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Q/A with the Drexel Libraries’ Diversity Resident Librarian: Michael Johnson, Jr, PhD

September 25, 2023

Last October, the Drexel Libraries welcomed Michael Johnson, Jr., PhD as its first-ever Diversity Resident Librarian. Communications Manager Stacy Stanislaw sat down with Dr. Johnson one year after he came to Drexel to learn more about his interests and what led him to change careers and become an academic librarian.

Dr. Johnson comes to Drexel with over a decade of experience as a faculty member – most recently holding a tenure track appointment at California State University, Northridge – in addition to many years with the University of Wisconsin, and Washington State University.

Q: You have spent over a decade as a liberal arts teaching professor. What led you to pursue a career as a librarian?

As a professor, I’ve always valued working with students pedagogically. But the demographic changes within higher education today have infiltrated its way into the classroom. This meant that even tenure track faculty, of which I was a member, are increasingly facing (distinctly unpleasant) pressures to increase class sizes, which has a permanently deleterious effect on the quality of instruction. Consequently, a class that might have started with only 30 students maximum, might rise to 120 by the time one reaches tenure six years later. And that was not something that I ever thought might happen five years ago.

The writing was on the wall, so to speak, and I knew that I had to make a change. I took advantage of the free tuition California State University (CSU) system offered its faculty and enrolled in a master’s degree program at San Jose State University, majoring in library and information science. That education paved the way for my eventual switch to academic librarianship as a career. [As a librarian,] fortunately, I get to work with undergraduate and graduate students (without the labor of writing and grading assignments, or the pressures of class sizes) while also working with faculty in an instructional and consultative role. I’d say I’m getting the best of both worlds.


Q: What drew you to the Drexel Libraries’ diversity resident librarian position?

It was a position that was actively and unambiguously recruiting candidates from underrepresented and marginalized demographics and as a multiracial Latino man I found that to be something notable. Also, the position was at an institution that I was already familiar with, given my experience working as board member and Vice President of the Popular Culture Association (PCA). My friend – and now colleague – Dr. Joseph Hancock has had a lengthy tenure at Drexel and he and I have been friends since the years when he served as Executive Director at the PCA.


Q: Tell me about your first year as the Drexel Libraries’ Diversity Resident Librarian. What is one thing you have learned so far? Would you tell me about an interesting project you are working on right now?

I had no idea just how instrumental teamwork is for the academic librarian. So much of what we do is collaborative, despite often working independently, teamwork is one undeniable aspect of the job that I had no clue about as a faculty member. The first year was very educational; being trained in multiple departments through periodic rotations has proven to be very revealing and especially informative.

A major project that I was recently assigned to lead involved the print serials collection. I was responsible for conducting the evaluation, assessment, and analysis of over 4,000 print titles. This included collecting and disseminating usage data from a variety of sources, evaluating the return on investment based on evolving annual expenditures, and soliciting subject librarian decisions about the disposition of these resources. It was a very detailed, lengthy process that drew upon an array of expertise from across multiple library departments. Fortunately, nothing quite so big is on my plate now – I’m reviewing the print reference collection of only 1,300 titles – significantly much more manageable.


Q: What is the most unexpected aspect of your position – and moving into the field of librarianship?

I was not prepared, whatsoever, to see just how central vendors are to the function of academic libraries as an institutional organization. Typically, the only vendors at academic conferences for faculty members are representatives from various publishers. However, my recent attendance at the Association of College and Research Libraries Conference (ACRL) in Pittsburgh illustrated how vitally important they are to our operation.


Q: What projects/initiatives do you have planned for your 2nd & 3rd years with DUL?

I intend to continue my work in collection development, but also expand upon my experiences working in the University Archives and supporting the Communications, Politics, and Sociology departments. And hopefully, I’ll get to attend another conference where I can expand my professional network of contacts and improve my knowledge of various vendors instrumental to the profession. 


Q: Now for the obvious question we ask all of staff: what is your favorite book and/or what are you reading right now?

About the Drexel Libraries’ Diversity Resident Librarian Program

The Drexel Libraries established the resident librarian position as part of its long-standing commitment to diversity and its participation in the ACRL Diversity Alliance. 

The residency provides early-career librarians from historically excluded racial and ethnic groups a three-year professional position to develop skills and grow professionally in academic librarianship. The program is designed to meet both the professional goals and interests of the resident, as well as the Libraries’ service and operational priorities.