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2019 ACRL President's Program

Discussion, information, and additional resources for the 2019 ACRL President's Program. Opinions expressed by blog authors are their own and do not express the views or opinions of their employers or of ACRL.

“It’s not me, it’s you”: The Problem of Retention in Librarianship

by Hallie Clawson on 2019-02-25T07:00:00-06:00 | Comments

This week's post comes from Kellee E. Warren, Assistant Professor and Special Collections Librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Learn more about our guest authors on our Featured Authors page.

Imagine an African American library and information science (LIS) graduate student working at the main reference desk of an academic library. Now imagine that over a two-year period this student witnesses four African American and other librarians of color decamp from the library. Between 2014 and 2016, that African American LIS student was me.

 

My career began at a community college library and I am now in my fourth year as an information professional, in my dream position as an assistant professor and special collections librarian. In those four years, I have consistently navigated microaggressions and intellectual violence.

 

Between 2014 and now, there have been incidents of Black LIS students having law enforcement called to have them removed from academic and public libraries. In an even more extreme case at a public library, there was a long-term conspiracy to terminate an African American librarian’s position. There are also complexities inherent in some public library open meeting room policies, where white nationalist groups would not be easily identified as racially exclusionary, but a Black Lives Matter group would.

 

These examples do not present libraries or archives as desirable spaces for the marginalized to work. Furthermore, early career professionals of color with various marginalized identities experience hostility from co-workers — specifically microaggressions — that take an emotional and physical toll.1 When public libraries invite hate groups in, they expel LIS students or professionals who identify as Black, Indigenous, or other people of color (BIPOC). The culmination of these experiences leads to a lack of retention in the profession.

Libraries and archives have proactively created incentives and diversity programs such as the Minnesota Institute for Early Career Librarians, ALA’s Emerging Leaders and Spectrum Scholarship programs, ARL/SAA Mosaic Scholarships, and academic residency programs hosted at myriad universities and colleges — the list is long. These programs have seen many BIPOC students graduate into professional positions and take on leadership responsibilities in the field. Professional organizations also provide membership opportunities for students and early-career professionals to gain valuable experience serving on committees, taking on leadership roles, providing professional expertise to their communities, or writing scholarly articles or blog posts (like this one!). However, there are critiques of this structure as well.2

Along with the inherent instability of a temporary position, academic residency programs rarely provide a structured career plan outside of the one-to-three years offered to the new professional. Usually, there is a requirement to move, sometimes across the country. New professionals are often introduced to the entire library in the first year, and then there might be a possibility of working in a specialized area for the last part of their program. In some cases, BIPOC librarians observe white veteran librarians mentoring white new professionals, while residents of color are left on their own to navigate an unfamiliar and unwelcoming work environment.

Our professional organizations and institutions are now well practiced in the corporate language of diversity, while still maintaining the status quo.3 BIPOC librarians are aware that we are often hired to introduce equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) to the library or archives. We are hired with no political capital or resources and are required to serve as exemplars of whatever group we are supposed to represent. This puts additional labor on these vulnerable individuals, straining their ability to succeed in their workplace and inhibiting their desire to stay at the institution.

We are exhausted from conversations about diversity. These conversations take us away from our work. We want leadership to listen to us, believe us, and advocate for us. You cannot come up with creative solutions without listening to the very people that you have hired for EDI — it is a critique that I offered in my first scholarly article, “We Need These Bodies, but Not Their Knowledge.” Listening should then lead to action.4

Solutions to address the problem of retention must come from leadership and administration: policy, vision and mission statements, professional development opportunities, and training.5 It simply cannot be a one-shot compulsory diversity training program or a series of uncomfortable conversations that involve and rely upon BIPOC librarians. These actions inevitably create resentment among white librarians, which can be directed toward us. That is: once you hire us, we need to be supported and protected.

In the long term, to actually increase retention, it is also necessary to move us into leadership positions — positions of power— where change happens. Recognize the leaders coming up behind you. Learn the difference between individuals who could use professional development programs in leadership, and those who simply need onsite guidance. This type of intelligence comes from talking to and learning about your BIPOC librarians.

 

In 2017, I presented on culturally sustaining pedagogy (CSP) at a local information literacy summit in Illinois.6 As an instructional approach, CSP calls for the inclusion of different knowledge systems. After the presentation, an attendee requested more resources for this particular pedagogy. Like a good presenter, I provided a reference list, but I think that the librarian was seeking something more. So, I told her about a 2014 article I had recently read about 75% of white peoples’ networks being white. I continued to say that there are plenty of publications to read and learn from (see selected bibliography in this post), but what white library administrators and librarians need to do is to open up their personal lives to other types of people and diversity.

In Octavia Butler’s Dawn, the main character, Lilith, asks, “What will we be, I wonder?” Scholar Justice Lewis Mann argues that this question defines the concept of pessimistic futurism. “It reveals the impulse to look to tomorrow … but to do so with caution and care.”7 For now, I offer the concept of pessimistic futurism that many BIPOC LIS students and professionals already live by — hopeful for the future, with a heightened awareness of the present and past. Retention is an ongoing project that takes care and investment over time.

 

 

 

1Alabi, Jaena. "Racial microaggressions in academic libraries: Results of a survey of minority and non-minority librarians." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 41, no. 1 (2015): 47-53.
 

2Alston, Jason Kelly. "Causes Of Satisfaction And Dissatisfaction For Diversity Resident Librarians–A Mixed Methods Study Using Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory." (2017).

Hathcock, April. "White Librarianship in Black Face: Diversity Initiatives in LIS." In the Library with the Lead Pipe (2015). Accessed November 16, 2018.
 

3Wade, Cheryl L. "We are an equal opportunity employer: Diversity doublespeak." Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 61 (2004): 1541.
 

4Hankins, Rebecca, and Miguel Juárez. "Where Are All the Librarians of Color?: The Experiences of People of Color in Academia." (2015).
 

5Cooke, Nicole A. “Managing Diversity”. Information services to diverse populations: developing culturally competent library professionals. ABC-CLIO, 2016.
 

6Paris, Django. "Culturally sustaining pedagogy: A needed change in stance, terminology, and practice." Educational researcher 41, no. 3 (2012): 93-97.
 

7Mann, Justin Louis. "Pessimistic futurism: Survival and reproduction in Octavia Butler’s Dawn." Feminist Theory 19, no. 1 (2018): 61-76.

Selected Bibliography

Brown, Austin Channing. "I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World made for Whiteness." (2018).

Cooke, Nicole A. Information services to diverse populations: developing culturally competent library professionals. ABC-CLIO, 2016.

DiAngelo, Robin. White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Beacon Press, 2018.

Eddo-Lodge, Reni. Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People about Race. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018.

Ettarh, Fobazi M. "Black OR Queer?: Life at the Intersection." Hack Library School. https://hacklibraryschool.com/2013/11/19/black-or-queer-life-at-the-intersection/ (2013). Accessed November 17, 2018.

Fleming, Crystal Marie. How to Be Less Stupid About Race: On Racism, White Supremacy, and the Racial Divide. Beacon Press, 2018.

Hankins, Rebecca, and Miguel Juárez. "Where Are All the Librarians of Color?: The Experiences of People of Color in Academia." (2015).

Hathcock, April. "White Librarianship in Black Face: Diversity Initiatives in LIS." In the Library with the Lead Pipe (2015). Accessed November 16, 2018.

Oluo, Ijeoma. So you want to talk about race. Hachette UK, 2018.

Oud, Joanne. "Systemic Workplace Barriers for Academic Librarians with Disabilities." College & Research Libraries(2018).

Paris, Django. "Culturally sustaining pedagogy: A needed change in stance, terminology, and practice." Educational researcher 41, no. 3 (2012): 93-97.

Wade, Cheryl L. "We are an equal opportunity employer: Diversity doublespeak." Wash. & Lee L. Rev. 61 (2004): 1541.

Warren, Kellee E. "We Need These Bodies, But Not Their Knowledge: Black Women in the Archival Science Professions and Their Connection to the Archives of Enslaved Black Women in the French Antilles." Library Trends 64, no. 4 (2016): 776-794.


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