Jayme Spencer: Reflections on More Than 40 Years at AUC, in Egypt
When Jayme Spencer first arrived in Cairo in 1972, little did she know that the city would remain her home for the next 44 years, or 43 years and five months to be exact. Now retiring from a long career at the AUC Library to return to her native Louisiana, Spencer says that Cairo felt like home from the very beginning.
“After two or three days of living here, I felt very much at home,” said Spencer, former senior librarian and director of Public Services at the AUC Library. “Now with hindsight, I think what made me so comfortable was that Egyptian society at that moment was very much like the 1950s in Farmerville, Louisiana, the small U.S. town where I grew up. I didn't speak the language, I wasn’t familiar with the culture and the people were different. Yet, I immediately understood how the city worked. It was a small village just like where I grew up, where for example if you wanted something done you had to know a guy.”
Spencer also found a family within the University’s tight knit community, especially at the AUC Library. “When I first arrived at the University and walked into the library, there were about 40 people there, only three of whom were American and no other foreign women besides me,” Spencer recalled. “Yet, these people were so welcoming. I was constantly visiting friends in homes, and within only two months, I had nieces and nephews, little kids who called me tant. It was again like a small town.”
With this support, Spencer led numerous projects at the AUC Library, starting with the Reclassification Project that recataloged the library’s holdings using the Library of Congress system. An innovator in her field, Spencer also steered the library through a number of firsts, from the launch of AUC’s first automated system in 1987 to the development of the first Information Literacy program in Egypt in 1994 that would also become the first library course required from freshman at the University in 2003. Most recently, the Dean’s Council honored Spencer for her work by by conferring upon her the status, Librarian Emerita.
Throughout all of these changes, Spencer and her colleagues had one aim in mind: accessibility. “People like to call us the best library in the Middle East, but we prefer to say that we’re not necessarily the best, but we are the most accessible,” explained Spencer. “We’re the ones who have always been looking at accessibility and usability while keeping up with global trends.”
According to Spencer, one of the biggest changes to AUC over the years has been the adjustment to the University’s increasing size. “When I started at AUC, there were less than 1,400 students, graduate and undergraduate, on campus. There were 190 faculty members, 24 administrators and 240 something staff. And now, we’re nearly 6,000 students,” Spencer noted. “But what I think has happened is we’ve had our ups and downs, but we’ve haven’t had time to stop and give ourselves the breathing room we need to adjust to our own growth.”
Reflecting on her time at the University, Spencer offered some final words of thanks to the AUC and Egyptian communities alike. “In my years here, AUC has allowed me to develop professionally while Egypt has developed my interest in writing and the minor arts. I’m grateful for these opportunities. I’m sad to leave, but my heart will always be with the people here.”