When Deanna McCray-James ‘05, '08, '11 was a girl, the Library of Congress was part of the fiber of her life. Her grandmother, both parents, her sisters, several aunts and uncles, and a handful of cousins have worked there, so she knew all about the rich resources the world’s largest library has to offer, including the millions of books, recordings, photographs, newspapers, maps and manuscripts in its collections.
“Over the years, as a native Washingtonian and an African American woman, I have been there a lot,” she says.
Watching her family members go to work a stone’s throw away from the U.S. Capital, McCray-James never imagined she would end up having her own career there one day—and would play a major role in ensuring the stories of people of color are included in our nation’s historic records.
An unexpected detour
Although she began pursuing a bachelor’s degree directly after high school, McCray-James’s life took a detour when she learned she was pregnant. Over the next five years, she focused on raising her young son and working. Eventually, though, education beckoned, and she enrolled at UMGC to earn a Bachelor of Science in Management Studies.
"Once I took that break, I was able to refocus,” she recalls. “Everything I needed was right there, and it just always fit.”
During this period, she began a career in association management, starting out as an administrative assistant. She found that industry welcoming to people who lacked a degree but had an abundance of drive and dedication, and she thrived in many roles.
As her career evolved, her college degrees multiplied, as she went on to earn two master’s degrees from UMGC, too, including an MBA.
“Right around the time when I completed my master’s in public relations, I was executive director of the Greeting Card Association and the National Candle Association,” she explains.
Checking in to the Library of Congress
More than 13 years ago, the opportunity presented itself for McCray-James to make her own mark at the Library of Congress.
“I am the third generation of my family to work there,” she notes. “It’s a peculiar family legacy.”
Her son also worked at the Library in recent years, which means four generations of her family have worked there over the last six decades. McCray-James carved out a niche of her own as she began working on public access and communications initiatives at the Library in 2008.
In her role, she is responsible for expanding the Library’s outreach efforts to help all people learn about the Library, so they understand it is open and available to everyone. She has a special interest in engaging African American, indigenous and other minority groups in what the Library has to offer.
She has launched creative engagement campaigns, bringing the public to open houses where they can view collections that are not currently on exhibit. These efforts have resulted in ten thousand unique visits to the Library per year.
McCray-James has also partnered with predominantly black sororities and fraternities and the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to reach as many people as possible with her message of inclusivity and accessibility about the Library of Congress, and she’s thrilled with the progress she has made so far toward her mission.
“I have a passion for it,” she says. “It’s such an amazing place.”
Championing Of the People to expand access to the Library
Today, Mc-Cray James is working on Of the People: Widening the Path, which is a multi-year initiative that creates new opportunities for more Americans to engage with the Library of Congress and to add their perspectives to the Library’s collections. The goal of this effort is to enable the national library to share a more inclusive story about the history of America.
“This is an absolutely amazing initiative birthed out of the national conversation in 2020 about civil rights,” she explains.
By expanding outreach efforts through grants, internships and fellowships, Of the People strives to develop archives to document the stories of Black, Indigenous and communities of color historically underrepresented in the Library’s collections and preserve them for generations to come.
McCray-James is grateful for her UMGC education, which prepared her to embrace the new and exciting opportunities that have come her way, including her minority outreach work at the Library of Congress. In fact, she served on the UMGC Alumni Board so she could remain involved and help others following the same path she did.
“To this day, I credit UMGC with much of my success,” she says.
Read more UMGC Alumni News.