy said, “Natalia's impact is direct. All the projects that the Office of Outreach and Engagement has advanced with Natalia involve students, teachers and university staff, as well as the extended communities where OSU Outreach and Engagement conducts the program.”

He added, “Students who have worked with Natalia have consistently highlighted their time with her as some of the most beneficial and engaging they’ve had in their courses. Faculty across campus speak in glowing terms of Natalia’s breadth of knowledge about archival materials and her expansive imagination in working with faculty to come up with creative and engaging materials and activities to help students understand and explore the complexities of history.”

Interviewed upon being honored with the I Love My Librarian Award, she said, “Winning this award means so much to me, because my job is all about working with communities, and so to think that community members and colleagues worked together to nominate me for this award is incredibly special, and I’m very grateful to them.”

Discussing her work, she said, “The main purpose of my job is to empower individuals to share their stories, and so I hope that their stories inspire other people and last for generations and that they become more well known as part of the historical record.”

She noted that archives can play an important role in social justice work.  She said, “It is always so wonderful to meet individuals who are so willing to share their stories and engage in new projects with me and come up with creative ideas and ways of using archival materials.

“Libraries can be a really important piece of social justice movements and I think that the work that librarians and archivists do can have such a positive impact on the community.”

Learn more about the winners of the 2017 I Love My Librarian Award. Sign up here to be notified about future I Love My Librarian Award activity.

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