BCALA Asked and I Answered

The Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) asked the candidates for ALA President to answer a few questions in advance of attending their Membership Meeting at the ALA Midwinter Meeting. I greatly enjoyed attending BCALA’s National Conference of African American Librarians this past fall (my reflections) and look forward to our continued conversations.  I welcome questions from other ALA groups and members as well. Please be in touch!  Lisa

BCALA Questions/Lisa’s Answers:

  1. In what concrete ways can – and will – you support the equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives of the ALA, especially with respect to having greater representation of diverse voices “at the table” in leadership and decision-making roles?

Like many others, I look forward to the plan and strategic actions that are forthcoming from the ALA Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (http://www.ala.org/groups/task-force-equity-diversity-and-inclusion). The conversations that the Task Force has hosted as well as its other activities have already raised awareness and laid the foundation for future action. What we must do though is to actually take action. As ALA President, I will work to ensure that the report from the Task Force is a living document – one that drives change, inspires us to do better, and helps us find our way when we fail to live up to our goals. As ACRL President, I led an effort to create a new Strategic Plan for the division, which was then realized through alignment of resources, planning, and assessment. Equity, diversity, and inclusion deserve and will receive that same careful attention.

More concretely – let me refer to my Candidate Statement:

“Many in ALA have worked to identify and eliminate practices of exclusion; however, an ethos of hospitality requires more. We must also create and support practices of inclusion. It is not enough to remove barriers; we must also build bridges. We must intentionally create space for diversity to strengthen ALA as an inclusive and collegial community of practice.” (https://lisahinchliffe.com/2015/12/15/ethos-of-hospitality/)

As stated, I will charge my appointments committee to appoint at least one person who has not previously served on an ALA committee to each committee. I took this approach as ACRL President and welcomed many newer members of the profession into leadership positions and increased the diversity of committee membership. In addition, I have promised to commit funds to support practices for digital inclusion in order to bring all voices to the table for conversations, decision-making, and engagement. I cannot be satisfied with an association that only engages conference attendees.

Finally, above all, I will listen. I will ask questions. I will converse. I cannot rely on my own privileged experience as my only guide. As ALA President, I promise to create space for diversity and to champion inclusion. That is the ethos of hospitality I will bring to the association.

  1. How do you envision the ALA working more closely with the Ethnic Affiliates?  In what specific ways could there be greater collaboration?

I’m going to refer again to the ALA Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and its forthcoming recommended plan and strategic actions. Given ALA has this task force, I think role of the next ALA President is to champion the work of this group that has put in a great deal of time and effort to engage the membership, study the issues, and identify next steps. But, I will offer a thought for consideration – I think there is a great potential for greater collaboration between the Ethnic Affiliates and groups within the Divisions and Roundtables. I myself have served as a mentor in the ACRL Dr. E. J. Josey Spectrum Scholar Mentor Program (http://www.ala.org/acrl/membership/mentoring/joseymentoring/mentorprogram) – one mentee relationship is getting near to a decade long now. It would be great to see more engagement across ALA with the Ethnic Affiliates.

  1. Data from ALA shows that the number – and percent – of librarians from traditionally underrepresented groups (TUG) has declined over the past 10 years.  We recognize that there are fewer librarian positions now, but to what might you attribute the sharper decline in the number of TUG librarians, and what role should ALA play in trying to reverse that trend?

This is such a troubling trend. Chris Bourg, MIT Director of Libraries, wrote a very informative blog post on the lack of diversity in the profession (https://chrisbourg.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/the-unbearable-whiteness-of-librarianship/) and included thoughtful analysis of the recruitment efforts we would need for the profession’s racial diversity to match that of the United States. The data are sobering. But, I’m also concerned – based more on personal observation and conversations (since the research base is still developing on these topics) – that the profession also needs to look hard at issues related to retention. Librarians have skills that they can use in many different settings. Are we making certain that libraries are the workplace of choice because they are workplaces of diversity, equity, and inclusion? ALA has a useful guide on Recruitment for Diversity (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/diversity/workforcedevelopment/recruitmentfordiversity) – a companion piece on retention and another on diversity leadership would be most useful.

  1. As we examine the need for more diverse books, it has been commented upon that the awards committees within the divisions also lack a true understanding and appreciation of the diverse books that are being written for children of color. As President, what would you do to assist in ensuring that more than “one” person of color serves on committees such as the Newbery (15), Caldecott (15), Alex (9), Sibert (9), and the like.  (It should be noted that the Coretta Scott King award has at any given time 2-3 people serving who are not African American and it is only a 7-member committee).

As the question acknowledges, these are awards given by ALA Divisions or Roundtables, so the ALA President has little power to make changes directly. However, I believe that are opportunities to lead and influence on this issue and many others across the Association. As ALA President, I will meet regularly with the Division Presidents and other leaders who are elected this spring over the coming three years. In these meetings I will lead discussions of diversity and equity and challenge them to join me in creating an ethos of hospitality and inclusion. Under my leadership, I believe we can work together and support each other in developing more inclusive practices and strategies. Ensuring representative composition of award committees is important and a good example of the broader set of arenas where the ALA President can set a tone and an expectation of diversity and inclusion.

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