Monday, May 18, 2020
Response to the World of Covid-19
Racial diversity in librarianship is important because libraries and archives are responsible for maintaining the accuracy of the historical and cultural records of society as a whole -- not just one group. It is essential that the fundamental organizations responsible for the creation, selection, preservation, and dissemination of knowledge that reflects the diversity of the society that they seek to serve. Unfortunately, the reality in North America is that minority librarians face challenges in the profession, and a recently retracted editorial by a Dean of Libraries really hit home when his racist-laden rant was somehow published in a (now less) reputable journal.
Although I'm a librarian of diversity, my professional expertise was not set on diversity in libraries. I didn't start off my career with it as part of my professional agenda. I was interested in issues related to social justice, but it wasn't until I started my career in this field that I realized I needed to be involved. A profession that doesn't reflect its users is not healthy, especially one that serves the public. I'm afraid while most in our profession recognize this homogeneity, its colonial history is unlikely to change in our lifetime. This presentation speaks to me as a BIPOC. In my own reflection, I will add three main themes that visible minority librarians and workers face in the profession:
(1) Isolation – There’s certain isolation when it comes to discussing topics such as race and discrimination. Rhonda Fowler has discussed her experiences of isolation. “I felt that most of my colleagues wanted a pleasant working environment, and really didn’t understand what I was talking about because it had not happened to them.” According to Peggy Johnson, “libraries do hire diverse librarians but they want you to conform to the dominant culture. If you don’t conform to the culture, then you might have experienced that they don’t understand.”
(2) Implicit Bias - The importance of reducing implicit bias in the workplace cannot be overstated. Implicit intergroup bias has far-reaching negative effects in many organizational domains, including, but not limited to, selection, retention (including compensation and promotion issues), teams-related issues, general work environment, and worker self-esteem and well-being. “Micro-invalidations” as it’s labeled – the act of dismissing what is actually experienced by the minority individual. “Oh, you’re too sensitive” or “That’s not what I meant” comments are rarely helpful, and often and deliberately sidesteps the uncomfortable discussion.
(3) Exclusion – Minority librarians also have vulnerabilities when it comes to collaboration. Rhonda Fowler laments how in her twenty-five-year career as an academic librarian only one non-minority librarian approached her for collaboration on scholarship. This experience of exclusion is well-documented in academic research, and discrimination has revealed that members of different social groups tend to mostly collaborate with in-group members which diminish the diversity of social networks.
Maya Angelou's quote "When you know better, you do better" is so apt in our times. I'm afraid there are no easy answers (or any at all) to what can be done. I don't want to navel-gaze at the problem, it's too complex to solve on paper like a mathematical formula, but I wonder if the reason why librarianship languishes in identity crises (on topics such as the MLIS degree, titles, accreditation) is really a result of this colonial framework of groupthink. Included are some resources below that can better inform us and for further reading.
“2018 Census of Canadian Academic Librarians” by CAPAL – Canadian Association of Professional Academic Librarians [Link]
“Aboriginal and Visible Minority Librarians: Oral Histories from Canada” a book edited by Maha Kumaran and Deborah Lee [Link]
“Identifying the visible minority librarians in Canada: A national survey” by Maha Kumaran and Heather Cai [Link]
Mary Kandiuk – Librarian at York University – “Promoting Racial and Ethnic Diversity among Canadian Academic Librarians” [Link]
“Where Are All the Librarians of Colour?” book by Rebecca Hankins and Miguel Juarez [Link]
"Asian American Librarians and Library Services" edited by Janet Clarke, Raymond Pun, and Monnee Tong [Link]
"Racing to the Crossroads of Scholarly Communication and Democracy: But Who Are We Leaving Behind? – In the Library with the Lead Pipe" by April Hathcock – [Link]