Notes on the National Joint Conference of Librarians of Color

Please welcome our new First Year Academic Librarian Experience blogger Zoë McLaughlin, Resident Librarian at Michigan State University.

At the end of September, I had the opportunity, as part of my diversity resident librarian position, to attend the National Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC). This conference is sponsored by ALA’s five ethnic affiliates and offers a forum to discuss issues of diversity within librarianship. For me, it was an opportunity to meet colleagues, attend some amazing panels, and exist amongst a crowd of librarians of color—a novel and welcome experience.

There’s been a lot written already about how librarianship is overwhelmingly white, so I won’t belabor that point. Instead, I will say that this was the first time I was surrounded by librarians and felt like just another face in the crowd. It was affirming to strike up conversations with strangers and know that we were coming from similar places in terms of experiences and concerns in the field. I am not the most outgoing and struggle at conferences, but noticed that I felt calmer and more interested in interacting with people than I have at previous conferences. I think this had to do with the overall energy of the conference: everyone was open, welcoming, and excited to talk about past experiences and new ideas moving forward.

I also found that I learned about the work of the different ethnic affiliate groups, something I had not expected but definitely appreciated. As a new librarian, I’ve tried to get involved without overextending myself, which has meant focusing on one ethnic affiliate and only occasionally seeing a forwarded email from the other groups. Having all the affiliates in one place meant that I had the opportunity to talk to people about their work heard from all the affiliates during JCLC’s gala and by visiting them in the exhibit hall. I’m now more interested to see what sort of collaborative and crossover work can be done between groups, such as AILA and APALA’s Talk Story project.

And then, of course, there were the panels. (See the program here.) It was exciting to hear from some important people in the field (see Fobazi Ettarh, April Hathcock, Jennifer Ferretti, and Rebecca Martin’s panel “Our Librarianship/Archival Practice is Not for White People: Affirming Communities of Color in Our Work”), as well as to hear from my peers (see Kalani Adolpho, Jesus Espinoza, Twanna Hodge, and Madison Sullivan’s panel “Under the Hood: Exploring Academic Library Resident Programs in Practice”). While “Our Librarianship/Archival Practice” dealt with taking care of yourself while facing the realities of the profession and working toward the way we want the profession to be, “Under the Hood” discussed similar issues in the specific context of residency programs. Having just started a residency program myself, I found it helpful to hear from other residents about the diversity of their experiences, including what went right and what went wrong. As was spoken to at the panel, diversity residencies can be isolating experiences because the position is often misunderstood and because the resident is often one of few other librarians of color in the institution. I’m lucky that in planning my residency this was taken into account, so I’m part of a cohort and haven’t had to jump in alone.

My favorite session, though, was Mara Clowney-Robinson, Karen Downing, Helen Look, and Darlene Nichols’s “Mixing it Up: Libraries Embracing Intersectionality of Multiracial Identities” because it hit so close to home for me. The panel began with a brief history of multiracial identity in the United States, as well as how libraries have treated this identity over the years. Panelists noted that the population of people identifying as multiracial is growing, meaning that this is a group institutions—including libraries—should be paying attention to, in questions of collection development and cataloging as well as in outward presentation, such as in brochures or displays.

This panel, and the conference in general, made me think about what I want to be doing to advance diversity and inclusion within libraries and librarianship. The inclusion of multiracial identities, for example, is important to me personally, but I don’t often bring this out in my work. Should I focus on it more? How can I be an active advocate for issues that are important to me within my own practice of librarianship?

In another panel, one of the audience members raised the point that most librarians of color haven’t come through programs like Spectrum, IRDW, or residencies. As someone who has benefitted from these programs, how can I use this to also advance others? JCLC was exciting because not only did it offer me a space where I felt welcome and felt like I belonged, it has also inspired me to find ways to contribute concretely to diversity in librarianship and to think about how I can bring these ideas into my day-to-day practice.

Author: Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at New York City College of Technology, City University of New York.

One thought on “Notes on the National Joint Conference of Librarians of Color”

  1. I’ve been collecting stories about how people use libraries that I find in writing that is not specifically about libraries. The importance of diversity in library collections stands out. I recently found an article about a book club called Well Read Black Girl and it seemed too bad that the woman who started it was not a librarian. Here’s my blog post with comments about the news story: https://writersandlibraries.blogspot.com/2018/11/well-read-well-known.html

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