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Between the Lines: December Member Spotlight

Between the Lines: Member Spotlight, TLA Membership, TLA News

Coby Condrey

Research Services Support Librarian, University of North Texas Libraries

What inspired you to become a librarian?
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I didn’t really thrive when I first started college. After two years I dropped out for about five years, and in that interval, I met a friend’s mom, who was the art librarian at San Antonio Public Library, and by getting to know her I found a career path that sounded really appealing. I knew from early childhood what a wonderful place a library could be and being a part of something that opens the world to others and doing so for people, regardless of ethnicity or status or other characteristics, really appealed to my sense of social justice. When I returned to college, I set my goal: to go four more years to finish my undergraduate in something I liked and then earn my Master’s in Library Science degree. I completed my bachelor’s degree with honors in Latin (yes, the language) and Classical Civilization, which prepared me perfectly for writing science fiction, teaching humanities, or going to graduate school, the latter of which was the path that called me most strongly.

What is an innovative practice at your library/organization (current or former) that you’d like to share with others?
The UNT Libraries have tons of innovative practices, but I think they all hinge on encouragement to think about how to do things better, and then to try new services and methods of accomplishing goals. If an idea doesn’t pan out, we review and revise, or abandon and restart. We are allowed to “fail” and try again. That is very empowering.

I have contributed to two initiatives at UNT that I found to be very innovative. In my former position as collection development liaison librarian, I helped implement a just-in-time policy for our collections starting in 2015, changing our approach to purchasing materials so that we relied much more on user feedback, demand-driven acquisitions, and interlibrary loan to make materials accessible, rather than trying to predict what users will want. In 2020, I collaborated with a colleague at UNT to improve the collections and services targeted to the transgender community. Both of these efforts reflect what I like about librarianship: the willingness to do something different to meet the information needs of a variety of people.

If you could have dinner with three authors (living or dead), who would they be and why?  
Only three??? Goodness, that’s hard to decide! Today’s answer (which will inevitably be different tomorrow) is Annie Dillard because her prose is sublime, Oscar Wilde because his wit is hilarious, and the Apostle Mark because I’d like to ask him a few questions. Oh wait, I really wanted to talk to Ovid, and Michelle Obama, and Isaac Asimov, and Juvenal, Gustave Flaubert, and John Waters, and Christine de Pisan, and Giovanni Bocaccio, and Erasmus, and Walt Whitman, and Homer, and Catullus, and Gautama Siddhartha, and Herman Hesse, and Rainer Rilke, and Rabelais, and Lao Tzu, and Marcel Proust, and Voltaire, and Teresa of Avila, and Jules Verne, and … well, you get the idea.

What are you reading right now?
I just finished Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr and The Silmarillion (again) by J.R.R. Tolkien; still re-reading Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea and Desire of the Everlasting Hills, both by Thomas Cahill, and I’m almost finished with The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My mental “cotton candy” is reading Wikipedia on my phone almost every day.

What is your most memorable Texas Library Association Experience?
Ha-ha, I’ve been a TLA member for a very long time, so there are lots of memorable experiences and many of them are not so memorable for what happened but rather for the friendships I developed, skills I learned, goals I helped to achieve, and laughter I shared with colleagues. Being elected to Council and participating on it has been a great experience, and I think I most enjoyed the year that one group produced a “Men of TLA” calendar, and the person who presented it to Council said it would make “a gazillion dollars”!

Anything else you would like to share?
One of the things I’ve learned about librarianship that I didn’t realize earlier in my life is that this career is amazingly flexible. I’ve been a government documents librarian, a clandestine cataloger, a collection development librarian, and now a research services librarian. TLA has helped me keep up-to-date on the profession, allowed me to engage in the ongoing development of our disciplines, and given me the opportunity to forge connections with librarians throughout the state and even beyond.

 “I am a TLA member because…”  These are my people. Smart ones. Caring ones. Humorous ones. Some even like to enjoy an adult beverage from time to time. At conferences, of all places! Ha-ha, but seriously. I’m a member because this is a network of great people working together toward a common cause in which I believe: ensuring that all people have the opportunity to grow, to share, to contribute, and to be celebrated for being engaged in the community of those who love to learn.