How To Make The Library More Inclusive

Dedicated to making the library inviting for librarians and students of all backgrounds, LJ Mover & Shaker Cynthia Mari Orozco works to raise awareness of micro-aggressions in librarianship and library anxiety among students. In this interview, she shares her efforts to make the library a space of refuge and community.

By Karen PhillipsKaren Phillips, SVP Global Learning Resources SAGE Publishing

In a new series that celebrates innovators in libraries across the U.S., I have the privilege of diving deeper into the work of a segment of the 2017 Movers & Shakers announced by Library Journal. This week, I had the opportunity to catch up with Cynthia Mari Orozco, a Librarian for Equitable Services at East Los Angeles College Library. Dedicated to making the library inviting for librarians and students of all backgrounds, Cynthia works to raise awareness of micro-aggressions in librarianship and library anxiety among students. Read her interview below to learn more about her efforts to make the library a space of refuge and community.

Cynthia Mari Orozco


Librarian for Equitable Services, East Los Angeles College Library, Monterey Park, CA


MLIS, San José State University, CA, 2011; MA, Latin American Studies, San Diego State University, 2009


@cynthinee (Twitter); Microaggressions in Librarianship

Photo by Patrick Heagney

Your research projects surround ‘library anxiety.’ How can the library be a scary place for students, and what inspired you to research this issue?

As an undergraduate, I rarely used the library. It was a huge building and difficult to navigate. I had no idea how to find what I needed. My favorite story about my own library anxiety is a time in which I realized that I really needed help, so I went to the library intending to seek out help. I entered the main floor, went to what I now know is the circulation desk, and I said, “I need help finding articles.” The person at the desk let me know that I would need to go to the basement to speak with a librarian, as it was not his function in the library to handle this request. I thanked him, turned around, and didn’t go to the library again for the remainder of my time as an undergrad. I found information the best way I knew how, but I realize now that I was finding information for my research papers that were passable, but not highly relevant. In grad school, I quickly realized that I lacked the information literacy skills needed to succeed in my program. My last experience asking for help hadn’t gone great, so I reluctantly brought myself to email the Latin American Studies librarian for assistance. I told her about my research and what I needed, and she introduced me to a world of information that I hadn’t realized existed. Her compassionate energy and willingness to help was a huge contributor in my decision to pursue a career in academic librarianship. My goal is to make the library a more inviting, easier to navigate space.

In what ways can librarians help to reduce students’ library anxiety and make the library a welcoming place for the student?

Being kind, personable, and compassionate can go a long way. Before working in libraries, I spent years working in restaurants, and I think libraries can learn a lot about customer service and making patrons feel welcomed and appreciated. There are many small acts that go a long way. For example the 10/5 rule: whenever within 10 feet of a patron, make eye contact and smile; within five feet of a patron, eye contact, smile, and some sort of friendly greeting or gesture. Librarians also need to understand their users, free from preconceived assumptions. Related to my first response, I was sheepishly telling some librarian colleagues that I didn’t know what “stacks” meant until I was in library school. I was relieved and slightly horrified to know that they had similar experiences! At the very least, you shouldn’t need to go to library school to know how to navigate a library’s physical and online spaces.

In 2014, you founded the LIS Microaggressions blog (LISM), a safe, anonymous space for users to submit descriptions of microaggressions expressed toward individuals from marginalized communities that occur within the library and information science field. Can you give us some examples of the microaggressions taking place in libraries?

There are so many examples, but here are a select few:

  • The lack of diversity in librarianship (environmental microaggression—macro-level microaggressions which are more apparent on systemic, institutional levels).
  • Representation of marginalized communities in library collections (also an environmental microaggression).
  • Continuing to use incorrect pronouns (an example of transphobic language).
  • “After some ugly anti-lgbt incidents in our community, the library held lgbt ally training. It was mandatory for all librarians and staff—except for people who opted out due to “personal beliefs” (environmental microaggression—a hostile and invaliding work environment).
  • A young female of color is mistaken as a service worker at a library event (an example of “Second-Class Citizen”).
  • “White male librarian and I did a presentation (that I organized) before faculty and administration. Only HE received praise and positive feedback on it” (an example of “Ascription of Intelligence”).
  • Continued mispronunciation of a colleague’s or patron’s name after correcting the person repeatedly. A more concrete example: “I was on a panel and the moderator asked me to pronounce my last name. After I told her, she told me how hard it was to pronounce (it isn’t) and asked me to repeat it three more times before the session got started. When she went up to introduce the panel, she told me, “I’m going to introduce you first or else I’m going to forget how to say your name.” Then she proceeded to butcher my name. (An example of being an “Alien in One’s Own Land,” the belief that visible racial/ethnic minority citizens are foreigners).
  • Not from LISM, but my favorite quote related to this is from actress Uzo Aduba, a Nigerian-American with a strong Igbo name, who asked her mom if she could be called “Zoe” as she lamented no one could pronounce her name. Her mother responded, “If they can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”

(This chart shows a great breakdown of the themes and categories of microaggressions.)

What have been the barriers to achieving changes that reduce student anxiety and increase use of the library facilities?

We need to listen to students and classroom faculty, and learn from and not dismiss their feedback. We need to re-imagine how our library needs to look to accommodate their needs in 2018. The library world has changed so much in the last several decades, but many libraries, my own included, are very much stuck in their own ways and doing things the same. Challenge existing practices! Change and innovation are imperative to creating more user-centered spaces for our students. I think we often know what we can do to alleviate student anxiety but often these ideas are shut down at a higher level.

In your opinion, how can librarians help to build more inclusive environments on campus?

Bring students into the conversation. We often dictate what’s best for our students, but why not have them in more prominent roles in our decision-making processes? Ask them what they want to see, what they need as students, what challenges they have, what creative ideas they have for re-imagining the library’s space, etc.


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