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Home » About » Blog » A Q&A with Clements Librarian for Instruction & Engagement, Maggie Vanderford
In September 2021, Maggie Vanderford joined the University of Michigan community as the Librarian for Instruction & Engagement at the Clements Library. Maggie comes to Michigan from UCLA, where she is finishing her Ph.D. in English and worked at the William Andrews Clark Library in instruction, outreach, engagement, and research services. Before moving to UCLA, Maggie received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Creighton University and her Master of Arts degree in English from the University of Arizona.

In this post, Maggie answers a few questions designed to introduce her to the Clements Library’s visitors and supporters.

Tell us about your role at the Clements.

I am the Clements Library’s first-ever Librarian for Instruction and Engagement! My position is designed to augment and support the already robust teaching program here at the library. I coordinate with faculty on campus to design visits to the Clements, assist them in selecting Clements materials for their classes, and ensure that the Clements is involved in relevant campus initiatives. My goal is to bring students (from all fields, not just the humanities) into the building and let them know that they’re welcome to be here.

In addition, I oversee the fellowship program for visiting researchers, which includes everything from the application process to following up after completed visits. In essence, any responsibility relating to academic outreach, whether to faculty, students, or visiting scholars, is part of my job! Previously, these responsibilities had been divided between curators and departments. This brand-new position will centralize and streamline our outreach efforts.

What experiences prepared you for this position?

At my previous library, the William Andrews Clark Library in Los Angeles, I spent several years learning from our then-Head of Research Services and generous mentor, Philip Palmer, who managed the library’s instructional outreach, reference, reader services, and more. After my first year at the Clark, he left to join the Morgan Library in New York. His absence, which we felt deeply, also left space for me to really step up and provide support when it came to outreach, academic events and public programming in a way that is rarely possible for non-full-time library staff. Head Librarian Anna Chen always encouraged me to take on projects and involved me in every event, class, and workshop that she could. It was an incredibly intellectually generous environment.

I also come from a background in academia, which allows me to understand the experience of faculty and students coming into the space of a special collections library. This helps me anticipate the needs and challenges of classes that want to use materials from the Clements, as well as how we can overcome those challenges to make their visits successful and enjoyable.

Vanderford highlights materials selected for study by students in a course on the Atlantic Slave Trade in October 2021.

What excites you most about the Clements Library?

So much! It is a thrilling place to be. So many answers come to mind, but I’ll limit it to two: First, people underestimate the breadth and depth of the collections, which are spectacularly comprehensive. It is a real treat to talk with faculty members who had no idea that materials supporting their research are available right here on campus. Second, the staff of the Clements is also ready and willing to address what materials and voices aren’t represented here: Why didn’t we collect African-American history as robustly as we might have in the 1940s? What stories, what identities, what names are missing from the ones we hold?

Those questions aren’t something that we shy away from, but rather, are interested in actively exploring to better understand how institutions like ours have developed, as imperfectly as they do. We also encourage students to think of places like the Clements as living case studies, and empower them to ask critical questions about how and why knowledge is stored in particular ways. It really excites me to be in a place that is not so overwhelmed by its own (well-deserved) prestige that it cannot ask the hard questions about the power dynamics that shaped how it came to be. I love that.

What materials in the collections do you think people should know about?

There are so many, and every time I’m down in the vault, I find more! However, as someone devoted to her two beloved cats, I had a difficult time containing my glee when I came across two boxes in the David V. Tinder Collection of Michigan Photography which were exclusively devoted to 19th-century studio portraits of people with their pets! Cats, dogs, deer, horses, you name it. The images are so pure, and document people who went out of their way to spend time and money capturing their relationship with a precious animal (who was sometimes in costume!) Every time I pull these boxes, I see everything that animals can represent to humans and how these trusted companions have enriched the lives of so many people in the most real and innocent of ways. They are a joy.

Both images from the Tinder Collection, Carte de visite photographs, Box 43.

What are you most looking forward to at the Clements during this academic year?

Other than finding someone with a class on animal studies to utilize the pet photography collections (email me if you’re interested), I think it’s the sheer variety of University of Michigan classes that we are collaborating on. Just this spring, we’ll have sessions on “Creepy Kids”, disability studies and ecopoetics, fragmented texts, the history of race and law, and so many more. We’re planning a “True Crime” class for next year that will link our James V. Medler Crime Collection to modern-day true crime podcasts, exploring the popular fascination with nitty-gritty details of criminal acts. Every time we collaborate on a session like this, I learn something new.


Learn more about instructional offerings and how to schedule a class session with the Clements Library on our Teaching with Collections page.