I am a cis-gendered white female who works as a librarian at an HBCU. I adore my job. I adore working with our students and faculty. This is the most fulfilling position I have been in. But, I feel itchy about it. Librarianship is mostly white and female. I don’t know if I am best serving our students. I see code-switching daily. I can’t authentically teach using cultural examples because my background and experience are different from our students’ backgrounds and experiences. How can I connect best with our students without appropriating a lived experience that is not mine? Alternatively, should I consider leaving my position in the hopes that my role could be filled by a librarian of color (of which our profession desperately needs more)?”
Yay to librarians! You are all on the frontlines of the battle against the education of our history and future. Thank you for the work that you do. And it’s powerful that you’ve built awareness of the tension in your role.
To connect more fully, you can get clear on what their expectations are from their librarian and what they’re looking for. If it’s available, you could survey students about what books or topics they’d like to see centered, or how else you could be most helpful. You can teach on topics that are relevant to students, but instead of masquerading as if you have a similar cultural background, you can use your own experience as a foil, and encourage your students to reflect using their own. For example, “As a white woman, this is something I’ve never directly experienced. My perspective is much different than yours. What do you see from your own lived experience? How will your understanding differ from mine in texts like these?”
You can also make sure your role is informed by those in the industry aiming to diversify it, and create more tangible touchpoints for learners of all backgrounds.
A survey by the American Library Association found that, in 2022, 86% of librarians identify as white, and there’s been only a 2.5% increase in librarians of color since 1986 (ALA). Diversifying the field can’t be solved by you quitting your job alone, but you could support efforts to make your role – or general roles – more diverse. Here are some questions to consider:
- What is the hiring process for a role like this?
- What qualifications or expectations in the job description you reviewed might dissuade candidates from different backgrounds?
- What topics are covered in the onboarding process, and how can they be more culturally responsive?
- Are there trainings or workshops that the role can include to support cultural diversity?
- Are there mentorship opportunities for you to explore with budding librarians in the community? Can the library support broader efforts – like XXXX – to boost representation in the industry as a whole?
Note that many of these questions aren’t unique to libraries, and can be applied to boosting representation in most industries.