I started this post almost two years ago, before I found my current job. So excuse the bitterness that is so often the hallmark of the “unemployment blues” here. The points I make are still relevant and valid.
As a librarian/archivist still looking for a permanent, full time position, I think about this a lot. After having just ended a contract at a small academic library where I was literally thee first every Black librarian in the history of the place. The school opened in 1853. I was the first. EVER. And, mine was only a temporary position.
Marinate on that a minute…
Anyway, I was the first ever. And it was microaggression central with staff, colleagues, and general faculty members.* There were even incidents with students and a male staff member. Both blindsided me and both were intentional. I was pretty much left hanging in all cases, and while none of it made me give up hope or plunged me into depression or bitterness or anything, it all put a slight damper on my enthusiasm for the place (library and institution in general) and for my colleagues in the library.
Reflecting on all that happened makes me think about something I read recently (and now I don’t remember where exactly) that
diversity = getting people in the door, raising the numbers of members of traditionally underrepresented groups (i.e., racial, cultural, gender, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, etc. [yes I’m spelling it out for the folks in the cheap seats])
inclusion = creating and maintaining a safe environment where those newly included people feel safe and supported so that they can actually thrive, contribute, and stick around.
I am a tough cookie and I’ve lived and worked in predominately white areas and institutions my whole life. Also, I am not new to the work world –librarian/archivist is my second career, third if you count freelance writing– but it’s still tough and you always needs support. I have had three experiences working in openly hostile environments. There would have been a fourth except the diversity part of the initiative at that particular place worked and we created our own support system and helped each other navigate while doing our best to force the institution to do the same. The institution ended up shutting the initiative down and several members of the cohort left because…SURPRISE!!! The institution didn’t really want diversity and inclusion to work, they just wanted a range of Black and brown faces to put in their development and promotional materials, and on the website. This is a reality of most institution and, of course, it shouldn’t be that way.
Fast forward to now.
I am a librarian at an historic, exclusively prestigious liberal arts college in the North East and I it really is the same isht different day, though I’ve had an experience the old folks worn us all about. For the moment, I’ll just borrow from Zora Neale Hurston until I’m ready to expound further and say “skin folk [really] ain’t always kinfolk!” Oooh wee. I’ve got more well-meaning (but little-doing) white folk in my life than I can shake a stick at and a couple that really are about that life. That’s actually a first for me. Anyway, I have little faith that all of the committees, conferences, workshops, initiatives, and other related mess will steer LIS in the direction of inclusion or openness as a profession. Should it ever happen, it’s most definitely going to be institution-based, it’s going to depend on the quality of the leadership at a particular place and the willingness of the people to work and push themselves past their comfort zones. It’s going to require vision and for leaders in particular to be secure enough to trust visionaries in their midst when they themselves may not be equipped to lead the charge.
And, well, we know how that shit goes.