M.A. in English, 2011
Any other degrees:
B.A. in English from the University of Mississippi, 2008
MLIS, Library & Information Studies, from the University of
Favorite memories of being an undergraduate English major:
I was made to feel immediately at home at MSU upon beginning my master’s program, especially by the faculty and administration of the English department. I made wonderful friends during my time in the graduate program at MSU, many of whom are still a huge part of my life today – including my colleague, Carrie P. Mastley, who graduated from the M.A. program at MSU a couple of years after me and is currently an assistant professor and Curator of Material Culture at MSU Libraries. She is one of my best friends and a brilliant archivist, and we love that our stories both started in the English department!
I learned so much from my fellow students as we discussed our academic interests, career goals, and interpretations of our readings in the coursework. I loved our late-night study sessions over coffee and junk food from the Pod in the Union. I also remember piling into a car with some other fellow M.A. students to go to a Brandi Carlile concert and having the best time. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to teach classes as a graduate student and getting to help first-year students get their footing as college-level student writers in their Composition classes. In one of my classes, two of the students met and became college sweethearts and are now married with a daughter.
Assistant Professor and Director of the Mississippi Political
Mississippi State University Libraries
When you graduated with a degree in English from MSU, what were your plans for your future? Has your career path mostly realized those early plans, or have you discovered new plans and goals along the way?
I thought I would leave Mississippi in search of a teaching job at a small college. I also thought I might use the writing skills I developed to break into public relations or communications. When I had a difficult time finding a place where I felt comfortable in either of those areas, I considered librarianship because my grandmother had pursued a post-graduate library certificate in the 1940s after she graduated from MSU with an English degree.
Around that time, I got an opportunity to work part-time with the political collections at the library. Having previously spent a fair amount of time in my M.A. program researching in the library’s Special Collections as a part of my research assistant post with Dr. Ted Atkinson and in my coursework for Dr. Don Shaffer’s outstanding summer class on the works of Richard Wright, I quickly took to the environment, my colleagues, and most importantly, the archival materials themselves. Over the years, I have had the chance to hold in my hand letters written by Abraham Lincoln from the Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana and a lock of Frederick Douglass’s hair from the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library. In the Mississippi Political Collections, I teach with documents signed by every U.S. President from Franklin D. Roosevelt forward, including Joe Biden. Who knew? It is so fun.
My career has not been what I imagined it would be when I graduated from the English program in 2011. It is even better than I expected. I love coming to work every day here at MSU, and with a husband and two precious children at home, I am happy and grateful.
What is your current occupation, and what does your work mostly consist of?
Currently, I am a faculty librarian and archivist at MSU Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections Division. Specifically, I am an assistant professor and the Director of the Mississippi Political Collections, which is the unit that stewards the public and personal papers of some of Mississippi’s most historic and recognizable public servants, such as U.S. Senator John C. Stennis, Congressman G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, Congressman Mike Espy, Congressman Chip Pickering, and U.S. Senator from Tennessee Marsha Blackburn. We have over one hundred collections from political figures from the municipal level of government all the way up the United States Congress.
My daily work consists of helping researchers such as students, historians, documentarians, journalists, political operatives, and others access information in these collections. I also promote the collections through exhibits, course instruction, and my own research in the field of political archives, and I work to preserve original material so that it can be utilized for years to come. I am also active in professional organizations that help me stay at the forefront of emerging trends in my field. I am the current President of the Society of Mississippi Archivists and am in my second term on the steering committee of the Society of American Archivists’ Congressional Papers Section.
Which skills that you learned as an English major do you use most in your job?
Without question, the greatest skill I developed in the M.A. program was academic writing. As tenure-track faculty, I am expected to publish in peer-reviewed academic journals. To do so, you must be able to produce quality scholarship and communicate it in a way that is discernible, clear, and precise. I left graduate school with the ability to do that and the tools I needed to improve upon it as my career progressed.
I also developed analytical and critical thinking skills through my literature courses. I am a better problem solver and a more careful and thoughtful observer because the study of literature requires you to consider all the ways a work, a character, or a moment can be comprehended and related to broader themes such as the culture or period in history that it represents. There are innumerable interpretations to a single piece of literary work, and as long as you can support your claims through textual evidence, the possibilities are endless. This same critical skill applies to the study of archival documents as well. Often, researchers must delve into multiple and potentially conflicting contextual meanings of a piece of correspondence, a diary, a photograph, or other primary sources to understand the past. I am more equipped to help patrons in this way because of my English background.
What additional skills did you need to learn in order to do your job, and how did you learn them?
I went back to school in 2016 for a master’s in library and information studies from the University of Alabama. This is a professional degree geared toward those currently or planning on working in any kind of library, from academic libraries like MSU to school libraries, public libraries, or special libraries like law or medical libraries. The program taught me foundational concepts of librarianship like the organization and description of information, such as cataloging, as well as archival best practices and reference skills. I also learned a bit about coding and grant writing.
Are there common misconceptions about your career field, which current English majors might share, that you have learned the truth about?
There is always the misconception that you cannot do anything with an English degree, but that is not true. With any degree program in any discipline, you get out of the experience what you put into it. If you show up, engage, do the work, and listen, the faculty in the English department has prepared a curriculum that will set you up for success in several career fields. English degrees will prepare you to be an excellent writer and communicator, which is valuable across the job market. If you are interested, there are opportunities to teach and engage with students, which for me, strongly developed my confidence in group settings and public speaking skills.
In what ways does your career enrich your life and help you to achieve your personal as well as your professional goals?
As a seventh generation Mississippian and a mom of two little ones, I am committed to seeing my fellow Mississippians, particularly those of the next generation, succeed in their education at every level. Libraries are a crucial piece of that puzzle, especially in rural areas where access to information can be limited. I am proud to be part of a vibrant library community throughout this state that shares that same vision for equity and accessibility.
It is a huge point of pride to me to be a faculty librarian at MSU. Librarianship is a complex, thoughtful, and interdisciplinary field that, if done well, can be an invaluable resource for high-quality research like that which MSU routinely generates. I am in constant awe of the creative and innovative scholarship produced by the faculty, staff, and students of MSU, and I hope that the library will be a help to them along their journeys.
I also believe that preservation of and access to political papers is a key part of a healthy democracy. Regardless of party or ideology, there is intrinsic value to all of these collections. There are important lessons to study about life in public service and duty to country, state, and constituencies. There is also much to learn about the role of government in everyday life and why it is so important to exercise your voting rights. As your elected representatives, these people’s histories are in many ways everyone’s history.
I have had some special opportunities to work with officials from both parties, from sitting U.S. Congressmen to state legislators to federal judges, and more. All of them, whether Republican or Democrat, have been generous and engaged with our work at MSU Libraries, not only with respect to their own collections but to the overall role of the library in the life and broader mission of our land-grant university. Their shared support of access and preservation shows me that even in a highly partisan political climate, there is still room for common ground, and that is highly motivating and inspirational for me.
It can be overwhelming sometimes to establish relationships with public figures, as they carry with them a certain kind of celebrity, and there is a lot of demand for their time. It is the interpersonal and communicative skills I developed during my time in the English department that laid the foundation for me to build productive, lasting relationships with even our most high-profile donors.
I will never forget a great conversation I had with the late Republican U.S. Congressman from Tupelo, Alan Nunnelee, about my English degree. He was amazed at all I had been able to study as a graduate student at State and wanted to hear all about my master’s thesis. Just last year, I published a case study using his papers in the Journal of Library Metadata. I wish he had lived to see it.
What advice do you have for undergraduate English majors right now who might want to follow the career path you did?
If you are interested in librarianship or archival work, I suggest seeking out summer jobs or internships in a library to give you the hands-on experience of working with patrons as well as developing an understanding of how information is organized and accessed, both online and in-person. The best way to determine whether librarianship is for you is to see it up close and understand its practical application. At Mitchell Memorial Library, we rely on our student workers to help us serve the thousands of students, faculty, and staff that call MSU home, so I encourage you to check out work opportunities at our end of the Drill Field.
Updated April 2023