Institutional and Departmental Diversity Statements

Your institution probably has a diversity or DEI (diversity, equity, & inclusion) statement. Take a minute and go read it, even if you’ve seen it before. Now check the diversity statements of a few other institutions; they’re pretty similar, aren’t they?

This is not a bad thing. The purpose of an institutional diversity statement is mostly symbolic: to publicly state support for DEIA initiatives and make members of marginalized groups know that the institution is paying attention and working to be better. The statements you just read probably accomplish these goals.

But they’re vague, aren’t they? That’s okay. If your institution is really on top of things, you might also find a diversity strategic plan (or maybe DEIA efforts are incorporated into the general strategic plan). If you take a look at one of those, you’ll see more specific – but still institution-wide – information about how the goals of the statement are meant to be achieved.

(Also, I know I’m making some broad generalizations. I’ve been working on a project which has involved reading a lot of diversity statements, so I know they aren’t all the same… Take a look at my own institution’s statement here; the bullet points have the specificity usually reserved for a diversity strategic plan.)

I say all this to get around to this point: While you and your library are beholden to the institutional diversity statement, that doesn’t mean it should be the only one you use for guidance. I am here to encourage you to create a library diversity statement, assuming you don’t already have one. (If you do: well done! Keep up the good work. Continue reading to see why you’re awesome.)

After reading so many institutional diversity statements that say pleasant but admittedly bland things about what the institution wants to be with regards to DEIA matters, I have decided that they don’t say much at all. It’s like if Dasani started putting “gluten-free!” on its labels… all the other brands of bottled water would have to do it too, so it wouldn’t seem like they had gluten in their bottled water. An institution needs a diversity statement to make it clear that they don’t support oppression and prejudice. (What a world we live in.)

I think the role of the departmental diversity statement, though, is more practical. It’s more like the diversity strategic plan, because it can get more specific. A library’s diversity statement can refer to the accessibility of library spaces, diversifying the collection of resources, and other library-specific concerns. Other departments would address different specifics: the library wouldn’t address the cultural diversification and dietary needs compliance of the menu in a cafeteria, but dining services would.

Additionally, a departmental diversity statement gets the people in that department more involved. The vast majority of people at an institution had nothing to do with the writing, editing, and approval of the institutional diversity statement. They feel less connected to it because it was made elsewhere, by others, and they probably first saw it in an email announcing its implementation. While I like our statement, I don’t feel involved in it. The library’s diversity statement feels closer to me. It feels like the difference between seeing your state and your city being mentioned on national news. I hear, “In Pennsylvania,” and I pay slightly more than average attention; I hear “In Hershey,” and my ears really perk up. That closer connection creates more buy-in from the individuals in the department.

In that same vein, a departmental diversity statement can take a different tone or voice than the institutional statement. Go back up and read the Penn State statement again, then read our libraries’ statement. The libraries’ statement has a stronger upstanding, more active tone. It is a call to action, while the institutional statement is a description of what the university would like to be: both important, compatible, but different approaches to the same goal. I see in the libraries’ statement a fist held high in the air, and in the university’s statement, open and welcoming arms.

If your library does not yet have a departmental diversity statement, I encourage you to advocate for one. You can make concrete the abstract intentions of your institution’s diversity statement, lend the library’s unique voice to the conversation, and put a “gluten-free!” sticker on the bottled water that is your library.

Starting Anew, but not Starting Over: Finding Academic Librarianship from Other Career Pathways

This guest post was provided by Deborah Cooper, Digital & Special Collections Librarian, Mann Library, Cornell University (dsc255@cornell.edu) and Hannah Gunderman, Research Data Management Consultant, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries (hgunderm@andrew.cmu.edu).

One of the oft-repeated clichés of librarianship is the variety of experiences that are welcomed into the profession, such as customer service in retail, teaching in schools or wrangling spreadsheets in business. It seems an accepted norm that library workers are people at all stages of life and with a variety of backgrounds. Yet, there has been little exploration into the experiences of colleagues who join libraries after previous careers.

The topic of second-career librarianship can initially seem like it may not offer up much in-depth avenues of inquiry. Surely, coming to librarianship with other experiences under your belt can only be a positive! “Transferable skills” are not only desirable but will set you ahead in a highly competitive job market! While this is often true, the experience of being a person who shifts from one, or even several previous career paths into librarianship is not always as linear and uneventful as one might think! In our personal experiences, this circuitous journey from previous career paths into the academic libraries environment has certainly had its share of surprises and unique challenges. 

Hannah and Deborah first began their collaboration through a professional network. As they began collaborating, they discovered several overlapping research interests. However, they soon also found another unexpected similarity: they both came to academic librarianship from different career paths. It became evident that their status as second-career librarians had influenced their experiences in their respective libraries.

Before entering graduate school for her MLIS, Deborah worked in the publishing industry as both a writer and editor for over a decade. She travelled quite a bit and became a parent. While not the oldest student in class, she definitely was not the youngest. All of these previous experiences informed her entry into the profession. At the same time, when she graduated in 2014, the upstate New York region was still in the grips of recession and there were few jobs in her chosen niche of youth librarianship. After several false starts she eventually landed at a NY State university library as an adjunct, working eight-hour reference shifts in the evenings and weekends. It wasn’t part of the plan but it was a solid place to land. 

Hannah found academic librarianship after working in a geography research setting for several years, under the impression that she would pursue becoming an Assistant Professor of Geography at a higher education institution or work as a geographer in industry. It wasn’t until partway through her Ph.D. program that she realized she did not want to pursue those career paths but wanted to remain in a setting where she could help others conduct research. She found the world of academic librarianship, and for the next several years took a circuitous route to land her job in an academic library. By that time, Hannah had amassed a set of skills that served her well in a geography environment, yet at times she felt her skills were not up to par for working in an academic library.

When we first began discussing our personal experiences it was striking to us that, even with our vastly different career paths, our experience of shifting from one career to another was similar in its positives and negatives. We began to wonder if this was something that more people experience throughout the profession but wasn’t spoken about more widely. And why isn’t this addressed? Is it just a coincidence that two random strangers found similarities in their struggles? Or, is this a conversation worth having? We have indeed struggled in both similar and different ways. We decided to put our personal experiences to paper to reflect on what these experiences have meant for us and our careers, and bring the discussion to a wider audience.

In this reflection piece, we offer the following tips for navigating a second (or third, fourth, etc.) career in academic librarianship:

  1. You are not starting from scratch! Leverage the skills you already have:

When entering a new career path, you may find yourself wanting to do all the things to prove your worth. For Hannah, especially coming from a domain-specific environment where she felt very comfortable in what she was doing and the skills needed to succeed in her role, being in a totally new work environment sometimes led her to feel as though she was starting from scratch. However, you are not starting from scratch when you find academic librarianship from another career path. Leverage your transferable skills! Even if you are new to librarianship, you absolutely have skills from your previous career to contribute. These are beneficial and can help bring new perspectives into your library. 

Wherever you were before, you have valid and real experiences that are going to help you in the library. As we mentioned in the introduction, any job involving interaction with the public is a great help, whether as a barista, working in retail or answering phones. And, if you just graduated with your MLIS, remember those awful group projects in grad school? Yes, a lot of the challenges you may have encountered with those are actually good preparation for all of the groups, committees and collaborative work you’ll encounter in all libraries. If you are headed for behind-the-scenes work, for example in technical services or collections, being able to juggle multiple competing projects, track budgets or creatively problem-solve are all excellent applicable skills. 

  1. From skillsets to mindsets: 

It is not only your skill-set that’s important but your entire mindset. Even if you are only switching environments within the library profession, eg, from public to academic, the culture and expectations can be vastly different. While you may have a set of clearly defined tasks and responsibilities that you will soon learn on the job, the subtle nuances of the specific department and the wider institution may take several months to make themselves known. First, allow yourself several months to absorb the variations. Academia has a language of its own. The names and ranks can be confusing and acronyms abound. (At Deborah’s institution there is a Wiki containing a glossary of acronyms!)

A big part of building your new mindset in an academic library is finding a community. We recommend inviting your new colleagues to coffee (or in our virtual world, a Zoom chat) to start to better understand the culture and identity of your library. Depending on a host of factors, this may initially be a scary undertaking (especially if you have social anxiety!), but most of your colleagues will be flattered that you asked and only too happy to get to know you better. And subsequently having a familiar face in meetings may help ease the “new person” feeling. Some libraries also have a mentoring or buddy program for new hires and these can also help you find your feet, especially if you are more comfortable asking newbie questions to people outside of your immediate colleagues and supervisor.

  1. Embrace Your New Identity:

The life experiences that you bring with you into your daily work are a deep well you can draw on in times of need. How you obtained this experience isn’t the most important aspect but if you have worked in different fields, travelled, volunteered or have clearly grown in life because of situations you’ve experienced, you are going to be more resilient in the workplace. Your cumulative experience will not only help you in your day-to-day work but give you something to draw upon when faced with tough situations. Being able to reflect on how you successfully navigated a path through various past challenges will sustain you through your current issues. 

Don’t compare yourself to others who have entered directly into the profession in a linear path.

Remind yourself that your unique, non-linear progression is just as valid and worthy. Librarianship attracts a healthy number of career-changers. Your life experience and exposure to different communities and ways of working will help you to stand out.  Imposter syndrome can sneak in when colleagues who entered the profession directly from college are rapidly climbing the promotion ladder–you will get there, too. Accepting your identity as a late-comer is important or you will forever feel behind. There’s no catching up and no need to. By focusing on your strengths and the merit of your work, you can build your confidence.

4. Exploring and innovating within your role to build confidence

One thing that Hannah and Deborah had independently found helpful was realizing that holding back and not going outside our comfort zone only exacerbated imposter syndrome or feeling less worthy. A great piece of advice we received was to focus on work that feels personally fulfilling and then direct your energy towards it, as much as your other work will allow. We’re cognizant that some roles in an academic library may not allow for full flexibility to choose projects, but in areas where you can experiment, it is useful to identify meaningful projects. When you feel invested in projects it helps build your confidence and allows you to talk about it, present on it or generally discuss it at meetings with enthusiasm. Gradually, your colleagues will start to recognize your specific area of expertise. This goes double for non-traditional roles, such as newly created positions that cover emerging areas of librarianship and evolving roles. 

Building a Community of Interest

If you found yourself entering academic librarianship as a second (or third, fourth, etc.) career and have had similar experiences and see yourself reflected in what you have read, please get in touch with us! We’re looking to build a community around these experiences and delve deeper into the question of how librarianship is influenced by career-changers and how career-changers are themselves affected by their switch. We’re hoping that this community can also serve as an informal support network for anyone who is feeling unmoored and wanting to better understand and grow their identity within academic librarianship. Academic librarianship is a rewarding career path that’s not without its challenges, and we hope that building a community of other career-changers can help enrich all of our experiences as we navigate this career together. 

On Being a New Librarian During a Global Pandemic

This post comes from guest Giovanna Colosi, who is the Education Librarian, Subject Instruction Lead at Syracuse University Libraries in Syracuse, NY  and Board of Trustee Member of Northern Onondaga Public Libraries.

I joined my university’s library in July 2018 as my first full-time library job post MLIS. It was a career change for me as I already had a successful 20-year career in student affairs. Like many other adult career changers, I chipped away at my second master’s degree while working full-time and raising a family. It was as much exhilarating as it was stressful.  I was proud of myself that in midlife, instead of having a crisis, I had an epiphany and changed the course of my career and life!

I had been working on getting assimilated in my new position, branching out and making connections to librarians across the country, started interesting projects, teaching classes, and overall, on my way to becoming a well-rounded librarian. Then a pandemic happened. Just as I felt I was hitting my stride; everything was put on pause for a bit while we all transitioned to a virtual world.

I have now been working from home since mid-March. I spend my days jumping from Zoom meetings, virtual classes, writing, researching, all while helping my daughter with virtual schooling and taking care of my toddler.  It is not uncommon for me to be juggling making lunch, trying to keep my toddler from scribbling on the walls and helping a Ph.D. on their dissertation. Suffice it to say, it has been a challenge.

As I continue to work during this pandemic, not only I am still learning best practices, taking courses, and developing my skills in teaching, collection development and leadership, I am also learning how to do it while being a single mom, working at home full-time, and trying not to feel guilty about not always having a spectacular day.  I have come to the realization that many of the strategies that helped me during the time I went back to school to obtain my MLIS are helping me now, so I wanted to share those insights with you.

Time Management/Organization: When I went back to school to obtain my MLIS I had to be uber organized. Having a day planner, color coordinated calendars, and a to-do list was a must. I find that being organized helps with some of the added stress we are all dealing with. I literally write EVERYTHING down. In the past I might have had better recall, something about working from home makes it more difficult for me, so I make sure to jot notes while in meeting, if I have an idea while changing a diaper, I make sure I jot that down as well. I then transfer those notes/ideas into one notebook where I can then reference back to it.

While in the past I kept 2 separate calendars, one for home, where things like orthodontist appointments and school recitals were kept, and my office calendar.  Since the lines have been blurred between work life and home life, I now have a combined calendar. I find it easier to manage my time this way.  I have learned to also schedule things other than meetings, for example everything from my exercise to writing or helping with homework, I have even been known to schedule showers! Having a dedicated “time” on my calendar other than just meetings both keeps me accountable and takes the guess work out of when I will have time to do things.  If it is written down, I will do them.

Self-Care: Going back to school was a difficult decision, especially because I was also working full-time and I was a non-traditional student (read, OLDER!) So, I needed to take care of my mental and physical health. I did lots of yoga and ran. During this time of social distancing, I have also begun practicing meditation, and while I cannot get out and run as often as I would like to, I take advantage of the virtual work-outs my gym provides. There are also tons of free resources on You-tube for workouts and relaxation.

Give yourself some grace: When I was in graduate school, I soon realized I could not do it all nor do it perfectly every time. I am a perfectionist so If I received an A- because I could not get to all the readings, I had to tell myself that it was ok. If I had to take a day off work because my child was sick, and I missed an important meeting, I had to tell myself it was ok. This was always a hard thing for me to grapple with and this continues to be a very difficult thing for me to do. Now, more than ever it is important that we cut ourselves some slack. We cannot always get everything done on our to-do list when we are home. Things will come up at home that just don’t come up on campus. Take a deep breath and realize that this is only temporary, even though it feels like the end is far away. I found having an open and honest relationship with my co-workers and supervisor has helped.  You may find when you talk to others, they are feeling the same way.

Social Connections: In graduate school I had very little free time for friends, but I always made time for them because I know without that connection, I can get down.I cannot stress enough how important social connections have been to me during this time. I have been very cautious since March and have switched up my routines.  I order groceries through a delivery service. I do not go out to restaurants but have food delivered.  I have not really seen many people socially.  I was feeling very isolated but decided to make a habit of talking to a friend every evening.  I also have organized virtual game nights and social hours for my family, and I have taken advantage of some virtual trivia and Bingo games online. When the days run into each other, I find it helps me to have something to look forward to, even if it’s just a group chat with some old friends. If you are feeling isolated, I found some ways to interact virtually through my local library. They have had many “real-time” online activities, like crafting, book clubs and exercise classes. Humans are social creatures, and while many librarians are introverted by nature, we all need social interaction.

These are some lessons I have learned. Although I could likely share more, my next Zoom meeting is starting and it is suspiciously quiet in the house, which is never a good sign with young children. I wish all of us at this time good physical and mental health, and hopefully we will be all where we love to be soon, in the stacks.

Virtual Holiday Parties

With the holidays starting, yet another surreal “I guess this is COVID” moment is upon us: we’re really going to go a whole December without office holiday parties? Did we ever think we would miss such a thing?

I have only worked in three libraries, but I have been fortunate enough to work in three libraries with amazing cooks and bakers. Missing out on a library potluck is a top ten COVID-year bummer for me. But we’ve gotten pretty good at this remote celebration thing, right? Here are some ideas for how to safely celebrate with your library staff (and maybe some of these will work for your family non-gatherings as well):

  • Games:
    • Many in-person games translate well to Zoom or other video chat platforms:
      • Pictionary (using the whiteboard feature)
      • Charades (no risk of accidental talking; just mute yourself!)
      • Trivia (use the hand-raising feature or chat to “buzz in”)
      • Scavenger hunt (pick items people are likely to have at home)
      • Themed hunt (for example, have people pull from their bookshelves at home the oldest book, longest book, book with a blue cover, etc., and compare your finds! Other themes might be the fridge, things within reach of where they sit when they work from home, or clothing.)
      • Online scavenger hunt (find pages/links/information instead of objects)
      • Name that tune (play instrumental versions over host’s mic)
      • Buzzword (each person gets a holiday-themed word; if you catch them saying it during the virtual get-together, they’re out!)
  • Contests:
    • Ugly sweater contest
    • Holiday costume contest (get elaborate, you don’t have to wear it in public!)
    • Gingerbread house contest (send out kits ahead of time)
  • Gift exchanges:
    • A virtual gift exchange (gift card codes, for example)
    • If everyone lives in the same area, arrange for them to pick up a gift from a local shop
  • Other activities:
    • Holiday playlist (share screen with audio sharing enabled)
    • Holiday photo booth (create your own props, interact Brady-Bunch style!)
    • Take an online class together, either live or a pre-recorded class
    • Recipe exchange: share what you would have brought to a regular potluck, or have a theme, like cookies

Keep these important considerations in mind when planning your celebration, some of which you should already consider when planning in-person, in-office celebrations, and some that are new this year:

  • Keep employees’ diversity in mind:
    • Know the dates of holidays you’re not familiar with; someone may be taking the day off to celebrate. Try to find a date everyone is available and that doesn’t conflict with other celebrations.
    • Be aware of holidays with food restrictions, like daytime fasting or abstaining from certain foods. It’s easier to not include food in a virtual celebration.
  • Keep employees’ privacy in mind:
    • While a tour of everyone’s holiday decorations sounds fun, not everyone will want to show you the inside of their home.
    • Remember to schedule your celebration during work hours, just as you would an in-office celebration.
    • Gift exchanges are nice, but some people may not be comfortable sharing their mailing address with colleagues.
    • If playing an online game together, choose one that doesn’t require the sharing of personal information to access it. Games that don’t have to be downloaded are preferable, too.
  • Keep employees’ needs in mind:
    • If you’re doing anything food-related, remember to consider allergies and dietary restrictions, as you would for an in-person potluck.
    • So many people are on their second, third, twentieth wind of Zoom fatigue. Don’t try to do all of these things; pick one or two and do them well.
    • Be considerate of everyone’s time: the party is over at the designated time.
    • December is a busy time for the whole family. Some employees may be caring for others who also are participating in holiday-related activities. Be understanding of those who can’t dedicate extra time and energy for activities like the suggested costume or gingerbread contests.

One last idea: Anecdotally speaking, I’ve heard several of my friends express that something they really miss about working in person together with their colleagues is the casual conversation time. Remotely, that’s something you have to carve out time for and decide to do, since you don’t bump into each other in hallways or stop at the desk or a doorway to chat. Maybe your staff would really just like to get together and have an hour of dedicated casual chat time?

Whatever you and your staff do, I hope you do it safely, comfortably, and happily, and that you get to do it in person for the 2021 holiday season.

Call for FYAL Bloggers

With the new academic year coming up soon (or perhaps, for some of you, already begun!), we’re looking to bring on a few new bloggers here at ACRLog. We’d like to thank our 2019-2020 FYAL bloggers Karina Hagelin and Yoonhee Lee for their terrific posts this past year in our First Year Academic Librarian Experience series. We’d also like to encourage new academic librarians — those who are just beginning in their first position at an academic library — to blog with us during their first year.

FYAL bloggers typically publish posts monthly during the academic year. If you’re interested in applying to be a FYAL blogger here at ACRLog, applications are due by Saturday, September 12. Send an email to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu that includes:

– a sample blog post

– a brief note describing your job and your interest in blogging at ACRLog

Proposals are evaluated by the ACRLog blog team. When selecting FYAL bloggers we consider:

  • Diversity of race/ethnicity/sexual orientation/ability
  • Voices from a range of academic institutions (for example, community colleges, research universities, etc.) and job responsibilities within academic libraries (for example, instruction, cataloging, scholarly communications, etc.)
  • Clear and compelling writing style
  • Connection between day-to-day work and bigger conversations around theory, practice, criticism, LIS education, and other issues

Please send any questions to aharrington@pennstatehealth.psu.edu. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!