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In Memory of Gayatri Singh

Our dear colleague and friend Gayatri Singh passed away on October 31st, 2019. As the Geisel Library liaison to the Department of Communication, she worked closely with many of our faculty and our graduate and undergraduate students. She was beloved for her kindness, expertise, and friendship which she shared generously with countless colleagues here at UC San Diego. Her absence will be deeply felt and her impact on our lives will be cherished. We share our thoughts and memories in a collective farewell to Gayatri.

A short biography from her sister Radhika Singh

Gayatri Singh was born on July 13, 1977, in San Diego, California, to Ramanand and Nirmala Singh. Gayatri’s arrival completed our family of five, and she was the youngest in our extended paternal family. Gayatri was beloved by all—young and old, children and pets alike. Her affinity for books was second only to her love of cooking and baking. Gayatri received a BA in History with a minor in Women’s Studies from UC Irvine in 1999 before going on to earn her Masters in Library Science from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 2002. 

When Gayatri returned to her friends and family in Southern California, she worked at several libraries before finding a permanent home at UC San Diego in 2007, where she became the Reference Coordinator and library liaison for the Department of Communication and South Asian Studies. 

Gayatri with her father Ramanand Singh

Everywhere she worked, Gayatri was a cherished colleague, mentor, and friend. As a community builder extraordinaire, she quietly led others with her compassion, kindness, and unwavering dedication to the people and causes she cared about. Her impact stretched far beyond UCSD to statewide and national organizations. 

Gayatri is survived by her mother, Nirmala; her father, Ramanand; her elder sister, Radhika; middle sister, Meera; brother-in-law, Madhukar; and her nephews, Viraj and Varun; and her nieces, Riya and Shreya, along with an extensive extended family. As the baby of the family who stayed close to home, she has always had a special place in her parents’ hearts.

Memories and Thoughts from Gayatri’s Colleagues

Gayatri’s official profile photo shows her as we knew her: smiling, with a cup of tea.

Gayatri Singh was one of the most generous and openhearted people I have ever known, and so much of my ability to function as a scholar and teacher at UCSD depended on the assurance of having her as my ally. If I encountered friction in my attempts to use the library, Gayatri was the one I called. When the intricacies of the library’s myriad online databases stumped my students, I sent them to Gayatri, and she was the one I trusted with my own insecurities about all things digital in doing my research. This fall, as I brought together colleagues around UCSD to honor Toni Morrison’s legacy, Gayatri was one of the first people I turned to. I knew that if she was involved we would have a successful series of events and sure enough she took on a host of organizational tasks, from raising funds, reserving a room and securing exhibition cases, to arranging for parking and refreshments. Tragically, she did not make it to the panel discussion she organized but its success stands as a tribute to her. I mourn her passing, but I will always be thankful for all the gifts she gave me, of dependability, friendship and, every now and then, a simple cup of tea.

Boatema Boateng
The Singh sisters: Radhika, Meera, and Gayatri

When I was little, Gayatri and her sisters Radhika and Meera would let me tag along at church events where we grew up together. Though we were not related by blood, we were like cousins. Purely coincidental, my Sankrit name and features made some assume I was the fourth sister. I remember playing badminton in her parent’s backyard, drinking chai, and dressing up for her sister’s wedding.

Decades later when I started my Ph.D. in the Department of Communication I was happily surprised to see this familiar name amongst the list of speakers at my orientation. I was welcomed to this department with a warm hug and giggles from my dear friend after years of separation. Every time she came to speak or help in our department in some way, it felt like an inside joke, a secret history we shared that she used to be my “babysitter.” In a world where “imposter syndrome” is the rule rather than the exception, I felt like there was someone who really knew me…we saw each other as colleagues within a longer, deeper history as extended family. It meant that there would always be precious moments of absolute comfort and ease within the often chaotic, anxiety-ridden, and scary journey through graduate school. She saw me and I saw her. Just weeks before her death, we met over coffee to talk about how to better support our faculty and graduate students in captioning their media and we ended up on a detour in the digital media lab, playing with scanners and nerding out over the 3-D printers that Geisel Library now offers. She was always down to nerd out; to play with new technology or use pop culture examples for her presentations on how to use library resources. Each year they were different: Harry Potter, zombie, Cardi-B… Gayatri was a human being.

It might seem nonsensical to say that, but in the tense and pressurized world of academia where many of us, especially women, genderqueer people, and people of color, have to constantly navigate intersecting layers of treacherous barriers and worrisome pitfalls, Gayatri was safe. She was a safe place. She was light, joyful, kind, and real. I feel like we academics often receive accolades and the cultural cachet of our research and expertise without the recognition that our successes are always team effort, that we only stand as high as the shoulders that support us. I feel like people forget about librarians especially now that many seem to think that the printed book is ‘obsolete’ (which could not be further from the truth) and our precious libraries are being squeezed dry due to budget cuts and the systematic devaluing of their place in a democratic society. She was a daily reminder to me that librarians like Gayatri are central, absolutely vital to our communities. Each of our successes is co-authored by her and her colleagues at Geisel Library. 

When I first heard of her passing, it was such a pure sense of tragedy that this wonderful person, in a world rife with despair and vitriol, was taken from us, taken from me. I felt a sense that the world was a little less safe, a little less beautiful. She was one of the good ones. I kept hearing Mister Rogers, speaking gently to both us 80s kids watching our remote-less TVs on our brown shag carpets with our scrunchies and our My Little Ponies. I kept hearing that quote about helpers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ~ Mr. Rogers. There will always be bad people doing bad things, but Gayatri was one of the helpers. She showed up. She spoke up. She did the thing. Sometimes this world feels desolate of kindness, but I’m going to hold on to the Gayatri inside of me that pushes aside the cynicism and instead shows up to help. It’s all we can do. It’s the very best we can do, and she modeled that for me. And for that I will never say farewell because to say goodbye to the helpers inside us is to give up hope and surrender to our worst tendencies. Remembering Gayatri gives me strength and so, to my dear friend, I say only “au revoir.”

~Nalini Asha Biggs

Tribute to Gayatri by her fellow librarians Cristela Garcia-Spitz and Rachel Myers 

Gayatri was the heart and soul of the UC San Diego Library. No matter what she was doing, she created community, inspiring us all to be better — kinder, calmer, more compassionate and joyful — as individuals and as an organization. Gayatri was extraordinary in all of her roles at the library, and she had many of them. She was the reference coordinator who would find just what a user needed. When online questions came in the middle of the night, she was there. She taught classes, cared deeply about the student experience, and was at the core of our outreach activities. For many of us, it was her face that greeted us at the information or reference desk, always with a smile. 

Gayatri was extremely active in the Library community, playing ongoing leadership roles our Library’s committees for Diversity and Inclusion and for Sustainability as well as a number of local initiatives around both. She was also highly engaged at the statewide and national levels, holding multiple positions throughout organizations including the Librarians Association of the University of California; the California Academic and Research Libraries Association and the Southern California Instruction Librarians interest group; the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association; and the Reference and User Services Association.

Gayatri had hands that made things happen. She was the worker bee who quietly took on every task, large and small, never calling attention to how much she was doing. As if by magic and with a wave of her sparkly nails, tables of food appeared at events, an exhibit would go up, a panel would be organized, or a sign would appear that made everyone think and often laugh. She would deny it, but among us worker bees, she was the queen. She led by example, gently pushing for what she believed in with strength and determination. 

It would be impossible to list all her contributions and accomplishments in the library world. A consummate collaborator, she drew together people who shared her passions’ to organize many educational and social events centered around social justice, environmental sustainability and dismantling systems of oppression. She transformed the way the library celebrated black history month, creating cross-campus connections that resulted in remarkable events, enriching exhibits, and lasting friendships. Makers day during earth month and several of her events have become annual traditions at the UC San Diego Library. We look forward to the DiversiTea cultural potluck and the Holiday Cookie Exchange. It’s no accident that many of the staff events involve food. 

Dorthea Stewart, Gayatri Singh, and Rachel Myers

She made sure we were all well nourished with knowledge, but also with cupcakes. Her overflowing candy bowl often brought us together. She brought in citrus and vegetables from her parent’s garden; she shared her mother’s amazing cooking (and especially her chutney), and she baked fantastic treats that brightened the day. 

As our amiga Maria said

“Because of her, there is more color in the library.”

This is so true: she made the Library more vibrant for everyone and far more inclusive for people of color. She devoted herself to improving our workplace, taking on the issues of recruitment and retention and incorporating cultural competencies into our work. As the longest-standing member of the Diversity Committee, she had a major impact including the creation of a permanent group dedicated to building community among the library staff and the establishment of an annual fund for library staff to travel to diversity and inclusion conferences. When asked to mentor in a summer fellowship program for library graduate students from traditionally underrepresented groups that provided students an opportunity to work in an academic library, Gayatri participated in the program every year it was held at our Library. Mentoring was natural to Gayatri. And she kept up her relationships with the fellows, always remembering to take a group selfie whenever they saw each other again. 

Gayatri’s strength was in creating connections within the library, the campus, the wider community, and nationwide. She cared about her work and the people she worked with. She made the Library a better place to be, and she made our work more valuable to campus and beyond. 

Gayatri Singh, Heather Hayashi, and Rachel Myers: California Academic & Research Libraries Association conference 2016

She was an incredible force in the state and national arena serving in multiple positions throughout organizations in libraryland. Thanks to her collaborations and ongoing leadership roles, the UC San Diego Library is now known nationally for sustainability and diversity and inclusion. In 2018, she collaborated on a chapter in the book Pushing the Margins reflecting on the South Asian American Librarian experience. And in the upcoming book The Sustainable Library’s Cookbook, there are 5 recipes from her and her colleagues Rachel Myers and Kim Kane. The book is dedicated to her memory. In this and in many other ways, her advocacy and activism will live on. 

For friends, she was the person who had the “lets do it!” attitude. We could count on her to explore a new place, try out a restaurant, watch a movie, attend a lecture or a protest, and it usually meant her driving the distance to be with us. For those of us who are car-less, it also meant she thought about how we would get there and back. It is her thoughtful and considerate day-to-day actions that are a source of inspiration. 

At an event last week that she helped organize celebrating the life of Toni Morrison, there was a quote from the book Song of Solomon used to describe Toni Morrison’s life, but we think it aptly summaries Gayatri’s as well. It is simply,

“And she was loved.” 

On Gayatri’s legacy as a UC San Diego librarian by Rachel Myers

Gayatri Singh, librarian extraordinaire, was the consummate mentor, collaborator, partner in crime, friend and inspiration. As a staff member at the library, I’ve served with Gayatri on a number of committees, from outreach to diversity to sustainability. She never saw hierarchies; she saw people. If there was work to be done, she quietly did it. Where credit could be shared, she shared generously, celebrating her colleagues and collaborators—always.

Rachel Myers and Gayatri Singh: March for Science 2016

Most of what we did together wasn’t exactly in my job description, but Gayatri included me because she cared, she knew I did, and she knew what I was capable of even when I wasn’t quite so sure. She brought joy, fun, and meaning to what we did inside work and out. And, as I’ve learned, I’m not the only one she mentored . . . more than mentored–empowered.

Gayatri and I got to know one another well when I was on the outreach committee of what was then the Social Science and Humanities Library. As soon as she joined that committee, magic happened. Our team collaborated on projects that linked the library, UCSD’s many departments and groups, and the wider community—from African American quilting to coffee to pirates (which absolutely demanded an unscheduled “field trip” to the Star of India), and monsters (I was firmly in the slayer camp swearing undying allegiance to Buffy; Gayatri preferred her vampires to match her nail polish–sparkly).

Rachel Myers, Dorthea Stewart, and Gayatri Singh: Dorthea’s retirement

She and Dorthea Stewart and I forged a close connection and did work that mattered, often with others, creating exhibits and events that were timely and necessary. Gayatri had an unwavering commitment to social justice as does Dorthea. We addressed topics such as civil rights, voting rights, and #blacklivesmatter, and we worked year-round on projects that promoted community and inclusion. All along, Gayatri was there drawing us together, making things happen and creating space for others to make things happen, too.

Gayatri took me places I’d never expected to go—literally. (She’d announce on a regular basis that we’d be presenting our work in a poster session at a conference; then she’d fill out the paperwork and ask me to sign on the dotted line.) At those conferences, I met her friends and collaborators from other libraries. Wherever she went, she  brought together communities, facilitated meaningful work, and forged lasting connections. And she always made time for play (which for Dorthea and me generally included high tea).

Over the years we’ve known each other, Gayatri  has changed me for the better, cajoling me to begin and finish work, shoring up my confidence with her own belief in me, and always finding opportunities to do the work we cared about together. Her influence will live on in thoughts and small actions that have become part of me because she was. And I know I’m not alone. But I also know that there is an ache and absence in this very real, very physical world. Love and grief intertwined…

I got to know Gayatri was just at the end of my in-person residency in San Diego. She was organizing an edit-a-thon — I think it was Art + Feminism — Wikipedia edit-a-thon and we correspond as I had some experience with them before. I’m fairly certain she supported more than one but mostly I was struck by her intelligence, kind demeanor, and interest in taking action — and felt a sense of joy and appreciation that this effort was spearheaded by her, so lucky our university was to have her! We exchanged a few emails and connected on social media — I also sought to celebrate and amplify her wikipedia/info activism efforts at UCSD to my other networks using social media. She went on to organize, I think, more than one, joining a nationwide movement to address information inequities with action. Our paths crossed again via social media when I began to work for a library co-op and shared on social media that I would be attending the ALA annual conference in Chicago, she said she was also attending and we decided to meet up. We did! Though I was not a librarian, we were both pleased to converse about ucsd, academia, activism, and info activism in a digital age. She attend the panel I was presenting on about wikipedia and public libraries, which was great, and we met up afterwards again. She was joined by other library staff and — while I don’t exactly remember what we talked about — I recall the conversation in terms of feelings — it was rich and warm. Whenever I received her department newsletters, I sent her a reply, thank you for this! It seemed like a level of professionalism and care that I had not experienced from library staff in the past. We reconnected via email while I was preparing for a talk on the history of libraries and online services and she was as diligent of a reference librarian as she was enthusiastic about equity and community-building, she guided me to places I could look to dig up difficult sources from the midcentury and my presentation rocked because of it. When I presented the talk, I sent her a flyer and she shared with other library staff and attended my talk, asking good questions and commenting on the presentation. Gayatri lifted others up around her — she lifted me up, and I saw the effect she had on others. She was caring, careful, kind, smart, curious and rigorous. We were connected through professional and collegial networks and I felt her good energy extend outwards and was touched and moved to lift others up. That was her superpower! I certainly felt it and hope to continue to work in that way so that what made her special efforts will continue. 

~Monika Sengul-Jones

Gayatri was always a kind and giving research partner. She was a pivotal resource for me while writing my dissertation, when doing postdoctoral research for the CA Historical Society, and within my teaching practice. Just weeks before we lost her, Gayatri helped to lead a workshop and field trip for my History, Memory, and Popular Culture course. As we were examining the notion of an archive in the class, Gayatri and fellow librarian Cristela Garcia-Spitz led an interactive workshop on “Searching History and Memory in Digital Collections,” and took the students on a field trip to the library’s digitization room. In the above photo the students watch with awe as an archivist shows the inner workings of a cassette tape. Gayatri can be seen watching in enjoyment. The students absolutely loved the experience, many staying after class was officially dismissed (such as during this photo). Some also seemed intrigued by the field of library and archival studies and Gayatri shared her educational background and encouraged interested students to consider a future in the library sciences. The Monday after the field trip the students all shared how much they learned from the experience and how much they genuinely enjoyed it.  I saw Gayatri the week after this field trip at Zeinabu Davis’ campus screening of her film Compensation as Gayatri was also leading efforts from the library in sponsoring the event. I hugged her and told her how much the students enjoyed the field trip. Gayatri greeted this news with her customary kindness and humility. Days later I shared the news of Gayatri’s passing with my class. Saddened and shocked, we decided together to dedicate the rest of the course to Gayatri’s memory.

~ Caroline Collins
Gayatri Singh speaking to COMM 145 students

“The third field trip, but second field note took place at the heart of UCSD’s campus, UCSD’s Geisel Library. The excursion upheld topics examined during class while raising through emphasis the week’s theme: memory. UCSD’s digital collection was the main event of the outing, with archival manifestation, transferation, and preservation having moments of the spotlight. The opening of our archival conversation began with the types of sources (primary and secondary), archives and memory came soon after, as new models and emerging concepts closed the curtains. The history and memory of archives conflates to diary a moment, to an object, to a representation, therefore, synchronizing itself to be a part of history. During the presentation that the two librarians so kindly provided the class with, my mind wandered to the readings read relating to memory, the talks spoken, and how might my mind be impacted by from entering presentation to exiting.” 

–An excerpt of a weekly reflection from a COMM 145 student regarding the field trip

“Through our field trip to Geisel library and the archives tour, I better understood the connection between memory and nostalgia. As we looked at old records and archives such as the tapes and record disks that were being transformed into modern, digital files. This process was fascinating. It was interesting to see how these things were taken and transformed to develop along with contemporary times so that we don’t lose those pieces of history as we continue to evolve.”

COMM 145 Student

“During our library field trip, we learned about the University’s archives and the labor behind, who & how they digitizes these records to make it accessible for the everyone. Some archives are restricted depending on what the content contains. We were able to see the ancient equipment, people used work with such as the film reels, or cassette players. The exposure to this equipment gave a nostalgic feeling because modern technology improves every second replacing any kind of ancient devices. We become so familiar and consumed with the new equipment it was almost like visiting a museum, and entering into a time wrap of past technology.”

COMM 145 Student

“Friday, we went to the library for our weekly field trip and I am going to try to mention many of the notable and informative aspects of our field trip where we learned from the archivist, as well as what I took away from it. Before this field trip I don’t think I really understood how archives really operated or what they really were. I had heard mention of them in the media and through many movies and what not but I had never given thought to the power one has to possess in order to control what goes in and what does not go into an archive. A quote that really struck me, is “archives are a social construct, archives are not neutral, people decided what gets to be archived and what does not”, I pulled this quote from the archivists’ presentation. This statement really made me begin to wonder what important information is not archived simply because of preexisting social constructs.”

COMM 145 Student

“This week we went on a class field trip to learn about UC San Diego’s archives. The instructors, one an archivist, and the other a librarian guided us on how to use and access our school’s digital archives. UC San Diego’s digital collections are well cared for and tastefully curated with over thousands over objects to discover I’m actually a little disheartened to have finally discovered it during my last year at UC San Diego. “

COMM 145 Student

One of my favorite things about Gayatri is that she remembered us as individual people, in addition to her work with us as a department. Early on, she learned quickly that I *love* getting swag, especially library/stationary swag. And so she would always bring extra little bits — highlighters, post-it-notes, journals, pens, stickers — to make sure there was enough for me, even when she was presenting to our incoming grad students. She always took pleasure in seeing my childlike glee when she’d bring out that bundle of pens and (my favorite) post-its.

But there’s an even better story that demonstrates her careful work to support our research. A few years ago, I was writing a little piece for which I needed a TINY column from an obscure newspaper published in Nevada in the 1920s. I kept finding references to two sentences buried in this column, but the column itself was impossible to find/access using existing library databases. So I wrote her about it. She responded immediately to say that she was sitting at the airport, headed to an ALA conference, and that she’d see what she could do but I might not hear from her for a week. I’d mentioned that I was giving this particular talk the following week; but of course I understood, so I just began planning not to have the exact lines for the talk. No big deal. But I received another email from her a few hours later — she had found and accessed the column while she was on the plane, and sent it to me as soon as she landed (and had strong wifi service). It was nothing short of a miracle, from my perspective — but was absolutely the kind of thing she always did for us. 

I’ve never forgotten these things. And I’ve always looked forward to seeing her, joking around with her, when we’re in the same place at the same time. She was a force of brilliance, of compassion and light, and I miss her dearly.

~Patrick Anderson

Gayatri was a warm, open person. Generous and sincere in spirit -which is rare- and genuinely interested and engaged in our work. She was willing to go the extra mile to ensure our access to important materials and to other personnel who can support us in our scholarly journeys. 

~Kim Clark 
Gayatri and George Tion at the Library Summer Picnic of 2018.

Gayatri was my manager for our department (Research Advisory Services).  Gayatri was one of my biggest supporters; especially when it came to library community building. No matter how busy Gayatri was she always found the time to help me out with a smile.  

~George Tion

Gayatri impressed me as someone I wanted to be friends with from the moment I met her when I started at the UCSD Library a little over two years ago. Although she had this warm and generous spirit, you understood that she had concentric circles of friends, close friends and even closer friends developed over time. At her memorial, I talked with other folks who echoed my experience, people who didn’t know her as well as others in attendance but were feeling the loss of a deeper connection missed. Over these past years, I had a few interactions with Gayatri that exemplified her kindness, generosity of spirit, and her valuing people regardless of who they were. Every October, libraries celebrate Open Access Week and it has been my job to organize events and activities at my home campus. In 2018, we held an event to register folks on campus with researcher identifiers, called ORCiD. Gayatri volunteered at one of our tables and did what no one else was able to do, she signed up about 30 students in a couple of hours. At first I was concerned because ORCiD are intended for Researchers and this designation sometimes includes graduate students but rarely, if ever, undergraduates. I asked Gayatri what her successful pitch was and how she was able to draw these students in and she said, “I’m asking anyone who walks by if they do research, are they a researcher, and the students are self-identifying as researchers so I help them sign up.” This made sense to me. Gayatri always jumped in and leant a hand, but in a way that aligned with her world view and ethos. Of course you would include students as researchers and officially register them with an ORCiD if this is how they identified. This was Gayatri. She drew you in and you felt seen and validated no matter if you just met her or were lucky enough to have made it into the circle of close friends.

~Allegra Swift

The memorial service for our outstanding and much beloved librarian, Gayatri Singh, was a truly beautiful ceremony.  I did not know Gayatri outside UCSD, which I deeply regret. But I learned from her family and friends that her generosity, kindness, infectious energy and “can do” attitude, which characterized her working relations, extended into every aspect of her life. We each left the ceremony with the gift of Prasad (which I learned was Hindi for the consecrated food offering shared with congregants after the ceremony). Like Gayatri, and the service in her memory, the offering provided much needed sustenance and a lingering sweetness. I will miss Gayatri all the more for not having known her as a personal friend. 

Elana Zilberg

Gayatri made my college experience exponentially better through her support, creativity, and activism. I was a part of the group students who worked with faculty and grad students do launch the, “Tell Us How UC it” intervention following the racist chalkings on campus in 2015. We hung string and students could come and write thoughts/experiences around race and racism on campus. After three days, the instillation was dismantled. It was disheartening for all of us involved. Over the summer, I and others received and email from Gayatri asking if the library could take on the work, starting a living archive of student life and experiences around discrimination. When I saw that email, it brought me to tears. Her support took this piece who’s impact had been blunted and brought it into the institution itself. It was amazing. 

The next year was filled with activism with my and my roommate at the time. Every protest we hosted, Gayatri was there marching with us, supporting us, giving us space to craft and practice. 

As a part of a class on exhibition and access, Gayatri supported our entire class and even helped arrange space for us to displace our exhibits in Geisel. She shared space with us to print and craft large objects at no cost and made our productions so much better. 

She supported us all so much. Her presence made me and my peers better scholars and people. 

~Joel Goldsmith

I had the pleasure of working with Gayatri on various committees, more specifically, International Education Week’s Flag Parade and Celebration. She was jovial, fun, kind, and one of my favorite people on campus. The last time I saw her, I gave her a big hug. I’ve been watching her these past 10 years from the sidelines, rooting for her as she tackled and brought visibility to one cause after another. I will miss Gayatri. I will miss the occasional run-in with Gayatri right where library walk meets the entrance to Geisel, where I would get to get my hug, wish each other well, talk about how we should get lunch, soon, and go about our day.

I keep reading that during a UC San Diego celebration of Toni Morrison’s literary legacy she posted the quote, ‘And she was loved.’ Yes, ‘she was loved.’ I will miss you, Gayatri.

Gwendolyne Guzmán Rose

If you worked with Gayatri here at UC San Diego and wish to contribute your memories or thoughts please email us at NBIGGS@UCSD.EDU.

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