Amy Gilgan works with students and faculty as a Gleeson Library reference librarian and education liaison. During our conversation, we discussed the issues she’s passionate about and how research shapes her teaching and activism.

Amy Gilgan


How did you end up at the University of San Francisco?

Initially, my background was in archives. I became interested in preserving queer culture while volunteering at GLBT Historical Society. As an archives intern, I processed collections on AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), a direct action AIDS advocacy organization, and my internship lead to a grant funded position at the UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies Archives where I helped process the Kem Lee photograph collection. When the project concluded, I accepted a position as a librarian at an arts college in San Francisco. I did a lot of instruction there and discovered I have a passion for it. I also worked for a short period of time at City College of San Francisco as a reference librarian. When I was hired at USF as a reference and instructional librarian, I was excited to grow my teaching skills in an environment committed to social justice.

How did you first become interested in research?

I have always had an interest in science, art, and activism. Library science allows me to research across disciplines. I was drawn to the way librarians empower folks to learn about the world around them. Here at USF, I work primarily with students and faculty in the School of Education. It’s really rewarding to provide research support for folks invested in social change.

How did you first become interested in activism?

I grew up in a white working class community, and discovering the punk subculture was my gateway to activism. The subculture connected me to human rights organizations and the movement against neoliberal capitalism. Currently, I’m very interested in housing rights. I didn’t have a lot of resources growing up working class, but I never had to worry about not having a home. Moving to the Bay Area in 2003 really radicalized me around housing. I became more active around housing in 2008, when Proposition 98 threatened to overturn rent control in the state of California. Through political organizing, I learned a lot about the history of displacement in San Francisco. This isn’t a new narrative; working class communities of color have been facing displacement in the Bay Area for decades.

How does that play into your role here at USF?

One of the nice things about USF is the “Change the World from Here” emphasis on social justice. I really appreciate the opportunities to weave in my passion for community activism into the work that I do. In addition to supporting the research of faculty and students, I have created social justice resource guides to support the annual Critical Diversity Studies Forum and the Office of Diversity Engagement and Community Outreach. I strive to not only connect students to information but also grassroots community organizations.

What is your role with the School of Education?

As the liaison to the School of Education (SOE), I make sure that students and faculty have access to the resources they need for their research. I also provide library research instruction for classes, particularly when the students are working on literature reviews. If students or faculty need additional help, I meet one-on-one to help them formulate search strategies and use citation management tools, like Zotero or RefWorks. I learn so much about teaching and facilitation from activist educators.

What other projects have you learned a lot from working on them?

For four years, I taught a section of the Information Literacy Class for the Muscat Scholars Program, an immersion program for first generation college students. As an instructional librarian, I often do single class sessions where I see the students for 1-2 hours. With Muscat Scholars, I got to work with the students for two weeks. I love learning about their experiences and interests, and the students have taught me a lot about resilience and hope.

It sounds like you inhabit a lot of roles here at USF—you help with research, you’re teaching, you’re also active in the community. How do you define your role or do you define it all?

As a librarian, my primary focus us to help folks connect to resources. I strive to help students not only learn about social justice issues but also connect to community organizations engaged in the struggle.

How do these roles play into Open Access and educating faculty and students about resources?

When faculty publish in a proprietary journal, their work is often placed behind a paywall that not everyone can afford to access. Open access publishing can provide a way for faculty to build their professional portfolio while making their research freely available to a much broader audience. I encourage faculty to work with Charlotte Roh, our scholarly communications librarian, to explore open access options.

I work with a lot of teachers K-12 teachers in the School of Education. Some of the schools they work for cannot afford subscriptions to scholarly databases. There is so much information that their students can’t afford to access. It’s a big issue.

How do you bring your own personal research into those interactions when teaching?

I am very open about my housing rights activism. I talk about my own biases and how they can affect my ability to find and evaluate information. I also give personal examples of times when my assumptions lead me to believe misinformation. I want students to realize that critical thinking will not only help you write a better research paper but also help you when strategizing for social change.