Tag Archives: Susan Catterall

More Advice from “The Reference Desk”

“The Reference Desk” is a regular column featured in the AALL Spectrum.  The column below originally appeared in the May 2015 issue and is reprinted here with permission.

Q: I’m a director at a law school library, and I’ve heard through the grapevine that one of my staff members may be in the process of transitioning. I don’t know this person very well, but, even so, I know that I can’t question this individual directly. Not only is it none of my business at the moment, but I’m not sure what I can do. I anticipate, down the line, that this person may approach me and let me know (his/her) choices. I want to eliminate as much awkwardness as possible for everyone, including myself, and would like to know what kind of training or assistance I should provide.

A: You’re correct in that you can’t do or say anything at the moment and that you need to be cautious in your anticipation of any changes. If what you anticipate occurs, it will be your human resources department that will need to take the lead. There are confidentiality issues involved here, as well as potential changes to insurance documents and updates to business systems, such as email addresses. I am sure that your H.R. department will involve you to the appropriate degree when the need arises. However, it may not be too soon to focus training initiatives on how to ensure that your work culture is one of respect, inclusion, safety, and compliance. Many schools are conducting training workshops and informational sessions on The Gay Alliance’s SafeZone Program, which was created to develop and maintain environments in workplaces, schools, and other social settings that are culturally competent and supportive to LGBTQ populations. I’ve asked Joshua Burford, assistant director for sexual and gender diversity at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, to share his insights. Josh has more than 15 years of experience working with the LGBTQ populations in the south and also has his MLIS. I was privileged to attend one of Josh’s presentations on the SafeZone Program.

Josh has shared the following:

“The support of our trans colleagues is an important part of the 21st century workplace.  Too often, cisgender people (non-trans-identified people) feel that they will make “mistakes” with names and pronouns, and, because of this, they have a tendency to ignore the challenges faced by the trans people sharing their spaces. We never want to render trans people silent simply out of fear or lack of knowledge. It is important for cisgender people to understand the privileges that they themselves experience every day. Once cisgender people can understand how freely they are allowed to move through their world, it will help them understand the challenges trans people face every day.

“The best way to support your trans-identified colleagues in the workplace is to take a twofold approach to making your environment as affirming as possible.

“Part one is a wholesale review of all your procedures, processes, and physical spaces in your workplace. This can mean checking your forms, applications, and online language to make sure that you have spaces for individuals to identify as transgender. If you are forcing people to choose from lists that only have “male” or “female” options, then you are limiting the ways that individuals can identify. Substituting a fillable blank space can work wonders.

“Any review of policy must include an update of your workplace’s nondiscrimination policy. If your workplace is truly a space where your trans colleagues can be their whole selves, then you need to have this reflected in a policy that includes ‘gender identity/expression’ and make certain that the policy is public. A review of your procedures and policies is tough work, but it shows a commitment to the well-being of everyone in your office.

“When you are reviewing your physical space, it is important to consider what your public space looks like. Do you offer gender-neutral or all-gender restrooms in your building? If the answer is no, what can you do to remedy this? Having a plan to address this can really show your trans colleagues that you are serious about their safety in your spaces.

“Part two is education. There are countless resources available online to get your staff up to speed on the nuances of trans identity. It is vital that your staff be up to speed about the use of correct pronouns and names for the individual(s) in your workplace who are transitioning. Asking the right questions is necessary. It’s important to remember that mistakes can be made, but if the process of education is ongoing, then they will happen less and less. Using the resources of the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project can help your workplace develop individual cultural competency around issues of trans identity and can be the springboard to the creation of a permanent SafeZone Program in your office. A SafeZone Program centralizes the available resources that are offered in your institution as well as provides current and future allies with the knowledge they need to be good trans allies.”

Thank you, Josh.  You’ve provided some thoughtful and sensitive insights. When employees feel included and respected, they are happier and more productive, and our workplace is all the better. I’ve always said that we librarians are a resource for each other. The AALL Social Responsibility Special Interest Section’s Standing Committee on Lesbian and Gay Issues embraces the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities. I wish you the best and encourage you to contact this committee directly (www.aallnet.org/sections/sr/lgissues) if you have any additional questions.

~Susan Catterall~

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April Sidebar and Coffee Event in the Law Library – From Matewan to the Upper Big Branch Disaster: The historical context, and current ramifications, of Caperton v. Massey

The history of coal mining in the United States is rife with drama – mining accidents, labor disputes, environmental issues, family feuds, not to mention greed and corruption.  Please join Professor Jason Huber on April 22nd, between 11-Noon in the East Reading Room of the CSL library as he discusses Caperton v. A.T.  Massey Coal Co., the U.S. Supreme Court decision which set the current judicial recusal standards.  Professor Huber will discuss the due process violations of that case and will also trace some of the history of coal mining in the U.S. and specifically in West Virginia.

If you can’t make it to the coffee talk, take a moment to check out our latest book display in the library!



April 22nd is Earth Day. In recognition of the event, we have created a new book display in the hallway near the Library User Experience (LUX) desk. Below the “I Love You Planet Earth” poster are three shelves of books dealing with environmental law. The first highlights management of and advocacy for our natural resources. The second shelf includes books on the topic of sustainable development. The third shelf has resources concerning climate change. These materials are available for check-out.

~Susan Catterall & Betty Thomas~

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Library Sidebar & Coffee Event: “The Legacy of Justice Ginsburg: Unfinished Business for Women’s Rights”

women in the law

There is debate as to who was the first woman lawyer in the United States.  Some count Margaret Brent who served as counsel to Lord Baltimore, Governor of Massachusetts.  Arabella Mansfield, in 1869, became the first woman to officially obtain a state license (Iowa) which permitted her to practice law. According to the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women in the Profession, by the late 1990s, there were nearly 17,500 women in the legal profession and there have been four women who have served as justices on the highest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court.

Please join Professor Barbara Bernier on Monday, March 23 between 11-Noon in the East Reading Room of the Library as she discusses the influences women have had on the legal profession and what unfinished business is left.

If you can’t attend the coffee talk, then take a moment when you’re in the library next to browse our related book display.


Above is the book display that is currently in the library hallway near the East Reading Room. The poster above the books is a photograph of women suffragists picketing in front of the White House. Next to it is a photo of the current U.S. Supreme Court justices including three women: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. The top shelf of books are from the Charlotte Law collection on basic women’s rights through history; the middle shelf highlights the biographies of women judges and justices who have paved the way for current women in the law; and the bottom shelf has books and reports helpful to women practicing law today. A Charlotte Observer article about Sonia Sotomayor’s recent visit to Davidson College has been added. The books in this display are available for check out.

~Susan Catterall & Betty Thomas~

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A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Color of Desire

happy hands and heart

Valentine’s Day has passed, but many of us are still contending with piles of ribbons, tissue paper, envelopes and confetti in various hues of rose, crimson and scarlet.  We equate these shades with Valentine’s Day, but the symbolism and analogies associated with these colors go beyond that single holiday.  Red epitomizes passion, desire, romance, danger and energy.  Frequently adjectives such as “blood”, “ruby” or “wine” further enhance the description of this color.  We probably don’t give it a second thought, but there was a time when the elusive, brilliant red was worth a king’s fortune.

Amy Butler Greenfield relates the history of the dyer’s quest for this color in A Perfect Red.  The majority of the book recounts Spain’s attempt to monopolize the production of the this vibrant red from the time Cortes invaded Mexico and his men discovered the source – the tiny cochineal insect living on the prickly pear cactus. The female insect produced an acid which not only irritated predators but was also a brilliant dye.  Soon Spain dominated the production of the red dye and guarded the secret of the cochineal. As other countries began to covet the hue, a complex web of espionage developed, including both colonial exploration and exploitation.

Greenfield intersperses her narrative with fascinating anecdotes and facts related to the color red. For example, there were rules regarding wearing the color red.  In some cultures, only royalty had the right (and could afford) to wear red.  Montezuma not only seized this right, but also demanded that his subjects pay a tax in pounds of cochineal.  Mary, Queen of Scots, was clothed in black on the day of her execution. Yet, she used the color to make her statement, removing her dress to reveal a red petticoat.  This was the symbol of Catholic martyrdom!

Eventually, synthetic dyes were perfected and the labor-intensive cultivation of plant and animal dyes subsided.  Historians and chemists may be the target audience for this volume, but this fascinating account has something to interest everyone.

~Susan Catterall~

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Advice from “The Reference Desk”

“The Reference Desk” is a regular column featured in the AALL Spectrum.  The column below originally appeared in the February 2012 issue and is reprinted here with permission.

Q: I’m part of a search team that is reviewing resumes for a librarian position. One of the candidates who applied seems to have the very job I have dreamed of. Would it be unethical to invite the candidate in for an interview so I can learn more about that job?

A: I’m not sure whether it would be unethical, but it may be very unfair—both to your present employer and the candidate. To begin with, your employer has charged you with assisting in the selection of the best possible candidate for the position—not with finding your perfect job. As long as you’re working in your current position, you shouldn’t be short-changing your employer.

If this candidate isn’t one of the top choices for the position, you shouldn’t consider interviewing him or her. Even if the applicant is one of the top choices, is it fair to the applicant to use the time during his or her interview to investigate your perfect job? Welcome to the intersection of business ethics and serendipity. Librarians understand the latter concept and rely upon it to help uncover answers. You might have run across this job posted on a professional job list, online discussion list, Facebook, or another social media site—but you didn’t. As librarians, we hold ourselves out as ethical role models. Can you perform the task you’ve been charged with and at the same time pursue your dream job?

I thought we could benefit from the advice of a human resources expert and consulted Dan Quillen, division manager of human resources with the city of Aurora, Colorado. Quillen has nearly 20 years of human resources experience, including 10 years as the director of human resources at one of the largest employment law litigation firms in Colorado. Following is Quillen’s advice.

“Thanks for the opportunity to weigh in on this question, Susan. To the individual who asked this question, my initial reaction is that it would be unethical at worst and inappropriate at best for you to invite the applicant to interview just to learn about his or her current job.

“Those who interview candidates for positions within their company have an obligation to their employer to seek out and hire the best qualified candidate for the position. Sometimes that means subordinating our own personal wishes and desires. For example, if I were interviewing someone who was to be a peer, it would be unethical for me to hire the second- or third-most qualified candidate because the most qualified candidate(s) might provide stiffer competition for me in potential promotional opportunities at a later date.

“It is also patently unfair to the candidate. He or she has high hopes for this position and will prepare, worry, rehearse answers to potential questions, and get hopes up. For the candidate to learn—or even suspect—that he or she was invited to interview so you could learn about his or her current job would be a gross disservice to that person. I know I would be very unhappy if that happened to me.

“From a purely dogmatic point of view, you may wish to recuse yourself from selection of the top candidates if you cannot in good conscience make an unbiased recommendation. This might present an awkward situation; it would be tough to tell your boss you need to recuse yourself because you would like to have a candidate’s former job if they are hired by your employer. Since you are one of several individuals evaluating resumes, perhaps you merely go along with the recommendation of the other reviewers regarding this candidate. Even that scenario is less than desirable—your employer would be robbed of your insights about the candidate. But it may be the best alternative.

“If the candidate is not selected for an interview, or if they are interviewed but not the successful candidate, I think it would also be inappropriate to contact the candidate to learn more about his or her current job. It’s just one of those things that, though you’d like to figure out a way to do it, simply isn’t appropriate to do. (Then again, I get miffed at people who continue to drive in lanes that are ending in hopes of finding a slot well up the line of cars so they can slip in ahead of the rest of us who obediently stay in the continuing lane.)

“Bottom line, I think you need to treat this situation as though the person is any other candidate, make no effort to learn more about the candidate’s current position, and certainly not use your influence to change the outcome of the decision because of this factor.”

Thanks to Quillen for his very sound advice. To the person who asked this question, I would also caution you to ponder why this candidate is willing to leave what you consider to be a dream job. He or she may have logical reasons, but it may be possible you are seeing greener grass on the other side of the fence. Ask yourself why this job appeals to you. Is it the geographic location? Is it the title or responsibilities? Would it be possible to attempt to create those responsibilities within your current position?

~Susan Catterall~

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