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PACSCL Spotlight: Amplifying BIPOC Voices in the Field, Alexa Vallejo

An interview with Alexa Vallejo

What is your role?

I am a Cataloging and Metadata Services Specialist at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

How did you get into the field?

I often say I got into librarianship through the backdoor. After finishing a long-delayed Bachelor’s degree in 2010, I worked as the Stacks Services Coordinator at Georgetown University’s library, a position that didn’t require an MLIS. In 2015, I moved to Philly and got a job as a technician for the Fresh Air with Terry Gross archives at WHYY, where I learned a lot about metadata and archival processing. The skills I cultivated at both institutions helped me get hired at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where I eventually trained to be a cataloger.

What is your favorite collection item at your institution? What’s the most surprising thing you’ve come across while working in GLAM institutions?

At Fresh Air, I stumbled on a 1980 interview with G. Gordon Liddy, where he talks about eating a rat to overcome his fear of them. I showed it to the production team, and they ended up rebroadcasting that segment.

Tell us about your experience in the library field?

I never aspired to work in libraries and archives–I just stumbled on an opportunity twelve years ago that turned out to be a good fit. And lacking conventional credentials, I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider with a healthy dose of imposter syndrome. But at this point in my career, I’ve pretty much entrenched myself in the field and can’t imagine doing anything but library work. There’s still so much to learn, but I enjoy the critical thinking and decision-making that goes into cataloging. I feel satisfaction helping researchers find what they need.

If you weren’t a librarian or archivist what would you want to be?

I’m a writer and musician in my personal life. I often wonder what it would have taken to turn my passion projects/side hustles into a career.

If you could give advice to emerging professionals, what would it be?

This is a hard one for me because as much as I love working in this field, it’s tough to recommend when you consider institutional problems like salary inequity, the proliferation of term/contract positions, and –especially– gatekeeping. I’d cautiously tell folks like me to value their adjacent skill sets and circuitous career paths and unconventional educational backgrounds. Treat them like the assets they are. But understand the reality that credentials can sometimes matter more. I know I’m an outlier. I’m incredibly lucky to have gotten a stable, secure job with meaningful opportunities for growth. But if I ever had to move and find something else, would I even be able to interview for a comparable position without an MLIS? Or would an algorithm instantly filter out my resume?

What are you currently reading or listening to?

I recently finished Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, a wild and heartbreaking novel that centers queer and trans-Asian women. Now, as always, I’m slowly plugging away at a handful of sci-fi and fantasy novels. As for music, I haven’t been able to stop listening to HEY WHAT by Low.

What are three things you enjoy outside of work?

I love gardening, though my track record for keeping plants alive is mixed at best. I’m a guitarist and perform both on my own and with theater groups on occasion. I’m trying my hand at visual art, despite a lack of any natural talent in that area.

What is your personal philosophy?

Perfect, not flawless. Sometimes a few imperfections can make things unique and special. Mistakes help us learn.

Where would you like to go on a dream vacation?

Anywhere with open, desolate landscapes: the desert, the Arctic, the tundra. I don’t know why, but those kinds of bleak environments make me really, really happy

You’re happiest when…

I’m sharing a meal with my partner.