Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Minority Serving & Representing Libraries

We are a predominately white and female profession. I'm not so much worried about the woman power stuff (and I do include anyone who identifies as female part or all of the time in that term), but the Caucasian aspect bothers me. Especially at my own institution, which has a student body that is largely African American. This topic came up a few months ago when I was participating in a #libleadgender conversation on Twitter, one that was - I think - lead by April Hathcock. Talk had turned to how we work towards inclusion as a way to serve our community:

As I said above, I work at a minority serving institution, and every day I try to move towards this kind of inclusion. Someone asked me to explain further what I do, so here it is. This is by no means scientific, but I feel it helps the situation.
  • I start recruiting students to work at the library before they've even started classes. Any time I work an orientation (and I work plenty of them), I'll answer anyone's questions about jobs in the library but I will bring up the topic with all students of color. I talk about how working in the library isn't just sitting at a desk doing your homework, about how we give our student workers important tasks to do and sometimes even have them take the lead on projects so it will look good on a resume and/or internship application.
  • I skip the name on application materials and look at the body of their application/cover letter/resume/etc. first. I am very white. I was out in the sun for hours this weekend, and I think I've darkened almost to an ecru (usually my skin is more cream color). I also have a fairly Caucasian sounding name. Study after study has shown bias, either conscious or unconscious, even when it comes to whether your name *sounds* white. This is my way of controlling for that bias.
  • We do book displays tied to different minority groups and people of color outside of their designated months. We had a display about protest culture and important figures tied to civil rights protests in the fall instead of during African American History Month. We had another display with materials about Islam and Muslim Americans and Arab Americans in the winter, instead of in April during Arab American Heritage Month. 
  • Most importantly, I think, I talk about the elephant in the room. I talk to students, especially our student workers, about how the library can better support students of color. I've said some version of "Librarianship is such a white profession, but I want the people behind the desk to reflect the people who come up to the desk" so often I've lost count. I'm the director, so things I say are weighted differently from other librarians - they're taken more seriously, whether I want them to be or not. I try to keep that in mind, ask questions, and then really listen to the answers. Even if my feelings get hurt, listening is even more important than asking the questions.

In the past, I've been guilty of trying to be the "white savior," but someone (Thank you!) pointed it out to me and I've mostly worked that instinct out of my system. I no longer assume I know how to fix every problem, especially one as complex as systemic and ingrained racism. I'm curious what kinds of efforts have been successful for others. Comment or respond on social media? Thanks!

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