By Jordan Williams, W&M Libraries
After graduating from Virginia Union University in 1983, Natasha McFarland had no intentions of working at a library. However, fate had different plans as she stumbled upon an entry level opportunity that led to a 37-year career at William & Mary Libraries.
McFarland was admiring the W&M campus while on break from her job with Colonial Williamsburg when she came across the human resources office. She applied for a job and never looked back.
“I didn’t specifically apply to work at the library, so I was as surprised as anyone to stumble upon a rewarding career,” McFarland said. “It was a place full of excitement and innovation. The library was always cooking up something new and we were constantly shaking up the old ways.”
Through her enthusiasm and desire to learn, McFarland left a large imprint on the Libraries. Over the course of her 37 years, she broke barriers and developed a legacy.
Upon her retirement in December 2020, the University Libraries staff scholarship was named in her honor because of her unique story and dedicated career. The scholarship provides financial assistance for library employees pursuing education to advance their library career.
“I was just so floored,” McFarland said. “I felt in that moment that all my hard work was recognized. I started as a part time employee and went all the way up to becoming a librarian. I am proof that librarianship is for people of color and others like me should feel comfortable exploring careers in libraries. If I did it, so can others!”
On top of that, the Libraries established the Natasha McFarland Staff Education Fund to increase the monetary support for current staff pursuing professional development opportunities.
McFarland initially joined the Libraries as a clerk typist for Interlibrary Loan. However, her natural problem-solving talent and willingness to go the extra mile allowed her to climb up the job ranks.
McFarland was elevated to a leadership role nine months after being hired, overseeing new work described as database records management and working on the conversion of the card catalog to the University’s first online library catalog. While working within Content Services she developed a reputation for mastering new technology and helping others learn it as well.
Her ambition eventually led to her pursuing an MLIS degree in order to advance to a professional role. She enrolled in an online library program at the University of North Texas-Denton and graduated in 2010.
Carrie Cooper, dean of university libraries, took notice of McFarland’s warmth and passion for librarianship soon after her arrival. When a librarian position opened in 2012, Cooper said it was an easy decision to promote McFarland to a research librarian in a public services role.
McFarland became one of the first to reinvent her career multiple times at W&M, after gradually progressing from a clerk typist to a research librarian.
“Natasha showed other staff members it’s possible to start in one place and move to get a new perspective and different experience,” Cooper. “It is important for staff to know there is room for growth and benefits to change over the course of a career. She is an example and inspiration for people at the library and across campus.”
However, McFarland’s ascent was not a walk in the park. She was met with a lot of resistance early in her career, primarily from a few fellow African-American colleagues. She said some would criticize her, expressing her efforts would go unnoticed by supervisors.
“At that time, I was not in a professional position, but did my job in a professional way. I never let that type of talk bother me and chose to break that barrier to eliminate division,” she said.
The decision to return to school positioned McFarland to prove her naysayers wrong. During that process, she paid for most of her education out of pocket but received some financial relief from the staff scholarship. It covered the cost of books and a portion of the tuition.
“That scholarship meant a lot to me,” McFarland said. “I took $20,000 out of savings to go to school so anything was welcomed. But the scholarship made a difference and showed me that I had support at William & Mary for achieving my goals.”
As McFarland finished her career with the research department, she made a strong impression with that team as well. Candice Benjes-Small, head of research, said she was a gracious colleague who connected well with the students by showing a genuine interest in their success.
The kindness she brought to the department made it a bittersweet moment when McFarland told her co-workers she was retiring
“Nobody deserves a fabulous retirement more than Natasha,” Benjes-Small said. “I am excited for her to be able to travel more and spend more time with her husband and family. But I’m really sad for us because we are unable to see her every day.”
In addition, the library’s oral historian, Andre Taylor, conducted an oral history with McFarland prior to her retirement to capture her story for future generations to learn from.
“In 100 years, future staff members are going to wonder who Natasha McFarland was, and then listen to her oral history,” said Dean Cooper. “It will be a moment to pause, reflect and be inspired by the way she chased her dreams and lived her life. ”