A Report from the National Diversity in Libraries Conference 2016

By Amber Mathewson

I had the great pleasure of attending the National Diversity in Libraries Conference, hosted on the beautiful UCLA campus August 10–12, 2016. I was invited to this conference to participate in a panel as a partner with the University of Arizona’s Knowledge River program. Our portion of the panel, titled Leading by Example: A Look at Successful LIS Diversity Initiatives, focused on the success of the Knowledge River program. NDLC is more focused toward the academic library so it is not a conference that has been on my radar. However, I found the content of the conference to be quite apropos to the public library as well.

The keynote address by Lakota Harden set the tone for the conference. Ms. Harden reminded us that every time we come together it is a sacred act, and that we must acknowledge both our similarities and our differences: “getting back to our humanity where everyone has a purpose, everyone has someone to love and everyone has power.”

In the session Services and Studies to support First-Generation College Students, university programs looked at how first-generation college students obtain information and their information seeking strategies when compared with students whose parents have attended college. The survey revealed that the questions that students ask are not significantly different between the two groups; however, first-generation students do not seek information as often from family members. One university is investigating the possibility of a personal librarian assigned to their first-generation students to help them navigate their information needs. They also found that connecting with individual university cultural centers helped them to connect with more first-generation college students. This session made me think about the ways that public libraries could help college and university libraries with outreach opportunities as well as collaborate on helping all students find success in their college life.

Recruiting and Retaining a Diverse Workforce: Challenges and Opportunities was a workshop that discussed the ways in which even in our “diversity efforts” we have embedded whiteness in the process. Several references were made to the article by April Hathcock that was published in The Library with the Leadpipe entitled White Librarianship in Blackface.

In the session Macro Impact of Microaggression: Exploring Microaggressions in Librarianship, participants explored microagrressions, which are described as the brief, daily, hostile, derogatory, or negative interactions experienced by a non-dominate person or group. Presenters encouraged participants to engage in microactivism or microaffirmations, which are the small ways in which non-dominate groups or their allies can begin making a cultural shift. This was an extremely interactive session that got groups talking and making small folded books to take home.

Creating a Sustainable Plan for Diversity and Inclusion covered the process of one university to address diversity within the organization and make a plan to move forward. A big takeaway from this program is that supporting and increasing diversity and inclusion is everyone’s responsibility. It can’t be left to a diversity committee without support of leadership and without communication and vision from all staff members.

Maybe We’re the Problem, Bias, Blindspots and the Politics of Experience talked specifically about all the ways in which individuals have/experience privilege including, race, gender, ethnicity, sex/orientation, religion, ability, age, citizenship, social class and education. Groups were encouraged to look at how identity connects to privilege, which affects access and ultimately leads to a person’s influence. We were challenged to think about how we are using our privilege to affect change – use our powers for good!

Electronic Accessibility: Barriers and Bridges focused on the process of conducting a usability audit for electronic resources and one university’s creation of an instructional toolkit to look at accessibility as well as advocating for accessibility.

Information Literacy through Different Lenses was a joint session in which one presenter discussed how she has used Instagram and #blacklivesmatter as study in visual literacy. The second presenter talked about her library’s program of using Human Books to create open dialog on diversity issues. These were both very different and yet very compelling in creating community conversation.

The closing keynote session was a dialog between Chris Bourg and April Hathcock, where each asked the other questions regarding their own experiences with regard to privilege and bias. They discussed how libraries really are not neutral places. We do take a stand to be inclusive and that is not passive or neutral. They reminded us that no one is perfect but that we cannot be paralyzed by guilt or discomfort. We were reminded to learn what we are afraid of, and to acknowledge that we do mess up and that either we are working for freedom of everyone or freedom for no one.

The entire conference was one thought-provoking session after another. This gathering of 400 people was inspiring as well as challenging. Once you see, you cannot un-see injustice, inequity, or bias, and if you cannot un-see, you must act. There are things each of us can do within our realm of control. Small changes can lead to big ideas such as this National Diversity in Libraries Conference. Be on the lookout for this conference in the future.

Amber Mathewson is AzLA President, and Deputy Director, Pima County Public Library.

1 Comment

  1. Louis Howley says: Reply

    Thank you for this insightful article.

Leave a Reply