AOC Alumni Spotlight
We want to celebrate alumni from all walks of life who have interesting experiences to share with the community in their personal, political, and/or professional lives. This Q&A format feature will include both standard questions and questions specific to each featured alum. Want to recommend yourself or a friend for this spotlight? Submit your nomination here.
Corey Baker ‘07 is currently the Director of Library Services at the Columbus School for Girls in Columbus, Ohio. Previously, he served as a Community Organizer with Progress Now Colorado and then with the Colorado Progressive Coalition in Denver. In addition to being a librarian and organizer who values equitable access to information and supporting affinity spaces, Corey has long channeled his passion for the performing arts through dance. Corey holds a bachelors in psychology with a special major in education from Swarthmore College.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Tell us about yourself and what you do professionally.
I am a librarian, and have been working in the library profession in a variety of capacities for several years now. I currently work as a librarian at a private high school, but I was originally studying to be a prison librarian when I was in graduate school in Denver. I discovered, to my dismay, that all the open prison library positions were in remote, rural areas, which of course makes sense, since that’s where all the prisons are! As I was finishing graduate school, I became more open to other possibilities and ended up getting recruited heavily to work as a librarian at my own high school in Boston. I have since been working as a librarian at several private school institutions.
What drew you to the library profession to begin with?
While studying at Swarthmore, I spent a lot of my time at the library. It was one of the places I really loved. At the time, Swarthmore was part of a consortium of schools trying to get more people of color into the library profession, specifically through the Swarthmore Libraries Internship program, which I eventually joined. The internship program offered a variety of resources, including scholarships to library schools and the opportunity to form great mentorship relationships with the college’s librarians. When I was originally participating in the program, I was only loosely interested in librarianship at the time. I didn’t really think about it again until years later when I was involved in community activism in Denver, and noticed how the public library there was doing all this great work. The Denver public library was one of the first to engage in some really progressive initiatives like having social workers employed in the library and doing collaborative work with refugee communities.
The University of Denver just so happened to start this fellowship program, again, to recruit people of color into library studies, specifically people who were interested in community engagement and empowerment. I was already spending a lot of time at the Denver Public library as a site for much of the community engagement work I was already doing, so the program perked my interest. I eventually connected with the director of the program at University of Denver to learn more about her doctoral research, which was around the use of public libraries to close the literacy gap in a similar fashion to how farmers market can close the healthy food gap for communities and address food apartheid. That paradigm of thinking really resonated with me, and I wanted to do that sort of work under her stewardship. Since then, I’ve always viewed libraries as a catalyst for social impact. There are very few spaces in the United States where people can go freely, they don’t have to pay to be there, they are allowed to be there, they are encouraged to be there, and there are resources for them of all different kinds.
Most people might have a notion of what a librarian does, but could you provide a more granular description of the kind of work that you do as a school librarian?
It’s funny, because every time I go into a new school they don’t really know what to do with me. But the work I do as a librarian mostly involves forming intellectual partnerships and communities that will benefit student learning. For example, my current school had no plan to talk about 9/11, Iraq, and the history of U.S. military engagement in the Middle East as of the beginning of this academic year, despite it being the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. So I took the initiative to coordinate the history department and research being conducted within the library to generate programming and events for students. And more recently, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I’m building a program of current events that will serve as a launchpoint for discussion on the U.S.’s role in the history of imperialism. We’ve organized panels with faculty from the history department that have integrated content from our students’ political science classes and library research to discuss how we should be talking about and consuming news about current events and reflect on our nation's role behind what we are currently experiencing.
You mentioned how the Swarthmore Libraries Internship helped to expose you to the library profession during your time there. How else has Swat helped shape your life professionally and personally?
Well I still talk to the librarians at Swarthmore and still have conversations with them about my career trajectory. I get a lot of guidance from them. And my involvement with the Swarthmore Libraries Internship program has also come full circle, as I’ve served as a mentor to more recent student interns.
But Swarthmore has impacted me in so many ways. For example, so much of my community organizing interest was born from my time at Swarthmore. Being involved in initiatives such as the minimum wage increase and disinvestment in oil at Swarthmore is where my work as a community organizer really began. And not to mention all of those conversations with my peers that really impacted me to think about how we share responsibility for young people in our communities. I’m thinking about those late-night conversations in the Parrish parlor about topics like trans-racial adoption and consent. All of those experiences helped shape my philosophy on how there’s a role for everybody in social movements, and our charge is to find our role in movements for social impact.
Any advice would you share with current and future alumni of color?
I feel like there are different kinds of students of color who attend PWIs like Swarthmore. There are those that just do their work so they can get out, and they may feel frustrated and disengaged from trying to make strong connections. And then there are those who try to soak up all that they can get, which includes making great connections. I feel like I am dealing with a lot of those students who are in the first category at my current school at the moment, so I mostly want to address Swarthmore students like them… If you’re at a small school like Swarthmore, there’s no guarantee you’ll find your comforting community there. Luckily, I was able to find mine early. But I’ve since learned that the world is so much bigger than where you are at a given moment and there is so much out there in the world for you. I want to tell those students, don’t worry if you didn’t find those people at Swarthmore — you will find them.