Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Pioneer for Diversity Staff Award Goes To LaMargo Branch of the Denton Campus Library

LaMargo Branch, staff member of the Blagg-Huey Library on the 
Denton campus of TWU, has been recognized as a Pioneer for 
Diversity by the TWU Office of Intercultural Services.  An employee 
with the TWU Libraries' Interlibrary Loan service, LaMargo was 
recognized in part for sharing with students and other library 
patrons, over many years, pieces from her extensive personal 
collection of African artifacts.  Photograph by Kristin Wolski.  
April 30, 2014.
LaMargo Branch, staff member of the Blagg-Huey Library on the TWU Denton campus, has been named recipient of the 2014 Pioneer for Diversity staff award in recognition of her passion for diversity and her mission to promote cultural awareness.

LaMargo sat down with the editor of Check It Out, the TWU Libraries blog, to talk about the award, her amazing African artifact collection--and the reason she hasn't been to Africa.

Check It Out (CIO):  First of all, congratulations on receiving this award.
LaMargo Branch (LB):  Thank you.

CIO:  How long have you been working at TWU?
LB:  Since August 25th, 2003.

CIO:  Every year you share a portion of your personal African artifact collection with the patrons of the Blagg-Huey Library on the Denton campus.  Are there other places where you do this?
LB:  Yes.  I do it for my church, Friendship Baptist Church of the Colony, and for the Office of Intercultural Services here at TWU.

CIO:  How did your collection begin?
LB:  I started it in the nineties in Champaign, Illinois while I was working for the Douglass Branch of the Champaign Public Library.  Kids would come to the library and want to know about their culture.  At first I was pulling out books for them.  Later I started collecting pieces here and there, and would bring them to the library for displays.  One piece was a large wooden Ashanti stool with an elephant on it, which I still have.  Kids need to see things and feel them—it helps them learn, helps them with comprehension.  That’s how I look at it.

CIO:  How did you start bringing pieces of your collection to TWU? 
LB:  Well, February is Black History Month, and I’ve always worn an African dress for that.  A librarian here asked what I was wearing, and started talking with me about it.  Dawn Letson, former head librarian in the Woman’s Collection, asked if I had enough materials to do a display for Black History Month.  She chuckles.  I said I did.  That weekend I did a display at the library--I think it was featured in the Lasso.  That was in 2004, and I’ve been doing it every year since.

CIO:  Do you have a favorite piece?
LB:  Oh, gosh.  I have pieces that are favorites.  There’s a Massai warrior, a wooden sculpture about a foot high.  Also a multicolored Massai headdress, or gelee.  Oh! My drum from Ghana—it has faces carved into it.  These pieces are unique.  The drum is made of wood that can’t be cut any more.  You’ll never find another drum like that one.

LaMargo Branch, staff member with the TWU Libraries' Inter-
library Loan service, dressed in finery from her extensive 
African artifact collection.  These dresses, known as boubou,
are a small portion of the collection, portions of which LaMargo 
generously shares with Blagg-Huey Library patrons every year.
Photograph by Greg Hardin.  February 17, 2012.  
CIO:  The dresses are stunning.  What are they called?
LB:  They’re called bouba or boubou—it depends where they’re from. The fabrics are all different, and some are one-piece dresses, where others are two pieces—a top and skirt—or even three.  Some have headpieces.  Original pieces are very expensive.  Sometimes I bought African fabrics in Illinois and had dresses made for me.  You can tell the difference between what you buy, and what is original.  The fabrics are different, the designs are different.

CIO:  Where did you get your bouba and boubou?
LB:  My sister traveled, and she bought my first dress in Nigeria.  I’ve had students give me dresses.  A mother of a student once gave me three from Tanzania. 

CIO:  You’ve been to a few Pioneers of Diversity luncheons, isn’t that right?
LB:  Annita (Owens, a librarian with the Blagg-Huey Library) took me to my first one in 2004.  Three or four years ago Michelle Prudhomme-Coleman saw a display I did for the library, and asked me to do one for them. 

CIO:  What was your reaction, and your family’s, when you first learned you were receiving a Pioneer of Diversity award?
LB:  When I received the luncheon invitation from the Office of Intercultural Services, I thought I was going to be mentioned, or maybe given a gift.  When the ceremony got started, I thought, “Oh, wow.”  When I realized that only one recipient was named from each category—organization, student, staff, and faculty—I thought, “Surely not.”  First they announced the organization winner, then the student winner, then me.  I was in shock.  I really was not expecting that.  My husband and daughter were very proud.

CIO:  What about your collection is most meaningful to you?
LB:  Oh, the whole collection—and that it took me over 20 years to collect everything.

CIO:  Are you still adding to it?
LB:  I’m always interested in new pieces, and what they mean to the African culture.  These things should be expressed and displayed.

CIO:  Cultural heritage is obviously very important to you.  What would you like to tell our readers about that?
LB:  I don’t even know how to put this.  We may be different colors, but we all share a history.  We do.  You have a history, I have a history, we all have a history.  We’re all looking for the same thing.  We all want to know our past.

CIO:  How does it feel to be recognized as a Pioneer for Diversity?
LB:  Awesome—in capital letters.  Awesome.  I still can’t believe it.  To be recognized like that—it’s an awesome feeling.  You never know how what you do affects other people.  I think it’s the same way with whatever you do.

CIO:  Have you ever been to Africa, or would you like to go?
LB:  Not really.  I’m afraid of bugs.

~Sandy Cochran

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