July 6, 2014

Hiring and retaining diverse talent by supporting risk

Image via http://fvckthemedia.com/issue25/the-end-of
We are hiring (soon)! Let me preface this post with the fact that I have little power: by way of not being a supervisor, not being a hiring committee member, and furthermore, not yet having tenure. However, the UA Libraries is a collaborative atmosphere, and since we are going to be hiring a number of new positions (including 2 positions on my team, the Research and Instruction Department, name subject to change), we are all invited to contribute content for the position description and our wording on diversity. My library does have a commitment to diversity and we do have current wording we typically use in our job posts--diversity meaning both underrepresented groups including POC, and also diversity relating to mindset and lived experience. Likewise, I have felt through being interviewed myself for my job and participating in others' interviews more recently that we do seek out risk takers and creative thinkers. But as I think more about what hiring for diversity means at my institution, I wanted to work my thoughts out on how we as a profession overall could improve our efforts because clearly we need to do more.

The book I just finished editing with Miriam Rigby, The Librarian Stereotype: Deconstructing Perceptions and Presentations of Information Work with ACRL Press (read chapter 1 and the foreword as an OA PDF here) discusses implications of our stereotypes and how they negatively impact the collective profession, by way of lower status, pay, and diversity. The more our stereotypes stick around, the more negatively they impact efforts to increase diversity; and the more difficulty we have in increasing diversity, the more our stereotypes are perpetuated. A lack of diversity in librarianship harms everyone. Isabel Gonzalez-Smith, Juleah Swanson, and Azusa Tanaka examine this in greater depth for librarians of color in chapter 7 of the book; and Annie Pho and Turner Masland reflect on diversity and activism pertaining to all underrepresented groups in chapter 12. The authors, as well as many of us, question: why have so few efforts made an impact?

A couple ALA sessions inspired greater thinking for me. As there are many dimensions to increasing diversity within librarianship, I'm going to take a narrow focus to the issue at large. I attended Nicole Cooke, Robin Fogle Kurz, and Safiya Noble's amazing #alaac14 session, Power, Privilege, and Positionality: Applying a Critical Lens to LIS EducationThe panelists described the struggle they have faced with their scholarship, as it has been viewed as controversial, where they have dealt with roadblocks in support, tenure, and even the ability to present at ALA conferences. Although this session discussed what needs to be done in library schools to encourage greater diversity in the field and greater diversity of thought/more radical thought in the classroom, points can be applied to hiring from the institution's perspective. Some snippets from Twitter:
The expectation for this research and action should not fall solely on LIS professors, but all of us. It should be an expectation for practicing professionals as well. One thing that might attract and keep more diverse talent is encouragement to research, teach, and implement more critical approaches to librarianship that the presenters discussed.

In also attending another session at ALA, Introduction to Women's Issues: The Staff Potluck, organized by the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship (COSWL), Social Responsibilities Round Table Feminist Task Force (SRRT/FTF), and ACRL's Women and Gender Studies Section (ACRL/WGSS), the question arose of why did only 15(ish) of us show up? Of course it's a big conference with a lot going on at once, but it's always such a small group at these discussions. TBH, I haven't attended one in awhile, myself. But I made the point that it's a risk to attend. This type of work is not always valued at institutions, and it would be more plausible for people to attend a session on assessment or discovery systems, for example, than these types of sessions. Until our institutions explicitly value this type of thinking, talk, and action, we will continue to have a small number of individuals able to commit to these issues.

I live in a questionable state--AZ--when it comes to taking a more radical stance on issues. Our campus is generally liberal-leaning, even recently expanding the transgender studies program, but we are still funded by the state. I'm even a little nervous about writing this post since I'm still just assistant faculty. And I know much of the research I have done recently related to the book (linked above) sort of counts toward tenure, but not really. Where one chooses to devote their efforts is a risk in itself.

So this brings me to how hiring could change for libraries to attract and retain diverse talent. I think explicitly stating in the job ad that not only is the library committed to seeking out and hiring diversity, but also that the library is committed to retaining diverse talent by supporting (or even advocating) the risks these individuals may take would make an impact. Will the library step up if these new hires engage in potentially controversial research? Will the library encourage new hires to take risks and integrate critical pedagogy into library instruction (for example)? Will the library overall agree that these sorts of activities are positive things that will improve campus, student learning, and the field as a whole?

We as librarians are certainly not neutral as the presenters, and others writing about critical librarianship, have expressed, so instead of supporting the status quo by remaining silent (silence = consent), we should make a concerted effort to change the power structures within libraries and our campuses. Of course this goes for all--not only new hires. For those of us hiring in locations where more diverse individuals might not have instant attraction, if we could demonstrate an even higher level of support for actions and thought comprised of what we say the profession needs, we can better support those we seek to recruit.

(And if these sorts of topics interest you, please join us for #critlib chats on Twitter where we discuss critical discourse and action in libraries typically within critical pedagogy, but expanding to the library as a whole.)

Thanks to colleagues for reading over this post before I published! If anyone out there is at an institution with diversity hiring language along the lines of support for scholarship and service within more critical topics, I would love to see a copy as we solidify our position descriptions. Or please post here as a comment and share with everyone.

No comments:

Post a Comment