Conference Reflection: Recasting the Narrative: An ACRL-2019 Recap

For my first conference as a resident librarian, I wanted to attend an event focused on academic libraries with programming and events related to social justice and anti-oppression work. When I saw that the ACRL Diversity Alliance offered a preconference for residents this year, “Taking Charge of Your Narrative” and exciting workshops like “Moving Beyond Race 101: Speculative Futuring for Equity,” I knew this was the conference for me. Over 4,000 of us flocked to Cleveland this year for a fantastic learning experience.

Taking Charge of Your Narrative (Resident Librarian Preconference)

I was excited to attend the preconference for fellow resident librarians to learn about how to craft my leadership narrative, empower myself during my fellowship, and most of all, connect and build community with other diversity residents/fellows from around the country. One of the hardest parts of my residency have been the isolation, so I was quite excited to meet and learn from librarians who are in similar situations.

The preconference featured speakers like Martin Halbert, Alexia Hudson-Ward, Jon Cawthorne, Julie Brewer, and Toni Olivas, who shared their experiences, wisdom, and hopes with us. One of the themes of the day was constructing (and living) your leadership narrative. We talked about the importance of publishing (which includes blogging!) in establishing expertise and getting your name out there. We were encouraged to talk to each other about our research interests and to reach out to folks we were interested in collaborating with since co-authoring can be a great strategy towards getting published. Another tip was to stay engaged with the profession through reading (15 minutes a day is manageable and does the trick).

Mentorship was another common topic – it’s important to not only have mentors (think of mentorship as a constellation; no one person will be able to meet all of your needs, so it can be useful to have several who are experienced with the different areas you are interested and working on) but to pay it forward through mentorship. As early career librarians, it can be easy to think we don’t have much to offer yet in terms of mentorship, but I’ve found that sharing my experiences about the academic librarianship interview process and what it’s like to be a resident librarian have been helpful to the MLIS students who have approached me. We all have something to offer. Honestly, there was so much rich and engaging discussion at this event that it’s hard to do justice to it in a blog post. This preconference contained a lot of valuable information, advice, and exercises for resident librarians but the best part, by far, was being able to be in community with my peers on this exciting journey.

Social Justice as a Core Professional Value: One Library’s Story

The first session I attended was focused on how we can make our libraries more just places. Raina Bloom, Carrie Kruse, and Kalani Adolpho (a fellow resident librarian!) talked about how their library embraced social justice and non-neutrality as core operating values after they were inspired by student activists who conducted a historic in-library protest during finals week. I was excited to see they had created a workbook (in zine format!) for us to think about our own answers to some of the questions, the panelists were discussing around our personal library stories, the communities we serve, important incidents that have lasting resonance on the way we work, and what we can do/what we are doing. I appreciated how Kalani, Carrie, and Raina created space for us to be vulnerable in our small-group discussions by being vulnerable themselves. They created a space where we could get past “But I’m just a _____!” and begin doing the actual work.

Moving Beyond Race 101: Speculative Futuring for Equity

The panelists (Jennifer Brown, Sofia Leung, Marisa Mendez-Brady, and Jennifer Ferretti) want us to move beyond a framework of diversity, inclusion, and equity that either a) focuses on solutions that don’t solicit input from marginalized communities or b) is expected to be done by those already overburdened by the impacts of higher education institutions built on whiteness. They pushed us to move beyond this framework, offering us strategies and language to help move these discussions forward. In small groups, we participated in a collaborative storytelling exercise using visual storytelling decks to work on collectively envisioning an inclusive and equity-based future for libraries. I had to leave halfway through because I got sick but working together with other allies, advocates, and accomplices on imagining speculative futures based in anti-oppression work and social justice was a powerful experience. Check out the Libraries We Here community (a supportive social community for archive and library workers of color) to learn more about this work.

I wasn’t able to do everything I wanted to do because of a lupus flare (I’m so incredibly grateful for caring and supportive colleagues who helped me through the experience of dealing with chronic illness while traveling) but the workshops and presentations I did have a chance to attend were engaging and informative. It was such a great experience to share knowledge and build community with other library workers. I came back to my home institution feeling reinvigorated and excited to start putting the ideas the conference inspired into place. I even created an ACRL 2019 mini-zine to share what I learned with my colleagues who couldn’t attend. I’m looking forward to returning in 2021!

Karina Hagelin is an artist, community organizer, and librarian at Cornell University. Their (art)work is centered in radical vulnerability, healing as resistance, and queer femme magic. They are passionate about healing justice, queer & feminist zines, cats, fatshion, and gossip as a site of resistance. You can find more information on their website or find them on twitter (@karinahagelin).

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