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.

Emerging as a Community-Engaged Librarian: Reflections on the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop

Context of the workshop

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate in the Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop (EESW), sponsored by the Engagement Scholarship Consortium. This workshop is meant for PhD students and junior faculty who consider themselves engaged scholars or aspire to be engaged scholars. For those who don’t know about engaged scholarship, just look up Ernest Boyer, he’s the guy around this topic. At its core, engaged scholarship is about academia collaborating with the local community to share and leverage expertise and ultimately, make social change.

The workshop is meant to give participants an inside scoop on the history and current context of the field, connect them with their peers and mentors, and in general, get jazzed around doing community engaged scholarship. All workshop participants brought in a community project, and we had several hours of dedicated mentor time to talk through these projects and make some strides forward. I decided to explore building a community of practice for the undergraduate interns at our library (more on that later).

I have been wanting to participate in this workshop for a few years now, mainly based on a recommendation from my graduate school mentor, Martin Wolske.  I’d say Martin was the one who showed me what community engaged scholarship could like for librarians. He did that through his day-to-day work as a community member and librarian and by bringing me on as a Community Ambassador for the grant, Digital Literacy for ALL Learners, where community-engaged scholarship was the first outside the class thing I did in graduate school.

Overall, the workshop, and corresponding conference, was great. I did learn a lot, found some new language to talk about my job, and connected with new people. While I made an initial stab at my thoughts post workshop on Twitter, below is an expanded version of what I took away from participating in EESW.

Questions of identity

The workshop was billed as a space for PhD students and junior faculty (me). PhD students outnumbered junior faculty at least 2-1, which was not usually the case at previous iterations of this workshop. I was also the only librarian at the workshop, which meant I got to have a lot of conversations about what I do and why I was a participant with EESW.

At times I felt a little out of place. As with any space where you’re the sole librarian, there are questions about what we’re doing in that academic space. Do we actually do scholarship? What does an LIS research agenda look like? Can we really achieve tenure? As expected, talking about my faculty status, my ability to achieve tenure, and my research interests was the way in, and I definitely opened up some eyes. I will say that this space was incredibly welcoming; I had thoughtful peers who wanted to ask questions about my job and share experiences they have had with their subject librarians. My assigned mentor, Diane Doberneck, was also amazing. She’s doing great work at Michigan State and had such insightful feedback for my project around building a community of practice.

This workshop also reminded me that I do know a lot, more than I give myself credit. For example, we spent one section of the workshop talking about the tenure process and how to write about engaged scholarship in your dossier. While some PhD students had never discussed what tenure looks like, I felt prepared for the conversations and actually made good strides on my dossier (draft due soon!). Or, in one of our mentoring sessions, we talked about frameworks that supported our community projects and I was able to share reading suggestions (like Dorothea Kleine’s Choice Framework and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s many articles on intersectionality). In those moments, I felt like a librarian, passing along information, while also showcasing a bit of my expertise.   

Where do I want to go? And why am I doing this work?

As the workshop progressed, a few questions kept popping up for me. The first was, “Where do I want to go with this work?” And that question was quickly followed by “Why am I doing this work?”

Bottomline, I want to be a community-engaged librarian scholar. In learning about librarianship, it has always been in relation to communities – the community of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, New York City, Urbana, IL, and now, Penn State. As a librarian, I do my job better when I listen, include, leverage, and support communities. Decisions about services, resources, and programs should be made with the community, not on behalf of the community. Communities can be vibrant, complex, come with a lot of baggage, embrace a rich history and traditions, or be ready for change. I love discovering all those threads as a librarian.

Furthermore, I see community engaged scholarship as a foundation of my research agenda. The work I’ve been doing as the Student Engagement Librarian has been building relationships, getting to know the various communities I engage with; these relationships will allow us to conduct meaningful research. To be a community-engaged librarian scholar means that understanding and working with communities not only drive forward my day-to-day, but influence and shape my research. Everything I do should be in service to or connected to the communities.

Finding the language and lingo

Recently, as my second-year tenure documentation due date looms, I’ve been low key freaking out. Some of the freak out was due to the me wanting to be intentional about how I build my dossier and the words I use to describe my work. I wanted to paint of picture that both my tenure colleagues AND my non-librarian colleagues can understand. This pressure, totally put on by myself, stopped me cold from getting some of that legwork for my dossier completed.

This workshop was exactly the push I needed to think about that language again. Our pre-readings and then workshop conversations highlighted how I could use community-engaged scholarship lingo to describe my work. I am grounded in community, and for me, I define and work mainly with communities connected to Penn State – undergraduate students, library student employees, undergraduate and student affairs professionals, and my Commonwealth library colleagues. I am hoping framing my work through a community engaged scholarship lens will resonate with others (we shall see!).  

What’s next?

Well, I have emerged as an engaged (librarian) scholar. I’m glad I had the opportunity to participate in the workshop and know those conversations will stick with me for the next few months. I would encourage others to consider applying and attending this workshop, especially for those who work closely with communities, in academia or with the local community. Does anyone else do engaged scholarship at your institution and if so, what does it look like? I’m always trying to find more community engaged librarians!  


Featured image by Park Troopers on Unsplash

Finding My Voice

Editor’s Note: We welcome Emily Hampton Haynes to the ACRLog team. Emily is a Reference and Education Services Librarian at Hood College of Maryland. Her research interests include information literacy, pedagogy, and outreach.

After grad school and learning on the job, I have been trying to ease into the discourse of our profession. One big step for me was to co-present a session at a local library conference (TCAL in Maryland). Our session was called Self-Care Isn’t Selfish: How Mindfulness Practices Can Benefit Librarians and Library, and discussed how mindfulness can improve an employee’s workplace wellbeing and performance, particularly in fields requiring emotional labor. Presenting at my first conference was an incredibly satisfying experience, from the support of the conference committee to presenting with a colleague I have a lot of chemistry with. But there was one takeaway I hadn’t expected: the feeling of having a voice in librarianship.

I’ve been to several conferences during and since library school, and I walked into them with wide eyes and the expectation that I’d be meeting loads of library folks between sessions and during meals. Up until TCAL, I’d exchanged as many business cards as I’d had meaningful conversations (zero). What was that about? Was it me, that I couldn’t overcome the shyness I wear comfortably, like an oversized sweater? Was it that conferences take a lot out of people, and most of us just want to check our phones (aka refresh Library Twitter) and drink water between sessions? Or was it something else?

Scholarship as a Conversation, has always been the ACRL information-literacy frame that resonated with me most. I was introduced to the Burke metaphor my third year of undergrad, in a literary criticism class. To hear as a 20-year-old that I am in conversation with Brontë critics (and maybe even Brontë herself) was a shift in mindset that transformed the rest of my time as an English major. And it took about two and a half years on the job to feel that same shift as a librarian.

Growing professional confidence seems to have come to me in stages: first, I had to understand the lay of the land at my first job. Then I learned to connect the day-to-day responsibilities with the theories and values I’d studied in library school. Following library listservs, bloggers I respect, and formal library research was a way to listen and learn. And the process of researching, proposing, and presenting a talk was the next major step. I entered the parlor, I listened for a while, and I contributed my own thought to the “unending conversation.”

TCAL was so welcoming largely because it was a local academic library conference designed to facilitate that warm conversation between peers. But I’d attended TCAL a previous year, and I’d perched on the edge of my chair and spoke very little – not even to ask questions. The difference for me this year was great: I felt like I had a seat at a table I didn’t realize was too tall for me before. Moving through a space as Someone Who Has Something To Say shifted my sense of belonging, and for the first time I experienced the satisfaction of real participation in my field. And that was thrilling.

The sensation of having a voice unlocks new thresholds of confidence in me. Until I stepped into the classroom, I didn’t think I could teach students only a few years my junior. Until I submitted a proposal to a conference, I didn’t think it would be accepted. Until I spoke in front of colleagues, I didn’t realize I was part of a larger professional community. I believe it could be the same for you. Until you try it out, you may not realize that you have a voice here. Join the conversation.

Responding to Communities in Crisis

Charlottesville and the University of Virginia have been in the news a lot recently. In Summer 2017, a series of white supremacist rallies took place in Charlottesville, culminating in the August 2017 Unite the Right rally which erupted in violence between counter-protestors and the white supremacists. In 2014, UVA was the focal point of a conversation about sexual assault on campuses after an article in Rolling Stone detailed, and later retracted, a story titled “A Rape on Campus.” A few years before, UVA’s president was forced out by the board and later reinstated, resulting in national conversations about the future of higher education centered around the scandal at UVA. While it wasn’t specific to our institution, some also viewed the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath as a community crisis, since it was traumatizing for many people and resulted in local conflicts.

In light of this recent string of traumas, and our lack of clarity about what to do when they occur, my colleagues and I wanted to start a conversation with other academic librarians about how we can respond when our communities are in crisis. A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to travel to Knoxville, Tennessee for the Library Collective Conference, where we facilitated a roundtable discussion centered on crisis response in libraries informed by our own experiences as librarians at UVA.  I’ve been in Charlottesville for 14 months, so I was only personally present for the events of August 2017. I am very grateful to the colleagues I worked with on this session, Maggie Nunley, Paula Archey, Erin Pappas, and Jeremy Boggs, who were able to speak about their experiences at UVA during each of these events.

While Charlottesville has been the locus of a lot of national attention, campuses all over the country are dealing with crises in their local communities and the impacts of national events. We wanted to make this session an opportunity for people to talk about whatever type of incident they feel most impacted by or worried about, so we organized participants by type of institution and asked each group to choose a type of scenario they wanted to discuss.  We asked participants to consider a series of discussion questions related to their incident, taking into account institutional, personal, and collegial levels of response. After discussing and writing down their ideas, each group arranged their thoughts in an incident response matrix. An example of the matrix, which we filled out using August 12th as an example, is pictured below.

This outlines our imagined ideal response. The actions we actually took are highlighted.

We created this matrix after reflecting on our own response to the rallies in August 2017. Of all the events we discussed, this was the one we felt the most prepared for. The Library, in collaboration with the University, was planning to host a day of reflection and conversation on the day of the rallies, with speakers, discussions, film screenings, and a community potluck. Around noon, the governor called a state of emergency and the events had to be canceled, although the Library was kept open. While we had prepared an institutional pedagogical response, it became clear that we were not prepared on other levels. For example, we weren’t clear on our gun policy and there was confusion about whether or not weapons were allowed inside building on campus. Since then, we’ve clarified our policy, and signs have been posted outside buildings to clarify that guns are not allowed in our libraries. While it’s obviously impossible to prepare for every possibility, in hindsight, it may have been helpful to consider these different levels of response prior to that weekend’s events in order to fill some of the gaps.

We also asked participants to consider the constraints that might prevent them from achieving the ideal scenario outlined in their response matrix.  It will probably be no surprise to hear that participants had a lot of constraints to share, ranging from the constraints most libraries face all the time, like lack of resources, to more complicated problems of emotional labor, legal issues, power imbalances, and fear. Conversations like this one can be hard to have, because constraints vary so widely by institution and individual person, but it was interesting to hear the roadblocks that different people experience in trying to align their personal values with their professional responses. As each group reported out about their chosen scenarios, responses, and constraints, we asked them to also share actionable takeaways their group had generated.  The conversation constellated around a few key needs, which I hope library administrators may take into consideration as they think through these same issues:

  • To feel empowered to respond by administration without fear of retribution or judgement.
  • Proactive policies and procedures for crisis response.
  • Frequent trainings for library staff.
  • Space to reflect on and share experiences.

While there are no right answers to a lot of the questions we discussed, this session made it clear that many of us feel unprepared in the face of crisis and that there’s a lot of interest in starting these types of conversations. I appreciate everyone who shared their insights with us and hope it will be part of an ongoing conversation about how we can support our communities and colleagues while practicing self care during times of crisis.

Going to ACRL Immersion 2017: Reflection and more reflection.

First, I do apologize for the late blog, but I wanted some days to collect my thoughts.

A couple of months ago, I found that I had been accepted to the Teacher Track for ACRL Immersion. This program was to take place in Burlington, Vermont. Last Sunday, I arrived and the program concluded last Friday. I have had some days to think about the last week, what I learned, what I need to do, and how I need to do it. There were so many things about Immersion that I could focus on, but instead, I will list what I learned (or didn’t).

  • The theme of the week was transformation and reflection. I had colleagues who had gone to Immersion many years ago and they told me that I needed to be prepared, because it would be a transformative experience. I agree, but my whole self (body and mind) was not completely transformed. Instead, I found myself thinking back and forth about an idea or concept and then being left with either a clear idea or continuing to be baffled. I would reflect about certain things during and outside of Immersion, which brings me to the next point.
  • I found that like Jon Snow, I know nothing.
  • Wait, maybe I do. A lot about what you thought about your teaching will be challenged. You will definitely doubt yourself, but that’s what the week is for. You’re there to doubt, reflect, hopefully transform your ideas, and reflect again (you’ll find that reflection is a huge thing at Immersion).
  • I learned that everyone has a different assessment technique and activity. I found myself pretty excited to take these ideas to American University Library. For those of you who know me, you know that I was not a huge fan of assessment…but I have clearly changed my ways.
  • The activities, exercises, and discussions that we did throughout the week, are meant to not only challenge the way you teach, but to look at things in a different light. For example, I know myself and a couple of other participants were definitely challenged when it came to active learning. Just because you have your students do some type of movement while in class, does not mean that it’s active learning. I know that might be a “duh” for some people, but definitely not for me. It is something I am still reflecting on.
  • I was comforted to know that some people at Immersion share the same insecurities I do. Whether it’s about teaching or being a librarian.
  • Through informal and casual conversations with other librarians at Immersion, I found us discussing some struggles we share or have. Whether it’s struggles with being a librarian, teaching, or other frustrations, it was clearly topics that we simply cannot share with our colleagues back at our own institutions.
  • No one leaves the program suddenly transformed into the “perfect teacher.” I do not believe that is the point of the program. What is the point, is gaining a new set of understanding, comprehension, reflection, and motivation of the topics taught at Immersion.

On a personal note, knowing I was coming to Immersion was exciting because I lived in Burlington when I was a child. It had been 20 years and Immersion gave me the opportunity to come back. I was in awe over how much the town had changed and kept asking myself, “how could my parents ever leave such a beautiful town.” They had their reasons, but it was a delight to have great Immersion faculty, great Immersion participants, and a great space to share ideas, thoughts, doubts, and breakthroughs.

I was also able to have breakfast with my first grade teacher and so that was the cherry on top of a great week. Until next time, Burlington.