Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and the various restrictions that have come with it, Monica Adams has found more time to cook a variety of cuisine from all over the world.

Adams, the head of user services at UM-Dearborn’s Mardigian Library, has a stack of cookbooks that range from Lebanese to Native American. Among the cookbooks is a special collection she inherited from her grandmother that features Southern soul food, Cajun and French Creole recipes.

“My grandmother taught me some things that I still use when cooking,” she said. “Those cookbooks are near and dear to me, and they are kind of like family heirlooms in a way.”

Monica Adams, head of user services at UM-Dearborn’s Mardigian Library, poses with a security guard at Trinity College Library in Cambridge, England, in 2013. Parts of the “Harry Potter” movies were filmed in the library. (Photo courtesy of Monica Adams)
Monica Adams, head of user services at UM-Dearborn’s Mardigian Library, poses with a security guard at Trinity College Library in Cambridge, England, in 2013. Parts of the “Harry Potter” movies were filmed in the library. (Photo courtesy of Monica Adams)

She likes exploring different groceries to find interesting ingredients. After picking up a pack of chicken hocks from an Asian grocery, she found a recipe for them with a chili oil, garlic, and soy sauce glaze.

Her sister was skeptical, but Adams really liked them and found the experience of cooking something new exciting. Since the pandemic has restricted her from going out to restaurants, cooking at home is a way she can try new cuisine.

When she lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, she learned how to make Cuban food and Puerto Rican food from her friends.

She found it interesting how different cultures prepared similar dishes.

“One example is the pork roast,” she said. “I had a friend from Honduras, a friend from Puerto Rico and a friend from Cuba. All three countries prepare it differently, they spice it differently than the way it’s cooked in Haiti and even in Jamaica!”

Monica Adams has honed her culinary skills during the COVID-19 pandemic, producing dishes like this roasted vegetable dish. (Photo courtesy of Monica Adams)
Monica Adams has honed her culinary skills during the COVID-19 pandemic, producing dishes like this roasted vegetable dish. (Photo courtesy of Monica Adams)

Adams had an interest in libraries from a young age. Growing up, her mother took her and her sister to the library and instilled an emphasis on the importance of reading.

She attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, for a year and Henry Ford College in Dearborn for another year before completing her bachelor’s degree in English literature at Michigan State University in 1998.

She worked as a library assistant as an undergraduate, and after graduation worked at the East Lansing Public Library before accepting a full-time position as a periodicals clerk at the Main Library at MSU. She spent two years there and then went back to school to study information and library science at Wayne State University, where she earned her graduate degree in 2002.

“Into my first year of graduate school, I learned from my father and my aunts that my grandmother was a librarian in the last six or seven years of her career,” she said. “I had no idea, and it’s just funny to me how in families, not only talents but interests can also be kind of scripted in our DNA.”

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Adams has served as head of user services at the Mardigian Library since September after working as a librarian in Florida and Georgia for two decades. She helps students access library resources and technology, and also answers questions students may have. She and her team work to create an approachable and effortless experience for students, staff and faculty.

“What I do is provide a virtual library door to our patrons, no matter who they are, to let them know that we can help, especially during this tough time,” she said. “This is hard for all of us, but we’re going to be there to do our best for you. We want you to know we understand.”

Her interest in learning extends beyond the library and she believes that food is another great way to connect with people from different places.

“I’ve also worked with librarians from all over the Caribbean and I know I don’t think I’ll ever work in a place with such diversity,” she said. “Our librarians were from Canada, Trinidad, Jamaica, Haiti, Venezuela, China and India. It was just wonderful. I learned a lot about the cultures, and to me one good gateway into a community, into a culture, is just learning how they cook food.”

Q&A

What memorable moment in the workplace stands out?

Due to a trustee grant at Columbus State University (Georgia) that allowed one librarian each year to travel abroad, in 2013, I had the opportunity to go to London, Cambridge and Oxford for two weeks visiting libraries, museums and library science lectures in conjunction with the Library Information Science program at King’s College London. A wonderful experience!

What can’t you live without?

Friendship.

Name your favorite spot on campus.

Due to the pandemic, the library!

What inspires you?

Hope.

What are you currently reading?

“The Little Country” by Charles de Lint.

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

My grandmother, who was a teacher and librarian in Mississippi.

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