March 31, 2015

#acrl2015 reflection: experiences of academic librarians of color

Before #acrl2015 might become a blur, I wanted to reflect on the conference, and one session in particular, From the Individual to the Institution: Exploring the Experiences of Academic Librarians of Color with panelists Juleah Swanson, Isabel Gonzalez-Smith, Azusa Tanaka, Ione Damasco, Dracine Hodges, Todd Honma, and Isabel Espinal. You can find the Storify from the session here. I'm parsing my ideas together still, so apologies if this is a little messy...

One of the main takeaways from this session for me was that we need to stop framing diversity as a problem that needs to be solved, and that diversity is everyone's responsibility. This drives home the point for me even further that diversity and inclusivity research and other work should be woven into, and encouraged in, day-to-day work as well as in the tenure and promotion process. Something I wrote about over the summer was related to hiring for diversity and this panel made me think even more about the burden of responsibility we put on those who are diverse to do this work. We should all be doing this work, we should be doing this research as tied to our "regular" work. As Isabel Gonzalez-Smith noted during the panel, our students' diversity is skyrocketing, but diversity of librarians is crawling along at 0.5%. Why is that? If we're concerned with how people use our resources, how we do instruction, and the value of the library, shouldn't we be spending as much time on figuring out why we haven't been able to improve our diversity and how that affects our field and our constituents? I feel like I might still be framing it as a problem here, and it's a hard rhetoric to get away from, something that many of us could probably change our perspective on.

The other thing this panel made me realize is how we talk about diversity in regards to "types" of diversity. When we say we need "all types" of diversity equally, that brings to mind the conversation around #BlackLivesMatter vs #AllLivesMatter. It's this misconception that "colorblindness" affects positive change by imagining everyone as the same, when it winds up being detrimental by not acknowledging specific, very problematic issues. Here is a tweet for some context:














If we don't focus in on specific diversity and instead just lump it all together, we can't really address what we are lacking and what needs to change. And just saying finding people with "different viewpoints" is equivalent to diversity that speaks to systemic structures, such as racism, classism, sexism, etc. is problematic, particularly if these people with different viewpoints also happen to always be white males or white middle class white women. Of course, finding people with different perspectives is important, but it doesn't stand in for addressing other issues surrounding diversity.

The other thing we should be taking about is that diversity isn't a numbers game. Filling all the lower-level positions with diverse candidates still doesn't address who holds the power. There is a highly skewed percentage toward white men holding administrative positions, so even if we get the "right" number of diverse candidates, how does that change the culture?

And the last thing I want to touch on from this panel that really made me think was the idea of "institutional fit" that a couple panelists brought up. The fact that this nebulous idea of fit when we're looking for candidates can harm our moves toward diversity by discounting certain people who we don't feel are like us. And we can say that we really don't do that, but when we think of fit it winds up being people we get along with, or people who have a similar mindset to the institutional mindset already in place. It can reinforce hegemonic structures.

So I think we have a ways to go, but it's so heartening to see more critical sessions accepted at ACRL and that there is a bigger interest in talking about these things. I'm certainly still learning and thinking about what privilege I have, but I hope we can have these larger discussions with our institutions and as a profession.

--Check out the session link above for their list of resources / bibliography, and also see Gonzalez-Smith, Swanson, and Tanaka's chapter in The Librarian Stereotype: Desconstructing Perceptions and Presentations of Information Work. The Pho & Masland chapter might be of interest as well.