Finding the Right Words in Post-Election Libraries and Higher Ed

This year’s election result has presented a huge challenge to all of us who work in higher education and libraries. Usually, libraries, universities, and colleges do not comment on presidential election result and we refrain from talking about politics at work. But these are not usual times that we are living in.

A black female student was shoved off the sidewalk and called the ‘N’ word at Baylor University. The Ku Klux Klan is openly holding a rally. West Virginia officials publicly made a racist comment about the first lady. Steve Bannon’s prospective appointment as the chief strategist and senior counsel to the new President is being praised by white nationalist leaders and fiercely opposed by civil rights groups at the same time. Bannon is someone who calls for an ethno-state, openly calls Martin Luther King a fraud, and laments white dispossession and the deconstruction of occidental civilization. There are people drawing a swastika at a park. The ‘Whites only’ and ‘Colored’ signs were put up over water fountains in a Florida school. A Muslim student was threatened with a lighter. Asian-American women are being assaulted. Hostile acts targeting minority students are taking place on college campuses.

Libraries and educational institutions exist because we value knowledge and science. Knowledge and science do not discriminate. They grow across all different races, ethnicities, religions, nationalities, sexual identities, and disabilities. Libraries and educational institutions exist to enable and empower people to freely explore, investigate, and harness different ideas and thoughts. They support, serve, and belong to ‘all’ who seek knowledge. No matter how naive it may sound, they are essential to the betterment of human lives, and they do so by creating strength from all our differences, not likeness. This is why diversity, equity, inclusion are non-negotiable and irrevocable values in libraries and educational institutions.

How do we reconcile these values with the president-elect who openly dismissed and expressed hostility towards them? His campaign made remarks and promises that can be interpreted as nothing but the most blatant expressions of racism, sexism, intolerance, bigotry, harassment, and violence. What will we do to address the concerns of our students, staff, and faculty about their physical safety on campus due to their differences in race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, and sexual identity? How do we assure them that we will continue to uphold these values and support everyone regardless of what they look like, how they identify their gender, what their faiths are, what disabilities they may have, who they love, where they come from, what languages they speak, or where they live? How?

We say it. Explicitly. Clearly. And repeatedly.

If you think that your organization is already very much pro-diversity that there is no need to confirm or reaffirm diversity, you can’t be farther from the everyday life minorities experience. Sometimes, saying isn’t much. But right now, saying it out loud can mean everything. If you support those who belong to minority groups but don’t say it out loud, how would they know it? Right now, nothing is obvious other than there is a lot of hate and violence towards minorities.

The entire week after the election, I agonized about what to say to my small team of IT people whom I supervise at work. As a manager, I felt that it was my responsibility to address the anxiety and uncertainty that some of my staff – particularly those in minority groups – would be experiencing due to the election result. I also needed to ensure that whatever dialogue takes place regarding the differences of opinions between those who were pleased and those who were distressed with the election result, those dialogues remain civil and respectful.

Crafting an appropriate message was much more challenging than I anticipated. I felt very strongly about the need to re-affirm the unwavering support and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion particularly in relation to libraries and higher education, no matter how obvious it may seem. I also felt the need to establish (within the bounds of my limited authority) that we will continue to respect, value, and celebrate diversity in interacting with library users as well as other library and university staff members. Employees are held to the standard expectations of their institutions, such as diversity, equity, inclusion, tolerance, civil dialogue, and no harassment or violence towards minorities, even if their private opinions conflict with them. At the same time, I wanted to strike a measured tone and neither scare nor upset anyone, whichever side they were on in the election. As a manager, I have to acknowledge that everyone is entitled to their private opinions as long as they do not harm others.

I suspect that many of us – either a manager or not – want to say something similar about the election result. Not so much about who was and should have been as about what we are going to do now in the face of these public incidences of anger, hatred, harassment, violence, and bigotry directed at minority groups, which are coming out at an alarming pace because it affects all of us, not just minorities.

Finding the right words, however, is difficult. You have to carefully consider your role, audience, and the message you want to convey. The official public statement from a university president is going to take a tone vastly different from an informal private message a supervisor sends out to a few members of his or her team. A library director’s message to library patrons assuring the continued service for all groups of users with no discrimination will likely to be quite different from the one she sends to her library staff to assuage their anxiety and fear.

For such difficulty not to delay and stop us from what we have to and want to say to everyone we work with and care for, I am sharing the short message that I sent out to my team last Friday, 3 days after the election. (N.B. ‘CATS’ stands for ‘Computing and Technology Services’ and UMB refers to ‘University of Maryland, Baltimore.’) This is a customized message to address my own team. I am sharing this as a potential template for you to craft your own message. I would like to see more messages that reaffirm diversity, equity, and inclusion as non-negotiable values, explicitly state that we will not step backwards, and make a commitment to continued unwavering support for them.

Dear CATS,

This year’s close and divisive election left a certain level of anxiety and uncertainty in many of us. I am sure that we will hear from President Perman and the university leadership soon.

In the meantime, I want to remind you of something I believe to be very important. We are all here – just as we have been all along – to provide the most excellent service to our users regardless of what they look like, what their faiths are, where they come from, what languages they speak, where they live, and who they love. A library is a powerful place where people transform themselves through learning, critical thinking, and reflection. A library’s doors have been kept open to anyone who wants to freely explore the world of ideas and pursue knowledge. Libraries are here to empower people to create a better future. A library is a place for mutual education through respectful and open-minded dialogues. And, we, the library staff and faculty, make that happen. We get to make sure that people’s ethnicity, race, gender, disability, socio-economic backgrounds, political views, or religious beliefs do not become an obstacle to that pursuit. We have a truly awesome responsibility. And I don’t have to tell you how vital our role is as a CATS member in our library’s fulfilling that responsibility.

Whichever side we stood on in this election, let’s not forget to treat each other with respect and dignity. Let’s use this as an opportunity to renew our commitment to diversity, one of the UMB’s core values. Inclusive excellence is one of the themes of the UMB 2017-2021 Strategic Plan. Each and every one of us has a contribution to make because we are stronger for our differences.

We have much work ahead of us! I am out today, but expect lots of donuts Monday.

Have a great weekend,
Bohyun

 

Monday, I brought in donuts of many different kinds and told everyone they were ‘diversity donuts.’ Try it. I believe it was successful in easing some stress and tension that was palpable in my team after the election.

Photo from Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/vnysia/4598569232

Photo from Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/vnysia/4598569232

Before crafting your own message, I recommend re-reading your institution’s core values, mission and vision statements, and the most recent strategic plan. Most universities, colleges, and libraries include diversity, equity, inclusion, or something equivalent to these somewhere. Also review all public statements or internal messages that came from your institution that reaffirms diversity, equity, and inclusion. You can easily incorporate those into your own message. Make sure to clearly state your (and your institution’s) continued commitment to and unwavering support for diversity and inclusion and explicitly oppose bigotry, intolerance, harassment, and acts of violence. Encourage civil discourse and mutual respect. It is very important to reaffirm the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion ‘before’ listing any resources and help that employees or students may seek in case of harassment or assault. Without the assurance from the institution that it indeed upholds those values and will firmly stand by them, those resources and help mean little.

Below I have also listed messages, notes, and statements sent out by library directors, managers, librarians, and university presidents that reaffirm the full support for and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I hope to see more of these come out. If you have already received or sent out such a message, I invite you to share in the comments. If you have not, I suggest doing so as soon as possible. Send out a message if you are in a position where doing so is appropriate. Don’t forget to ask for a message addressing those values if you have not received any from your organization.


Diversity Recruitment in Library Information Technology

“A study of innovation in corporations found that the most innovative companies deliberately established diverse work teams (Kanter, 1983).” 

The above quote is from a book length treatment on innovation in the workplace, this finding underscores the need to recruit diverse perspectives in order to sustain innovation. Past reports on Racial and ethnic diversity in libraries are an unsettling read for me personally. These include the Racial and Ethnic Diversity among Librarians: a status report, and the Diversity Counts study. I can see clearly from reading these two documents that diversity has not reached rates that makes us an inclusive profession. Take a look at the diversity counts report and you’ll learn that one of the issues librarianship faces is not simply recruiting into the profession, but also keeping diverse perspectives in libraries as well.

I am, at present, winding down a two-year stint on my library’s Equal Employment Opportunity Committee. In this role I personally attend every search committee kick-off meeting. With the number of retirements in the library we’ve been hiring at an ambitious rate. At every search committee kick-off meeting, I suggest ways to recruit for diversity into the library; making and extending invitations to apply by way of personal contacts to diverse candidates seem to get the best results in terms of building a diverse pool of applicants.

Merely posting to the American Library Association caucasus’ list serves, these include the American Indian Library Association, Asian Pacific American Librarians Association, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Chinese American Librarians Association, The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking (REFORMA) does not in itself result in a diverse pool of candidates– that is a rather passive approach to diversity recruiting.

One area I wanted to ask the readership here about is intentional recruiting for Library IT jobs. By diversity in recruiting, I take diversity to include (as set by my campus Office of Equal Opportunity and Access), in entry level IT jobs include goals for both women and minoritiesHispanic or Latino (A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rico, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race); American Indian or Alaskan Native – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community attachment; Asian – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian Subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam; Black or African American – A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. 

But to continually define terminology is to sidestep the bigger issue which I turn to: the number of diverse perspectives we generally find in library information technology settings is few. My concern is that libraries and the profession as a whole will become conservative and homogenous and ineffective in meeting twenty-first century challenges if it doesn’t take sustained and intentional strides to implement diversity recruitment in library information technology settings.

With funding from a University of Illinois Library Innovation Grant, I hired and am actively working with a team of student diversity interns who are doing library information technology work. I advertised in a number of locations, including the undergrad library blog; the informatics program web-board; campus virtual job board; and numerous registered student organizations.

 

minrva team, summer 2012

The students have built mobile software modules and are also investigating article search inside of mobile applications. Over a series of 8 weeks they are all now proficient Java coders, and can implement RESTful web services in a Tomcat/Jersey servlet. Their work will be showcased to the library next week–a few students were interested in Drupal experience, so they built a Drupal instance on my Linode here: http://minrvaproject.org

While the summer internships will be funded into the fall semester, we (the university library) are specifically hoping to understand how to broaden and build the diversity recruitment for library information technology.

By the end of the grant the innovation questions that we hope to answer include:

1)    How to recruit individuals with diverse backgrounds into library information technology positions?

2)    How individuals with technical backgrounds from two-year schools can be recruited into library IT positions?

3)    What types of mentoring support and transitional initiatives are necessary to create bridges between two-year programs and graduate study in library and information science?

Recent work (see for example the student coded Minrva app) with undergraduate student software teams has shown that students who have earned two-year degrees (associate level) in software engineering or programming will be valuable to library service development. These students have shown to be particularly effective in developing micro-services that could support library wide production environments. Students with these practical backgrounds have much to offer the University Library particularly as it turns its focus to discovery layers that are a part of the new strategic plan— the outputs of student work that this grant will fund supports Goal 1 – Provide access to and discovery of, library content and collections.

What library IT diversity recruitment are you doing in your library? Do you address this gap in diversity with sustained support?

Cited

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. The Change Masters: Innovations For Productivity In The American Corporation. New York : Simon And Schuster, 1983. Print.

Consulted

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Office of Equal Opportunity and Access – http://oeoa.illinois.edu/resources.html

How to diversify the faculty – http://oeoa.illinois.edu/SupportingDocs/HowToDiversifyTheFaculty.pdf