Skip to content

Rachel Fleming-May: Library Lover, Batgirl Fan, Traveler

Rachel Fleming-May in her office.

Rachel Fleming-May in her office.

At UT: An associate professor in the School of Information Sciences, Rachel Fleming-May has been at UT since 2009. Before that, she was an instructor in the School of Library and Information Studies and reference librarian at the University of Alabama—where she earned her doctorate—and worked as reference librarian in Philadelphia. “I study and teach about how the academic library fits into the larger institution of the college or university, how librarians function in the library and in the whole university, and how the profession is changing.”

Special interest: The intersection of creative writing and information science—the way print and online short stories and poetry might be indexed and the way authors do research before writing. “I would like my next big project to be a study of how poets and fiction writers conduct research for their creative works.”

Why this field: She has a bachelor’s degree in classics, which she calls “a liberal arts education writ large.” She knew she’d have to go back to graduate school and hone in on a field to increase her chances of finding employment. “As soon as I started reading about [information science], I knew that’s what I wanted to do. There’s something really appealing about spending your day thinking and helping people with their information needs. A lot of it is like solving a puzzle.”

Holy Batgirl! Batgirl figurines and pictures are all over Fleming-May’s office. “She was a childhood icon for me,” she said, recalling fondly how she’d come home after school and watch Yvonne Craig as Batgirl in the old Adam West Batman series when she was a kid. “It did occur to me that Batgirl’s alter ego, Barbara Gordon, was a librarian.”

If I didn’t do this, I’d: “Be a translator or something else to do with the study of languages. Maybe even creating conlangs.” Conlangs are constructed languages such as Esperato, Lojban, or Klingon.

Favorite library: Her hometown library—the Urbana Free Library in Urbana, Illinois.

Favorite spot in Hodges Library: “I love the conference room on the sixth floor. It has a wonderful view.”

Favorite books: She couldn’t choose a favorite, but just finished reading Rebecca, a novel by Daphne du Maurier.

When faculty members earn tenure, they get to place a book in UT Libraries. She chose The Social Transcript: Uncovering Library Philosophy by Charles Osburn, dean and professor emeritus of University Libraries at the University of Alabama. Osburn hired her as a librarian at UA’s Gorgas Library in 1998 and was later her advisor when she was working on her doctorate.

Home and worldly ventures: She enjoys hanging out with her husband, Alan May, a librarian at Knox County’s Lawson McGhee Library, and their 15-year-old son. She also enjoys traveling and has visited Egypt, Scotland, England, Ireland, France, the Czech Republic, Holland, and Italy. Her favorite spot so far has been Rome.

Critters: A dog named Fred, a mutt adopted from the Tennessee Valley Humane Society. The family also has three cats, all named by her son: Bastet (the name of an Egyptian goddess who shared her tomb with more than 300,000 mummified cats), Roisin (which means “little rose” in Irish), and Merlin.

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.