Natasha Crespo is a 2021 graduate of Chicago-Kent College of Law and just started her two year public interest fellowship for Indiana Disability Rights. She worked as a reference librarian at Purdue University before deciding to attend law school. She became a member of CALL in May 2021.
Natasha’s Career Path
When did you decide to attend law school?
Law school was something I circled back to. I’m a member of the disability community and while still seeking adequate medical assistance, I decided libraries were a better fit than law. My initial research indicated that librarian as a career had a much lower overall stress rating than attorney and I was drawn to the ideals and mission of libraries and librarians.
After starting my career as a librarian, I finally received essential medical treatment that improved my health and perspective of my stress tolerance. Along with that, while working as the Digital Access Librarian at Purdue University Northwest I had the opportunity to work on the digital accessibility of our databases, webpages, and negotiate accessibility clauses into some contracts.
After diving deeper into contract negotiation, ADA requirements, and WCAG, I decided to go to law school to become a more effective advocate for people in the disability community.
How did your background as a librarian help you as a law student?
It made the research part a breeze. I felt confident when I was diving into a topic that I had found the most relevant case law when I worked on projects.
Having experience conducting reference interviews translated really well when it came time for client intake and interviews during legal internships. I was able to help clients identify what their primary goal was and other things they might need assistance with.
How would you say law school is different from library school?
Library school, for the most part, for me was fun and I worked throughout my entire program. I studied areas that I had not considered before library school like YA literature and Big Data, took trips to Italy and Mexico that expanded my understanding of literature and librarianship, and figured out I would not become an archivist. In both library school and law school, I was able to explore my interests and met passionate inspiring people using their skills to make positive impacts on others’ lives.
However, law school was like being shot out of a cannon where you inexplicably and continuously pick up speed despite encountering things like friction and gravity that should slow you down. The benefit of being shot out of that cannon is that you can’t suddenly change your mind once you’re in the air despite how much you might wonder what you were thinking before.
Where did you grow up and where else have you lived before coming to Chicago? Do you have a favorite place?
I am a Chicago native having lived longest in the Hermosa, Clearing, and West Lawn neighborhoods. However, I moved to Hammond, Indiana after becoming a librarian at Purdue University Northwest. My favorite spot in the entire city is the edge of the lakefront across from Buckingham Fountain. Beware the wandering Geese however, they do bite.
What do you like to do for fun?
I love to play video games and card games. I also enjoy reading (surprise)!
What are some of your favorite hobbies?
I like to paint, crotchet, and play instruments like the violin, ukulele, and piano. I am fantastically terrible at all of these things.
Why did you join CALL?
I don’t think you ever stop being a librarian regardless of your current role. I love libraries, what they stand for, and the things they provide. I wanted to stay connected with my community and it just seemed the logical choice after I received some encouragement from a fellow librarian.
Advocacy & Leadership
As a student leader at Chicago-Kent, Natasha founded a Disability Advocacy Law Student Association. She also worked with other student leaders and student services to promote, increase, and destigmatize mental health resources before the pandemic.
As classes moved online or to the hybrid format, her organization worked to identify barriers to accessibility and partnered with leaders to promote inclusive support for students.
Your fellowship is a new position for the Indiana Disability Rights agency. How do you hope to build on your recent experiences with Equip for Equality?
My experience at Equip for Equality (EFE) helped me to develop a base on legal issues and areas in the disability community like self-determination, restoration of rights, reasonable accommodations in employment, and prisoner rights to accommodations and medical treatment.
While there I realized that as a librarian I brought formidable research and communication skills to the table from the start. A new client intake was just a specialized reference interview. I spent time building a technical vocabulary around how people with disabilities are described in cases and statutes.
Having an understanding of impactful federal decisions and statutes translates pretty easily to my home state, Indiana, but now I will build up my understanding of state law, institutions, and culture that are impacting the lives of people with disabilities. I hope to spend the next two years of my fellowship learning from the skilled passionate people around me and helping to advance the rights of my fellow Hoosiers with disabilities.
How did your academic librarian experiences affect your advocacy as a law student leader?
As a librarian, I spent a lot of time talking to others in my community to build connections, putting on events, trying to unite people with common interests, and displaying uninhibited enthusiasm for my work. I learned how to express my goal, message, or point of view in a way that would convince others to agree with me and demonstrate the value of these activities despite a perception that the library was a resource taker instead of contributor. These were all essential skills for starting a new organization that was dedicated to advocacy.
We worked on increasing therapy services for law students at my law school and had to acknowledge that there were literal budget limitations to providing increased services when asking for a solution. In the end, our proposed solution tempered costs while providing those services. That took a great team to make happen. Working as a librarian, I had a great team that made more things possible and so as a student leader I also tried to have a great team and partnership with others so we could be more effective.
How did you combine your legal and library experiences in your personal advocacy over the last year?
Having a library background gave me an appreciation for using data and non-legal resources to weave a cohesive story that the law alone does not. Working in libraries required being attentive and adaptive to new resources and even mediums of engagement to ensure I was serving my community.
My legal background gives me a literal understanding of rights that exist and where some of the barriers are. COVID touched every aspect of people’s lives (work, education, transportation, access to services, interpersonal relationships).
One of my goals as a representative for student groups and personally was to proactively identify considerations for the communities I represent or ally with so that they were not left behind when deciding how things would work. It also meant reaching out to my community members to really hear what was going on and what they needed; not just waiting for an issue to arise.
What role do you think librarians can play in supporting accessibility and building an inclusive community for their schools or firms?
Oftentimes, I see a librarian’s role starting as a gatekeeper. I swear this is good and not like Wan Shi Tong barring humans forever from the library. More than our individual subject matter expertise, I think the honed skill we have to discover relevant, valid, and valuable information is critical. While doing that we are able to evaluate the accessibility of the mediums we use and demand that vendors and platforms incorporate accessibility and universal design into their product.
We’re able to educate our colleagues on how using tools that make documents and web pages easier to modify and review also make those documents accessible to our colleagues using assistive technology. I think librarians are in the unique position to actually take a stand on this unlike attorneys or other professionals because discoverability is vital to a librarian’s work.
Discoverability and accessibility are fundamentally intertwined and any improvements made to accessibility inherently improve discoverability in my experience.
People can’t know information that they are not exposed to and librarians serve a heavy role in the information that will be seen by their colleagues and patrons. They build interconnections within their community that students or new employees aren’t even aware exist.
I’ve seen librarians involved in their communities providing connections between different groups that strengthen their advocacy because they have a common goal. Whether you’re serving in a traditional role and providing reading materials or in the focused role of providing case law on request, you serve as the gatekeeper that will decide if the information is inclusive or not.
Legal issues, though subdivided and isolated in case briefs and court, are often intersectional in nature. Giving someone what they were looking for with the intersection of bringing up that another community is at play, I think, is a great way to work on the inclusiveness of a community.