Meet Jade Kastel, the 2023 Illinois Academic Librarian of the Year

Illinois Association of College & Research Libraries Forum (IACRL)

September 27, 2023

interviewed by Lori Noe, Frontier Community College

Jade Kastel from Western Illinois University was recently named the 2023 ILA Academic Librarian of the Year.  Enjoy this interview with Jade! 

It is an honor to be the recipient of the 2023 ILA Illinois Academic Librarian of the Year Award. I am Jade Kastel, the Music Librarian, Assistant Professor, and Libraries Diversity Officer at Western Illinois University (WIU). I’m in my third year at WIU and I was previously an academic librarian in Indiana and Florida. Before my career in librarianship, I was a director of music and jazz musician in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 

I hope this interview sparks new connections across our Illinois libraries and fosters discussion on current library topics.

What do you think is the biggest barrier to pushing for more equity and diversity in libraries today?  

Barriers for equity and diversity in libraries may largely depend on what type of library one works in, in what location, and in which state one is employed. Bans and challenges to library resources catch media attention and imply a deeper agenda behind the action; a desire to enforce power. Historically, when there’s a struggle for power, libraries have been targets for asserting power, such as biblioclassism or as we’re witnessing now, with the book bans and challenges to resources, particularly on topics of race, reproductive justice, and LGBTQ resources. 

Libraries serve diverse populations and hold space for a wide range of viewpoints. Libraries embody serving the public, or in an academic setting, serving the diverse research needs of faculty, students, and community researchers. As libraries strive to meet the diverse needs of our communities, we find we are natural advocates for diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, accessibility (DEIJA), and antiracism. 

One parting comment on barriers is to examine if we individually, as a library, or as an institution are still upholding systemic barriers, which is a dynamic discussion in DEI committees on campus, in libraries, and in library consortiums. DEIJA and antiracism work is not easy, it’s often met with adversity, and it can feel sisyphean. I like to reflect on the quote from poet June Jordan when faced with barriers in DEIJA and antiracism: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” It’s us. We are the ones best suited to positively impact our local environment. And Illinois is well positioned to positively impact our region of the US. It’s us. All of us. 

What initiatives or opportunities would you like to promote?

In Illinois, we are fortunate that we have recent legislation outlawing book bans, supporting a library’s collection development and selection of resources. Still, some of our libraries may face local pressures and libraries in adjacent states may continue to have challenges and bans to their collections, programing, and services. 

My initial thought for an initiative or opportunity to promote was to rethink coalitions and innovate how we support libraries in Illinois and adjacent states that are facing challenges the most acutely. I’m also foreshadowing my answer to the “challenges” question in this interview. Climate change and its financial, emotional, environmental justice, human justice, and societal ramifications are substantial issues that we need Marvel-like coalitions to address. Yes, ILA, IACRL, and CARLI committees, and national ALA and ACRL committees are working at addressing these, but could this be an opportunity for a totally new, innovative coalition of the future? Maybe the library-verse formerly known as Library Twitter, will coalesce in a behemoth to champion our challenges? Or maybe some of you had a similar thought during the UAP hearings: Is this my chance for an intergalactic trip to another galaxy’s library? Maybe they’ll have pointers to help address our earthly library challenges?

All joking aside, perhaps the best way to address this question is to throw the question back to you all in our Illinois libraries: What initiatives or opportunities do you feel are pressing and in what ways do you feel I could address these topics with the voice and platform that comes with the Academic Librarian of the Year Award? 

What does your typical day look like in your current position?

The music library at Western Illinois University is a fun, creative, and vibrant hub on campus. If you visit at 2pm M-F, we play “Tunes at 2”, where we feature a selection from our audio collection. I have a wonderful Library Specialist and six amazing student workers that support patrons' requests for scores, recordings, books, and interlibrary loans. The music library also has a collaboration room where on any given day a student may be composing a song, another listening to a symphony with the score in hand, or a pod of students may be running lines for an upcoming play.

We recently had new shelving installed for displays and we’ve been having fun showing off our collection on the new shelves. Currently, we have some of our 33 ⅓ books on display. This is a series from Bloomsbury that are short books based on a vinyl album. I like using this collection as a way to introduce students to biography, research, and academic writing through these popular artists. In fall, I have many requests for library instruction sessions for courses in the School of Music and the Department of Theatre & Dance. A new book I’ve been bringing to my library instruction sessions is “Punks in Peoria,” which always gets a reaction, although my favorite instance has to be when one of my student workers saw the book title and exclaimed, “Wait, am I in this book?” 

What do you think are going to be the greatest challenges facing academic libraries in the next few years?

Two challenges that seem to be evergreen for academic libraries are funding and staff retention. These may vary in degree from public to private academic libraries, and by the size of the institution, but anecdotally, these have been two that I have witnessed in my career. As far as new greatest challenges in the next few years, climate change and inflation are pressing. This summer, many Illinois libraries faced energy alerts and the threat of rolling blackouts because of the heat. Prices of materials, shipping, building operations, and databases have all risen and demand a larger portion of funding, funds which were likely inadequate to begin with given the efforts and initiatives academic libraries are addressing. 

To put a positive spin on these challenges, the future and evolution of academic libraries have recently been featured in a special February 2022 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Ed The Library of the Future and in ACRL’s 2022 publication Designing Libraries for the 21 Century. With challenges of book bans and the stress of uncertain funding, one may find it helpful to examine the profession from a wide lens with these publications. To step back, regroup, and then return recharged to address the challenges in the present moment.

I’ve found it edifying and sustaining to be active in state committees: the IACRL’s DEI committee, the CARLI Preservation Committee, and the Indiana Library Federation’s DEIJA Committee, where I coordinate the Tapestry interview series. In academic libraries, we may feel siloed in our area of expertise, and having colleagues at the state and regional level is an immense support, a sounding board, and for me, it’s been a great way to meet colleagues in Illinois, especially during the pandemic. 

What was the last book you read? 

Right now, I’m listening and reading primarily for the degree I’m pursuing at the University of Illinois, a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) degree in jazz performance with a minor in Queer Studies. I do have a running reading list to dive into when I’m done with my degree, but until then, most of my reading and listening is with my studies in mind. 

Since I’m a music librarian, I feel obliged to give listening recommendations as well as reading materials. Chavela Vargas’s music and the 2017 film Chavela documenting her life and career are simply gorgeous. “La Llorona” is the song that comes immediately to mind. I enjoy Zaz, a French singer and songwriter, and for Zaz, “Je Veux” is a nice introduction. I’m writing about saxophonist, singer, educator, and bandleader Vi Redd for my DMA. Redd’s two albums Lady Soul and Bird Call are both fabulous, and she also played on the all-women jazz album, Now’s the Time. It’s hard to stop at just a few artists. If you want more, let’s do a collaborative reference appointment and exchange performing artists! 

If you’re in the mood for biographies, I can recommend two ones to devour: Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins by Adian Levy, and Tania León's Stride: A Polyrhythmic Life by Alejandro L. Madrid, which is also published locally by the University of Illinois Press. I reviewed both of these for Notes, the journal of the Music Librarian Association, with the Levy review forthcoming in March. Each author captures multiple facets of their subject across genres, eras of music, life challenges, countries, and their indelible impact on music and culture. 

What may be lacking in a newsletter platform is the chance for dialog, to connect, and to further discuss the challenges and celebrate the joys in our profession. It’s an honor to represent Illinois Academic Libraries and I look forward to continuing these conversations, discussion, and collaborations at the ILA Annual Conference and beyond.

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