What We Can Be: An Ethos of Hospitality

2016-11-12 21.35.02.jpgToday I had the honor of being the invited speaker for the Alpha Chapter of Beta Phi Mu Annual Initiation and Luncheon Meeting at the School of Information
at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This is the same chapter that I was initiated into when I earned my Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science in 1994 and it was a moment of nostalgia to find my signature from that ceremony. It’s been a fulfilling life as a librarian since that time. I certainly never expected so much of what I’ve experienced since I signed my name in this book!

Below is the text of my remarks. I am grateful to all who have joined into the work of pursuing our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in libraries and confident that we can become what we hope to be.


“What We Can Be: An Ethos of Hospitality”
Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

As a community of practice, we have a shared responsibility to work together to improve our practice through learning together. This presentation will reflect on the concept of hospitality as orientating theme for personal and organizational development and what it means to “make space at the table” in pursuit of equity and inclusion in our field.

Thank you to Melody Allison, President of this Alpha Chapter of Beta Phi Mu, for the invitation to speak with you today and thank you to the iSchool for hosting us.

I extend my congratulations to those initiated into Beta Phi Mu here today.

You have much to be proud of in your achievements and we take collective pride in celebrating you.

Talks like this are funny things.

You propose a topic months in advance, in your current circumstances at the time, and then the day draws near and you come to know the specific circumstances.

I hadn’t thought at all about the fact that this would be the Saturday after the national elections when Melody contacted me last February.

At the time, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton were the nominees of their respective parties, in fact we had barely entered the primary season.

My mind was on a different election.

One in which I was a candidate for President-Elect of the American Library Association.

I knew that by the time we gathered here today I would either be the ALA President-Elect, or I wouldn’t be.

But, in either case, I knew that I would speak to the same issues that I was speaking to in my candidacy.

Those issues – diversity, equity, and inclusion – have taken on a heightened status in the intervening months in our nation.

Some of us woke on Wednesday to a world that feels less inclusive and less equitable.

Others woke with a hope that the exclusion they have felt in the past will be addressed.

All of us woke to an America that is having a serious conversation about what it is and what it will be.

What it can be. What we can be.

About 80 years ago, the phrase “all politics is local” was popularized by House Speaker “Tip” O’Neill.

Earlier this week at the Digital Library Federation Conference, Stacie Williams – self-described as “Librarian. Archivist. Editor. Essayist.” on her website – gave a keynote address titled “All Labor is Local.”

In it she eloquently and passionately reminded us of the materiality of our working conditions and the ways in which they foster justice, or injustice.

Equity, or inequality.

Inclusion, or exclusion.

My theme as a candidate for ALA President was “Colleagues Connecting Communities” and that phrases reflects what we do in our libraries and what we are for each other.

I want to be very clear that I am very proud of the work that we do together as colleagues, as a community.

We have a strong Code of Ethics that guides our practice.

We are an influential force in policy-making.

We engage important conversations around privacy and intellectual freedom.

We are leaders in using technology to advance access to information.

We take seriously the information and education needs of communities and create collections and services as creative as those found in any other sector and usually far more financially efficient.

We stretch our resources as far as they will go, and then a little bit further.

And, by joining together as a community of colleagues, within our own institutions and across institutional boundaries, we accomplish more than we can alone.

We raise the visibility of the impact that libraries have in our communities.

We challenge each other to innovate and transform our practices.

We support each other.

We are strong.

But, we can be stronger.

Libraries are one of our most important social institutions.

As former literature director of the National Endowment of the Arts, David Kipen, posited in the L.A. Times this week – the institution that just may save us? – “it’s … the public library.”

As much as I agree with Kipen, and want to agree with him, I also know that our libraries themselves are not always places of respite from exclusion and inequity.

As Safiya Noble, faculty in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California – Los Angeles, who earned her PhD in this very building in which we gather today, has documented … even our information tools themselves are places of misrepresentation, bias, and exclusion.

Now, it is absolutely true that many of us have worked to identify and eliminate practices of exclusion.

However, equity and inclusion requires more.

We must create and support new practices.

It is not enough to remove barriers; we must also build bridges.

We must intentionally create space for diversity to strengthen our libraries as inclusive and collegial communities of practice.

We need an ethos of hospitality.

As Vernã Myers, a nationally recognized expert on diversity and inclusion within law firms and law schools, wrote “Diversity Is Being Invited to the Party; Inclusion Is Being Asked to Dance.”

I want to thank Emily Knox, faculty here at the School of Information Sciences, for introducing to me Myers’ work through her recent interview with WILL/Illinois Public Media about inclusion at Makerspace Urbana.

The issues of inequality and exclusion we face in our libraries are systemic.

As systemic issues, they demand systematic solutions and collective action.

Systematic and collective are exactly the kinds of things that a community of practice can do, together.

We have serious issues in our field.

Data from American Library shows that the number and percent of librarians from traditionally underrepresented groups has been in decline for years.

Chris Bourg, the director of the library at MIT, 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 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.

April Hathcock, Scholarly Communications Librarian at New York University, is doing great work to amplify conversations about diversity and inclusion through her blog At the Intersection.

As I prepared today’s remarks I thought often about the fact that there are so many ways that I could fail or falter with this speech.

The stakes are high.

I take some solace in April’s observation that “You will learn from your mistakes … if you are serious about this work.”

I am very serious about this work.

If I make mistakes today, and if I’ve already made them, I’m sorry and I’ll keep trying to do better.

If you choose to tell me, I promise I’ll listen.

I’d also like to reflect on a piece by Jennifer Vinopal, recently appointed Associate Director for Information Technology in the Ohio State University Libraries.

In The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action, Jennifer gives us a basis for understanding how privilege, bias, and power affect diversity and inclusion in our field.

It is crucial that we move from conversation to action and Jennifer’s recommended practical steps for library leaders function as a strong call to action and engagement on these issues.

I think we need to particularly take heed to her “Brass Tacks for Library Leaders” and particularly her recommendation that “rather than just paying lip service to the concept of diversity, include diversity initiatives in the library’s strategic plan and then make time and provide support for staff to accomplish them.”

Make time.

Provide support.

Accomplish them.

Admittedly, figuring out the right action to take when so many have tried things in our profession that have not worked will be challenging.

If I might, I’d like to offer three specific changes we can make in our work settings.

First, hire for competency, not years of experience or educational attainment.

There is more than one pathway to developing competence.

Too many job ads reflect only a particular way and taking that path may not have been possible for certain people, or it may have been filled with barriers.

Second, identify performance goals and reward achievement.

This, by the way, means tasking managers/leaders with diversity and inclusion as performance goals.

Not effort – achievement.

Finally, conduct exit interviews for everyone employee who leaves your organization, by a third party, not the employee’s supervisor.

Again, this work will be challenging.

It will not be easy.

We will have to work hard.

We may learn things about our organizations that disappoint, even anger, us.

But, because there is so much energy waiting to be unleashed from people who are passionate about and committed to these issues, I am hopeful.

I believe we are ready for deep engagement with some very large and long-standing structural problems within our society as well as within our profession.

We can engage what Bethany Nowviskie, Director of the Digital Library Federation, has termed an “ethic of care.”

This is our opportunity.

It is our opportunity to create a seat at the table, to ask people to dance.

In doing so, we can be our best in creating the library environment that we promise to our communities.

As Jenica Rogers, Director of Libraries and Applied Learning at the State University of New York at Potsdam, said in a blog post this week titled An Open Letter to My Community, “speaking in my role as librarian, freedom of information is a tenet of my profession that drives my commitment to what we do.”

She continued, “But further, as an educator I have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable in my community, ensuring that they have a safe space to pursue their education. So that means preventing and addressing bias, discrimination, and harassment … we’ll be focusing on ensuring our libraries are safe and welcoming to all members of our community, and educating our students about freedom of speech, freedom of information, the role of the State vs the role of the individual, and the powers and pitfalls of all of the above. That is my job. That is my purview.”

This is our end – freedom of information and access for our communities.

An ethos of hospitality that pursues equity and inclusion is our means.

Unfortunately, I did not get elected to the Presidency to which I aspired.

But the ALA Presidency was not my purpose.

My purpose was the work.

The work of becoming a better library community of practice and the work of creating better libraries for our communities.

During my time as a candidate I had an opportunity to talk with many library workers around the country.

Each person who shared their story gave me an amazing gift – the opportunity to learn from their experiences.

I heard some wonderful stories about how librarianship is a community that nurtures and supports its members.

Unfortunately, I also heard many stories from people who feel alienated from their work and who shared their pain at being disconnected from their community of practice.

I ended my experience as a candidate with the conviction that we have a lot of work to do if we are going to achieve our vision of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

And, candidly, I will admit that I am disappointed that ALA hasn’t issued a statement this week – affirming libraries as spaces of intellectual freedom and free speech as well as welcome and inclusion for all members of our communities.

I think we can do better.

I think our library workers and our user communities deserve better.

As I conclude, I am going to turn to you who were inducted today.

Today we honor you for your distinguished achievement in your library and information studies.

I am proud to have you as colleagues in my community of practice, in librarianship.

But also today – I am going to ask you to choose to join me in building up our community, in furthering our goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In our libraries, with our colleagues, and for our communities.

Whatever your purview in the work that you do, today and throughout your career, challenge yourself to not just do your work but to do it with an ethos of hospitality.

You have the opportunity to intentionally create space at the table and the privilege of being able to invite people in.

Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s