“ALA must be a platform for participation and empowerment. My focus will be on creating an ethos of hospitality that welcomes all members and removes barriers to participation across the association. 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.”
(Lisa’s Candidate Statement: An Ethos of Hospitality)
As a candidate for ALA President, I’ve spoken repeatedly about my priority for fostering diversity and inclusion. I believe the issues we face are systemic. As systemic issues, they demand systematic solutions and collective action. Systematic and collective are exactly the kinds of things that an association should be able to do and I am ready to lead us in this work as ALA President.
We have serious issues in our field. Data from ALA shows that the number and percent of librarians from traditionally underrepresented groups has been in decline for years. Chris Bourg wrote a very informative blog post, The Unbearable Whiteness of Librarianship, on the lack of diversity in the profession and included thoughtful analysis of the recruitment efforts that we would need for the profession’s racial diversity to match that of the United States. The data are sobering.
I also believe – 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 workplaces of choice because they are workplaces of diversity, equity, and inclusion? If people choose libraries as their workplaces of choice, what environment do they find within those libraries? Do they find an environment that is supportive of their growth and development? An environment in which diversity and inclusion are central to mission and prioritized by administration? Or, do they find a hostile and threatening setting that drives them out of the profession?
We also need to acknowledge that, while the ranks of those who have an MLS are not as diverse as we want, many times the staff in our libraries are much more diverse in their composition. We need to ask ourselves some serious questions about why our diversity is concentrated in lower paid positions. We need to ask why there are a the lack of pathways from staff positions to librarian positions and whether we have structured a system that creates barriers and disincentives for a staff-to-librarian pathway. And, we must ask ourselves how we can change.
I admit that I do not have easy answers to offer. I have a lot of questions and I think that we have a lot of work to do. This work requires inclusive, honest, and sometimes bracing conversations. The ALA Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion has done a great job engaging the ALA membership in its work. I attended a session they hosted at the National Conference of African American Librarians last fall and was inspired by the discussion. The work of this task force has already raised awareness and laid the foundation for future action.
April Hathcock, who is running for ALA Council, is also doing great work to amplify conversations about diversity and inclusion through her blog At the Intersection. I also recommend Jennifer Vinopal’s essay, The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action, for understanding how privilege, bias, and power effect diversity and inclusion in our field. Her recommended practical steps for library leaders function as a strong call to action and engagement on these issues.
It is crucial that we also move from conversation to action. Figuring out the right action to take when so many have tried things that have not worked will be challenging. But, because there is so much energy waiting to be unleashed from people who are passionate about these issues, I am hopeful. I believe we are ready for deep engagement with some very big and long-standing structural problems within our society as well as within our profession and I would welcome the opportunity to support and foster that engagement as ALA President.
Finally, above all, as ALA President, I promise that I will listen. I will ask questions. I will engage. I know that cannot rely on my own privileged experience as my only guide. As ALA President, I promise to create space for diversity, to champion inclusion, and to dismantle exclusion. That is the Ethos of Hospitality that I will bring to the association.
Note: Though I have focused on racial and ethnic diversity in this essay, we have work to do with respect to other aspects of inclusion as well. As an example, while I’m pleased that ALA has charged a Conference Accessibility Task Force to look closely at ways to improve accessibility at conference, I also look forward to follow-on work that examines other barriers to participation in ALA for members with disabilities. I was disappointed that ALA did not include the onsite captions in the YouTube video of the Candidates Forum from Midwinter. I made a personal donation to Circulating Ideas to fund transcription of the podcast interview with all three president candidates because it is important to me that members with hearing disabilities have access to candidate information. My commitment to extending digital inclusion practices will also enable participation for people who are not able to travel to events. I am confident that there are additional strategies that would improve inclusion for members with disabilities and look forward to conversations on this topic as well.
[This post draws on the Q&A with the Black Caucus of ALA, my reflection on attending the National Conference of African American Librarians, my interview with Circulating Ideas podcast, my Candidate Statement, and a number of other Reflections blog posts. I’ve synthesized here but for easier reading did not make many referring links within the narrative. I’ve talked about these issues so often that almost every sentence could have more than one footnote!]