Antiracism in Librarianship | ALA Virtual 2020

The urgent need for antiracism work, and fighting anti-Blackness in particular, inside the culture of librarianship as well as in our communities, was an important strand of content throughout the American Library Association (ALA) Virtual Conference last week. It echoed through new Executive Director Tracie Hall’s message to Monday’s Membership Meeting and to Council, ALA president Wanda Brown’s message, and the keynote presented by Fair Fight founder Stacey Abrams, as well as granular programming on how to operationalize antiracism work in libraries.

screen shot of participants in Antiracism in librarianship panel

 

The urgent need for antiracism work, and fighting anti-Blackness in particular, inside the culture of librarianship as well as in our communities, was an important strand of content throughout the American Library Association (ALA) Virtual Conference last week. It echoed through new Executive Director Tracie Hall’s message to Monday’s Membership Meeting and to Council—a strong call to diversify the profession—ALA president Wanda Brown’s message, and the keynote presented by Fair Fight founder Stacey Abrams, as well as granular programming on how to operationalize antiracism work in libraries.

 

RECRUITMENT IS NOT ENOUGH: RETENTION IS KEY

One such conversation focused on retention efforts of minority librarians in librarianship. Moderator Twanna Hodge, diversity, equity and inclusion librarian at the University of Florida, Gainesville, started the panel off by speaking to what helped them remain in the field. Hodge herself cited mentorship; work/life separation; understanding the difference between job, career, and profession, and that personal value does not derive from work; and a community network of “allies and accomplices.”

Jahala Simuel, head of access services and medical librarian, Howard University, Washington, DC, concurred about the importance of networking and mentorship, and added leadership institutes, both ALA’s and another offered by the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) , of which Howard is one.

Raymond Pun, instruction/research librarian, Alder Graduate School of Education, Redwood City, CA, agreed on mentorship and leadership training, mentioning that he was part of the California Library Association’s 2020 cohort. He also cited being involved in higher level work in the profession at large, but cautioned that “it’s also okay not to be retained; to go to a different position, institution, profession, to something that is better for you.” He also cautioned institutions looking to retain minority librarians not to force them to be part of a diversity committee or expect them to fix all diversity issues.

Kimberley Bugg, associate library director, Atlanta University Center, GA, presented herself as a striking example of being retained in the profession by not being retained in a single job. “I appreciate variety and enjoy new and interesting projects; I let my interests lead me to a new position,” she said. She also spoke to the importance of making sure no one is stuck being the sole librarian of color on staff, asking supervisors about applicant pools and making “sure we don’t hide behind the ‘organizational fit’ cop out.”

“My own community of librarians of color uplifts and sustains me,” she said. “Having a community is equally as important as mentorship,” in part because it provides a safe place to unpack the experience of workplace microaggressions. She also supported leadership institutes, particularly Harvard, as well as getting her PhD at Simmons University, Boston. It, she said, gave her the “opportunity to look at the profession from a different perspective” and to frame the next 10 years of her career, which had plateaued.

Joslyn Bowling Dixon, deputy director, Prince William Public Library System, VA, said she is retaining her own staff through performance hiring, which moves away from assessing candidates on how much they are like current staff and asks those participating in hiring decisions to interrogate their own positive and negative impressions of candidates and what causes them. As for a supportive community, said Dixon, “Sometimes you have to create your own resources. That’s what I did,” building the Virginia Library Association Librarians of Color forum to share news, socialize, and provide a pathway to leadership.

While she urged listeners to “come from a place of yes” when it comes to taking on new challenges, she also reminded them: “Make sure you are taking care of yourself first. You can’t do this job well if you are not making sure you are pushing back against vocational awe. If you are having a low morale experience, mitigate that.”

 

EQUITY IN PRACTICE

At the Racial Equity live chat, Mary Hirsh, deputy director, and Angela Maycock, manager of continuing education at the Public Library Association, led a Zoom discussion by Nicole Cooke, Augusta Baker endowed chair and associate professor at the School of Information Science, University of South Carolina; Sarah Lawton, Midwest regional manager for the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), Madison, WI; Chantel Walker, primary organizer, Marin County Free Library, CA; and Hong Ha, senior librarian, Denver Public Library.

Cooke, an LIS educator, spoke to the crucial importance of incorporating antiracist education into the LIS curriculum, rather than just sending interested students out to other schools and departments—and to making such courses mandatory, since LIS graduate students have relatively few spaces in their schedules for electives. “We are in a time of unrest,” she said. “A lot of people are struggling. If we prepare our aspiring professionals in empathy, cultural competence, and having these conversations, it better prepares us for these moments.” To make sure those aspiring librarians come ready to learn those skills, she said, we also need to be having more of these conversations in grades K–12.

Walker spoke to the work the library is doing in Marin County, beginning with changing its mission statement to explicitly add “welcoming, inclusive, and equitable” to its charge. As part of the initial GARE cohort, the Marin team looked at each of its own branches to ask “who is benefited and who is burdened” by each activity, as well as at the larger system of libraries. They invested significantly in training, partnering with the Santa Monica library under the direction of incoming ALA president-elect Patty Wong to write a grant to examine racial equity in library services and practices in their organization and structure, and in affiliated organizations such as the Friends and foundation. She spoke to the importance of having a director on board who, like Marin’s, “provides air cover” for those doing the hands-on work. From here, Walker and her team hope to change the conversation at the state level.

Given the barriers between degreed librarians, who are heavily white, and paraprofessionals, who are much more likely to be library workers of color, Walker emphasized the importance of both the practical—workplaces providing tuition assistance to get the degree—and emotional—welcoming colleagues into these new roles, providing a clear pathway, and presenting them as a complement to their lived experience.

Lawton called for synergy among multiple approaches to antiracism: Academics making the intellectual case, protesters in the streets, and “an inside game” to create space “in the armature of our institutions so that seeds can be planted.” GARE, she said, is building a community of practice focused on partnership between libraries and local regional government.

Echoing themes from the retention panel, Cooke cited the importance to her personally of attending conferences where other people of color are, to “fill up” until she got to places that are more welcoming. Walker followed up highlighting the institutional benefits: Marin sent any librarians of color who wanted to attend to the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color. Ten went, and their learnings directly influenced the library to start equity alliance networks centering the voices of people of color. Miller also cited the importance of working with community-based institutions and of antiracist white allies talking to their colleagues, particularly at the director level. She also suggested putting the need to understand EDI and racial equity in particular in job descriptions. Lawton built on that to suggest creating a culture of accountability, where it is welcome and encouraged that feedback be delivered when people make missteps.

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Meredith Schwartz

mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-in-Chief of Library Journal.

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Graciela Zaravelis


What to do when an employee is constantly discriminated, race , accent and culture and also is afraid of retaliation?

Posted : Jul 08, 2020 04:06


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