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ACRL/NY Conference on December 4, 2015

radical

This year's conference was on Social Responsibility, Democracy, Education and Professionalism. Linda Miles is the current ACRL/NY president, and Carrie Marten and Gina Levitan were the symposium's co-chairs. However, Starr Hoffman started off as the committee chair, and she also hosted a panel discussion. I was on the symposium committee, and it was an incredible experience. The conference took an interesting turn, in that it became a conversation about diversity, and many things were mentioned at conferences that I do not usually hear much about, such as queer theory, hiring people with disabilities, and corporate bullying. 

Chris Bourg and Lareese Hall: The Radicalism Is Coming From Inside the Library

Bourg is the director of the MIT libraries, and Hall also works at MIT. Bourg has only been at MIT for ten months, but she was impressed by the management's receptivity to her preferred management style. She would like to make MIT into a feminist library, which entails not abusing management power in order to enact change. She prefers a more collaborative approach. One change that she has made is paying all of the interns except for MLS candidates so that their labor will not be taken advantage of. Also, she includes support staff in some of the regular management meetings so that their voices will be heard. An audience member asked how MIT has changed since her arrival. She directed her staff to answer if they felt comfortable. One staff member said that MIT's leadership had become more transparent, and another person said that she now felt free to pursue projects that she had previously been denied approval for. Bourg mentioned her interest in neurodiversity and the importance of hiring people with disabilities.

Diversity as Democracy?

Haruko Yamauchi moderated this panel. Jen Hoyer, Emily Drabinski and Shawnta Smith had a conversation about diversity in libraries. 

Yamauchi asked the panel to define diversity. She asked them to include specific examples of what they have done to increase diversity in their organizations.

Drabinski sees diversity as a systemic issue. Diversity is talking about the difference, rather than the sameness, in the work that we do. When librarians provide reference and instruction, they teach people how to navigate systems that may not necessarily be inclusive. 

Smith mentioned that CUNY has an LGBT studies center that has a queer agenda. She works with The Lesbian Herstory Archives. Diversity is when we do work that is not within the norms of our organization and act as change agents. However, collaboration is necessary in order to increase diversity in the workplace.

queer

Hoyer works for ARTstor, which is a volunteer-run archive. They accept donations, and create access to them. It is interesting to work with non-archivists, which can lead to chaos, but it gives people opportunities. Faculty bring students in to visit the archive, and they can touch the items, which is somewhat unusual, and it would not work for archives whose focus is on preservation. 

Yamauchi said that sometimes we need to redefine what we do (eg. what we can archive, and who can archive).

Hoyer stated that sometimes the volunteers want to make a change, such as in a database, and they are reluctant to do so because they feel like someone will say no. She tells them to just make the change since they all are volunteers.

Smith related that some of our libraries are closed access, which is not inclusive of everyone.

Yamauchi asked the librarians to discuss the largest challenges that we face concerning diversity. She asked how we could increase diversity in our institutions.

Smith opined that our alignment with our institutions can create a tension between defining ourselves and our desire to attain faculty status. For example, she found one college with only two female black faculty members. It is difficult to increase diversity when the staff is not diverse. 

Drabinski mentioned that there is no diversity problem within the paraprofessional staff. We need to hire more people of color. In fact, authority figures often use non-inflammatory terms such as "income distribution" to describe the fact that non-minorities control the majority of wealth.

Hoyer stated that academic systems do not respect work that is done outside of universities. For example, it is better to watch a YouTube video to learn how to fix the brakes on a bike than reading books. Also, if she has a problem with her lease, she calls the Metropolitan Council on Housing instead of reading scholarly articles about it.  

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Yamauchi mentioned that the panelists were talking about power, and sometimes there is a staggering lack of diversity in organizations.

Drabinski loves collective bargaining and unions. She is very active in her union. Although union work is difficult, heart-breaking and progress is slow, it is completely worth it.

Smith urged the participants to become part of the solution by joining committees whose purpose is such. It is important for people to step out of their comfort zones in order to help. 

Ione Damasco: Practice of Core Values

Damasco could only find 24 diversity plans out of 1,561 universities. For 77% of the colleges, it remains unknown whether they have such plans in place. 

Isabel Espinal: Parables, Poetics, Polemics and Politics

Espinal related her transition from being a public library manager to becoming a reference librarian for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Not many people of color are directors of academic libraries.

Starr Hoffman, Ione Damasco & Isabel Espinal 

Espinal wondered how people could fight for the rights of others who are not in the same union. She believes that non-faculty librarians should get the same privileges as faculty librarians, such as sabbaticals and more money. When minorities are underrepresented in organizations, their views and opinions will be underrepresented in any surveys that are distributed.  

Damasco said that we talk about diversity as though it is an add-on, but it is actually integral to our daily work. 

An audience member commented that corporate bullying is a real problem in this country. We need to talk about it and work on strategies to minimize and stop it. Sometimes diversity can be the cause of bullying since bullies tend to focus on difference. 

Espinal wants to move on and pursue professional development in her career. She has met corporate bullies whom she considers to be nice people whose behavior has had negative effects on others. Anyone can be a bully; we need to stop ourselves from being negative towards staff. 

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Damasco mentioned that sometimes blunt or honest speech is called unprofessional, which is dismissive. Sometimes, honesty can be obscured by "professionalism" because people do not want to know what the problems are. 

Espinal talked about strategies to help minorities get library degrees. This is a larger societal problem of lack of mobility between socio-economic classes. A way that universities could help to solve this problem would be to offer jobs to promising undergrads who have completed their degrees. They could also pay for library school. 

Jerilyn Veldof: Go, Grow... Or Stay?: The Imperative of Professional Development

People need to think about whether they need to go or stay if they are dissatisfied with their jobs. People can go and pursue growth and other opportunities, or they can figure out how to grow in the jobs that they have. According to one study, most people that leave their jobs due so due to lack of professional development opportunities (32%). Many people are due to retire in the next fifteen years (baby boomers). This is referred to as the "silver tsunami." Also, people who are not able to advance make lateral moves. There are many disengaged workers ("the working retired") whom we may not want to work with. If they make the effort, they can become more satisfied with their careers or move on. 

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We need to rethink professional development. The traditional view is that conferences, trainings and committees are what professional development consists of. However, there are other ways to develop (new skills to take on, Sunday service in other libraries, etc.) that we need to consider. Also, managers should hire for potential, not simply experience. Flexible thinkers who are dedicated to the field can evolve with the profession. These may be better choices than people who have done the job for the past decade. Another idea is to mandate conferences and trainings for staff. This can lead to different levels of thinking and progress in the workplace. For example, when diversity training was mandated for the entire staff, people began discussing the implicit biases that we all hold. It was only then that real change could begin to take place. If your institution does not support your learning, you can also design it for yourself. 

How I Got Involved

I attend the 2012 ACRL/NY conference, and the symposium committee chair asked for people who were interested in becoming involved in the symposium planning process. I dabbled with the idea, and I attended a few committee meetings in 2013 and 2014, but I was not fully involved. I decided to take the plunge in 2015, so I have attended committee meetings this year. We met once per month (not in July or August) for 90 minutes to plan this awesome training event. There were many logistics to be discussed, from catering to possible speakers to the theme of the conference. It was a very interesting experience and not easy at times, but the conference was pulled off without a hitch. It seemed to flow seamlessly from all the preparation of the committee members. All I did at the conference was sell raffle tickets, take notes for the ACRL/NY newsletter, and serve as troubleshooting help. The bulk of the work was done by the dedicated committee members. We are really lucky to have this awesome organization as an intellectual resource for the librarians in the New York area. 

I enjoyed the usual things that I experience at conferences. We are known for having great food at ACRL/NY conferences. We had a most interesting time; all of the speakers had something to say that resonated with me, personally or professionally. Everyone had good ideas, cares deeply about librarianship and managing libraries, and was upbeat. It was an inspiring experience. I also love to meet librarians for work at other institutions, and I saw people who work at NYPL. 

The next ACRL/NY 2016 Conference is Dec 2, 2016.

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