Q&A with Jennifer Osorio, Director of Library Special Collections

Jennifer Osorio was appointed as director of UCLA Library Special Collections in January after previously serving the organization as head of international and area studies and librarian for Latin America and Caribbean studies, Spanish/Portuguese and ethnic studies. We asked Jennifer a few questions about herself and her plans in this dynamic position stewarding the Library’s rare books, archives, manuscripts, photographs, oral histories and other unique materials.
Jennifer Osorio in front of of the Charles E. Young Research Library
What goals/hopes do you have for this year as our new director of UCLA Library Special Collections (LSC)?
I’m really excited about the new distinctive collections classrooms we are building on the A-Level of YRL, which will transform the way we teach with and about rare and unique materials, primary sources and international materials. They will have five times the capacity of our current teaching space and provide flexibility for using unusual formats like scrolls and a/v materials that we haven’t previously had. Additionally, once the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) project in LSC spaces finishes, we will be reopening the Ahmanson Reading Room with new furnishings and two additional seats for researchers. These two spaces are where we most commonly interact with the public and improving them is really important to our mission of expanding the use of our distinctive collections.

How has your prior experience prepared you for this role at the UCLA Library?
I’ve been at UCLA for 15 years this coming summer! In that time, I’ve worked with about a dozen different academic departments across campus, along with numerous centers and institutes, so I have a really broad base of knowledge about research and teaching at UCLA. For the last decade or so, I was the liaison to Latin American Studies and Spanish/Portuguese and for about five years, the head of our international and area studies team, so I have a very expansive view of UCLA’s place as a global institution. My personal motto for LSC is “Local Focus, Global Reach,” meaning that I see Los Angeles as a truly global city with ties to communities throughout the world, especially via the many diasporas present in this city. Many of those communities have been underrepresented or even ignored in Library Special Collections, and I want to change that to ensure that we’re preserving as much of the story of Los Angeles as possible.

What projects will you be tackling first?
As mentioned in the previous questions, the classrooms are a top priority. We’re hoping they will be finished by sometime in the Fall quarter. LSC hired its first instructional librarian, Jimmy Zavala, during the pandemic and I’m excited to work with him and others in LSC and throughout the Library on further developing our instructional program and reaching out to both existing and new communities of users. We also have some important recruitments happening, include a new cataloging and metadata librarian and a performing arts curator. In general, we will be doing a lot of rebuilding, as LSC hasn’t had a long-term director in some time. It’s a great team, though, and I’m confident we will continue building on the work already accomplished. And I want to find ways to build on our strengths with our partners throughout the Library, particularly in International and Area Studies and the East Asian Library, the two other departments in Distinctive Collections, and with the Film and Television Archive, a new unit to the Library.

What are you currently reading/watching/listening to? What do you like to do outside of work?
In print, I’m reading The Missing Pages: the Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript, from Genocide to Justice. It’s about the Zeytun Gospels, a 13th Century Armenian manuscript, a book that is particularly interesting given our role as caretakers of another very important Armenian manuscript, the Gladzor Gospels. During my commute, I’ve been listening to the audiobook of SPQR:A History of Ancient Rome. I may have to listen to it all over again, it’s a lot to take in and keeping all the names straight is a challenge!

As to TV, I don’t have a lot of mental bandwidth for serious drama, so I like talent-based reality TV like Top Chef, and I’ve also really been enjoying Abbott Elementary and the Wheel of Time series. Outside of work I like food, travel (soon!) and since the new year, my husband and I have been going for a long hike every weekend, at least six miles. Last weekend we hiked up to the very top of the mountain behind the Hollywood sign, it’s kind of sad we’d never done that before given how long we’ve lived in Los Angeles. We’re planning on hiking from the San Fernando Valley, where we live, to the ocean before it gets really hot, so we need to get in shape.

We are delighted to have Jennifer serving in this critical role with the UCLA Library. She can be reached at josoriok@library.ucla.edu.