Humans of NAU: Catherine Lockmiller

Three photo collage of Catherine Lockermillker. Photos in order from left to right: Lockmiller running in marathon, with her dog, and walking under Torii gates

Phoenix Bioscience Core librarian, Catherine Lockmiller has been a trailblazing advocate from her start at NAU. Lockmiller was a member of the inaugural class of diversity fellows at NAU, organized and hosted the recurring ‘PBC Stories’ events to promote empathic health care and received a grant from the National Network for Libraries of Medicine to create an online course on the health care challenges of transgender and intersex athletes. Get to know the PBC librarian as she gives her take on library life, empowering people through research, empathetic health care and her life philosophy. 

Lockmiller in Hawaii facing the ocean in the distance with her arms up

What brought you to NAU? 

I started working at NAU in February 2018 when I was hired on as the health science librarian serving the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) graduate programs at the Phoenix Bioscience Core (PBC). Before that, I spent three years at South Mountain Community College Library, where I worked as a library IT specialist while attending “library school” online at San Jose State University. For those who are unaware, a master’s degree in library science is generally required to be a librarian, though I, for one, think that this is a restriction which ought to be done away with. 

As for why I took a position at NAU: there was an opening, it was local and I wanted a job as a librarian. I hesitate to say that it was anything more than that because I want to resist perpetuating the belief that we should seek out and take on work roles that revolve around “passion” or “devotion” and other romantic concepts. For most people (and especially for people who live in communities that experience marginalization and structural violence), getting any job with “professional” status involves struggle. Further, when we are met with the unspoken requirement that we also “love” our job, it makes it difficult to properly critique the aspects of the job (and the institution) which are inequitable or unjust. 

Why did you become a librarian and what is your favorite thing about your job?  

So. Long story. 

Like so many people in libraries, I never really had plans to become a librarian. Rather, I earned my first master’s degree in English and was fully prepared to seek a position as an English professor. But as luck would have it, when I was neck-deep in a Ph.D. program, I decided there would be no better time to totally upend my life. By which I mean that I came out as trans. 

It could have gone better! In fact, it could have gone a lot better. 

But that’s OK. By a series of loosely connected events, I dropped out of school and took a part-time job as a library page in a small town public library. From the drop, I found myself well-suited to the work.  

Even today, nearly a decade later, I find that the things which I loved about working in that small public library are roughly the same things that I love about being an academic librarian at NAU. I have always been a generalist at heart. I enjoy learning a little bit about a lot of things, and when I don’t have answers to a question, I enjoy searching for answers from people and sources more knowledgeable than I will ever be. I also enjoy the flexibility that comes with being a librarian. To better help people find the information they are looking for (whether it is for pleasure, for academic research or for uncovering legal documents), you need to adopt the research goals of the person you are working with, which for me, means getting into the mind frame of whomever you want to help, thinking through what kind of information will be most helpful and how best to present that information in an understandable and meaningful way. Nobody seeks out and consumes information in the exact same way, so as a librarian, it is on me to recognize and affirm those differences while altering my own search behavior such that it is most conducive to the situation at hand. This is probably the most difficult aspect of my job, but at the same time, it is also the most rewarding, and to that end, the most enjoyable thing about it. 

You’ve organized and hosted the recurring ‘PBC Stories’ events. What were some of the goals and outcomes you hoped to achieve, and how does this event promote dialogue and reduce health care bias? 

I believe that storytelling is a powerful motivator for people and institutions to change. You can have all the data and figures in the world, but unless you make them mean something, good luck using them in any meaningful way. Rather, they must be imbued with meaning in some way, and the best way to do that is to make those data tell a story. To me, stories motivate people to take action because they provide an opening for people to reflect and empathize and, sometimes, to personalize the struggles and experiences of other people. 

This desire for empathy and change is at the root of PBC Stories—an oral storytelling event that functions as a platform for people from marginalized backgrounds to share their experiences with medical and health care oppression with current and future health care providers. 

The convoluted series of systems that make up “health care” in the United States have all been built on racist, colonialist, sexist, ableist, ageist, classist, homophobic and transphobic structures. Even though there are people working our hardest to change health care for the better, these harmful structures continue to influence health care in such a way as to leave many people struggling to procure access, to find providers who “believe” their stories, to manage the confusing and obtuse language used within health care systems, to understand health insurance and above all, to have the tools and support to advocate for more equitable and just care. 

By working with people who can tell stories that align with these realities, I hope to prepare health care workers to empathize with perspectives different from their own and ultimately to push for changes in their own spheres of influence within health care. 

You were a member of the inaugural class of diversity fellows at NAU. Can you describe your experience as a diversity fellow, and what are some of the projects or initiatives you have worked on in this capacity? 

Being part of the initial cohort of Diversity Fellows has been deeply rewarding. For one thing, I have had the privilege of collaborating as part of a diverse group of immensely talented individuals. I’ve been presented with the opportunity to learn from them, and more importantly, they have taught me how to make social justice happen within institutions that are often resistant to change.  

Aside from working with other fellows, I have been the liaison to the College of Health and Human Services and Cline Library during my term. As a CHHS liaison, I worked with faculty and staff to develop the Health Equity Task Force, which provided training opportunities, DEIJ dialogues and data collection to employees and students in CHHS. I have also helped the Occupational Therapy program to develop and institute DEI objectives throughout the curriculum, which helps to ensure that OT students receive training that reflects the diversity of patient-client populations in Arizona.  

The grant you received from the National Network for Libraries of Medicine allowed you to create an online course on the health care challenges of transgender and intersex athletes. What motivated you to pursue this project, and what impact do you hope it will have? 

Being a transwoman and an athlete myself, this topic hits close to home. I wouldn’t say that I’m an accomplished athlete, but I do enjoy sports, and I have been an endurance runner for much of my adult life.  

Aside from my own experience, gender diverse people have been participating in sports for as long as sports have been around. However, as more people have had the opportunity to 1) come out and live openly as trans people and 2) live as intersex without receiving harmful and unnecessary medical interventions, questions have developed concerning equitable participation in sport.  

In researching and building the curriculum for Gender Diversity in Sports (GDIS) Online through funding provided by the National Network for Libraries of Medicine, I sought to answer such questions. Originally, a symposium was planned wherein learners could hear about gender diverse participation from experts in fields related to medical physics, intersex health care, sports medicine and childhood education (among others). Unfortunately, the symposium, scheduled to be held in May 2020, was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent quarantines. As an alternative, I worked with several of the would-be speakers to develop an online course that takes approximately eight hours to complete. The course, GDIS Online, breaks down scientific aspects of gender and sex as they relate to athletic performance, legal harms that affect the mental health of transgender and intersex people, the enforced sterilization of intersex women by sports’ governing bodies and the ripple effects that come with the harmful exclusion of transgender children from sports and athletic facilities (such as locker rooms).  

At this time, GDIS Online has been viewed 3,873 times, and 175 individuals have completed the post-course evaluation and assessment.  

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

Well, first off, a woman. Which worked out, so that’s cool. Seriously though, it’s very difficult to express to cisgender people the importance of living in accordance with your felt gender identity—and just as important, having that gender identity affirmed by the people around you. For many young trans people, this facet of identity can be particularly salient and, if left unmet, can lead to a lot of trauma. This was the case for me, at least. I was emotionally scarred by experiencing childhood as a transgirl in an unsafe environment.  

As a byproduct of experiencing childhood in this way, I didn’t really have the opportunity to think about what I wanted to be when I grew up—that is if we are talking about work and a career. Thinking back on it now, I don’t know if we should even be asking this question, as it suggests that we should always spend our lives in consideration of labor, even in childhood. Whether it is the case or not, I would like to strive for a political future wherein childhood fantasies about the future are not relegated to dreams about entering a workforce. 

Lockmiller in standing front of RV with partner in the distance waving to the camera with two large rock formation on either side

What have you been most proud of recently? 

For the past three years, I have been appalled by the acceleration and adoption of transphobic legislation. In 2023 alone, 558 anti-trans bills have been introduced across 49 U.S. states, 82 of which have already passed across 22 states. These bills do everything from blocking access to medical treatment for transgender children and adults, restricting transgender athletes from participating in sports, blocking off access to public facilities and outlawing the ability to change sex and gender markers on legal documents. 

When faced with this level of adversity, it can be difficult to even know what to do or where to push back. That was the case for me, at least. I wanted to do something, but I wasn’t sure how best to apply my skill set. Thankfully, I realized that—as a librarian—I am already equipped to do something. That something has been creating documentation that outlines how anti-transgender misinformation and propaganda have worked their way into bills and policies which harm transgender people. I call this cycle the Misinformation-Legislation Pipeline. I have a theoretical paper outlining how the concept functions from an information literacy perspective, which is due for publication this fall.  

I believe that equipping people with this knowledge about misinformation and its application in legislation is important, partially because it can sometimes be difficult for people to understand where legislation comes from. While laws and policies often seem to arise out of thin air, that is not the case. They are written just like anything else is written, by people. It is especially important to apply criticism to legislative writing, as it can (and does) have an immense impact on our daily lives.  

I am proud to be doing this research right now, not only because I hope that it helps people better understand legislative processes harmful to transgender people, but to understand processes that harm other people who experience marginalization.  

What is your favorite way to spend a day off? 

Right now, I’m really into the new Legend of Zelda. It’s a very big video game. Barring that, I do enjoy a meandering long run in the mountains. 

What are three things on your bucket list? 

I want to learn Chinese, I want to live in another country for an extended period of time and I want to run the Boston Marathon.  

What is your philosophy in life?  

Above all else, I believe in an ethics of care that is rooted in reflective action and a willingness to change. 

What advice would you give today’s students? 

If a school or a teacher or a job or any one person is demanding your all from you, then they are demanding more than they are allowed. You can’t give your all to everything or even to yourself, so practice giving what you are able and let go of worrying about the rest. 

NAU Communications