The meeting was held on Friday, October 23, 2020. Peyton Powell was the meeting convener.
We’re all open and coming to the table ready to participate. It’s been a while since we’ve all been together so let’s refresh our memories of last conversations: micro-aggressions, racism in the library space, how to create more opportunities for employment and advancement for BIPOC people in libraries.
Now that we’ve had these conversations and are more aware. What do we do with this awareness? How do we implement strategies? What are our next steps
What are the next steps? Where do we go from here?
P – we need to get back to foundational things to create a better culture across the board. Libraries build communities but the communities within our own libraries can be very toxic. Not having opportunities for all creates hostile environment for some. How are we shaping our library communities as much as our communities at large?
We have control over how we shape our library communities.
How do we create a better sense of community within libraries?
How do we create a better community for each other? To be respectful of each other?
P: Does a level of vulnerability bring better awareness?
P: take initiative to become aware and be vulnerable enough to admit what you don’t know, admit your privilege In that vulnerable space be willing to admit you don’t know/ need to learn more.
R – Vulnerability for a black librarian/ BIPOC employee – one has to lower their defensiveness to say that I have a certain amount of privilege and/or be involved in systemic racism and not be fully aware because I was raised in it. I would like to see cross-vulnerability and a certain level of trust. So that a BIPOC librarian can say that a comment plays into systemic racism/ is racist without the white coworker getting defensive and unable to receive the criticism. Trust needs to go both ways – trust to say criticism and to receive it.
P – As a person of color, you feel vulnerable all the time. BIPOC people want to / need to be able to share that vulnerability in order to develop trust and create a safer space where BIPOC individuals can have these discussions and express their feelings.
P: How can we boost motivation and morale while creating a space to learn from each other?
A: I think one of the most important things we can do is to make it fun. One of the things – while I do think it’s very important to have racism training the same as sexual harassment training – I know I dread the sexual harassment training every year. We need to make it not just another chore but a thing of joy/ celebration
R: To piggyback on what A said. I know it’s difficult now because of Covid, but we used to have an all staff day at my library. The system was closed to the public and we had a day of training but in the middle of the day the library treated us all to lunch and people looked forward to this day. We have a large system so a lot of times there were people you never saw except for this day. They gave out employee of the year – it brings out a sense of community that even though scattered throughout the city, we are a team together. But also we had classes. Unsure how to make it social distant/ Covid times friendly: All day Zoom thing with breakout rooms? Whoever goes to 3 trainings gets a gift card at the end maybe?
A: Start small. People share their talents or hobbies. Stupid human tricks. Start with low threat threshold sharing build a foundation for deeper conversation later.
A: Works in college library, lots of fun to work with staff, faculty and students. Can reflect and ask students and staff for assistance and insight when she doesn’t know answers or wants a broader perspective in problem-solving.
P: These things are all much harder since we are in this virtual world and that’s increased the stress levels and it makes it that much more important to have something de-stressing. Being able to talk to different subgroups of people. Maybe having virtual department meeting where everyone brings their own snacks. Be able to talk about life together. Share lives and stresses as humans.
College students – on Instagram a librarian that she follows plays a game like Heads Up but about hashtags. Kids have to guess what the acronym stands for – fun interaction that builds community
E – It is important to have it be fun but also to get them invested have people sharing their experiences. In order for people to be invested, you have to make it not that it’s required people will find it boring. But if it’s personalized, everyone feels more connection. Suggests BIPOC anonymously put in stories of times experienced racism in the library. Maybe include patrons. Allow for anonymous submissions and encourage interactive. Question from your personal patrons and colleagues. Make it relevant directly to their daily experiences.
At this point, we hosted six themed breakout rooms.
Themes – think about how you can create a safer, more positive, more equitable library space for the people that you work with?
T – I’m one of the only Af-Am librarians at my library. Looking for effective ways to introduce EDI training to my staff. Asked them Are white people afraid to talk about race and racism and if so, why? How do I move forward with training to encourage more inclusive staff and changing mindsets. My group gave me amazing answers. Jason suggested starting off light and friendly, maybe a game and then go to more serious issues/ conversations. I felt accepted by my breakout group – I was acknowledged and respected and it was very freeing to be in that group. Another librarian of color with whom I also work was also able to express her sentiments that sometimes she needs to shrink herself so as not to be written off as coming on too strong/ mean/ etc. In positions of leadership librarians of color should be able to stand tall and proud but that’s in reality difficult to manage. I told the group that I’m thankful for being part of this group because WNYLRC has just started an EDI Task Group and I was asked to chair that and I wanted to come here to see how these groups work. I’m so happy to see how these really do work that when people of all backgrounds come together, people who are already doing the work and are coming together to be open. I had to have another white woman on the task group with me, she’s doing the work, and is great, but the hard part is that my voice wouldn’t be heard without her white voice on my side speaking with me. From the breakout group I received a lot of encouragement and positivity and I’m so excited by that.
M – Talked briefly in a practical sense of the gate keeping to positions in this field. We talked about civil service as so often we do. We talked about part-time positions to skirt Civil Service, posting job openings in the community – post office etc.
E – I was the one who suggested those ideas for skirting civil service. Recommends going to NYLA’s website on Civil Service get the inside information for how to work it to your library’s/ personal advantages.
P – No one joined the Civil Service breakout room so grateful it came up here. Jason in the chat thanked Taheera for her bravery in sharing and asking questions. PP says that having these conversations and being able to say things about how not being listened to because white voices hold more weight in the workplace is important.
Civil Service isn’t in all spaces but in RCLS Civil Service is the way all hiring happens and it prevents diversity in the library space. Check out NYLA RT on Civil Service
R – Had a very interesting mix of folks with mix of backgrounds – school, public, academic, someone who works in cataloging. One of the first things we talked about was the best ways to survey our collection. We got a couple of very good resources – teachingbooks.net will help you do a diversity audit – quick one or you can undertake one on your own. We talked about deep colonizing Dewey - Cataloger was talking about course she took called “Critical Cataloging” to ways we can change cataloging records to make them more inclusive and less problematic. Not always using LCSH which are way behind, using searching note field in the Marc record to add nuance to subject searches. Another recommended resource on other ways to do critical cataloging with less racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc. We talked about how to balance having an inclusive collection when you serve a non-diverse population. We also discussed having a collection development policy so that if a choice is challenged you have a ready response. Also, halfway through notes slowed down because conversation was so good. And one of the things we talked about was how can the collection devt staff – those who select materials how can we be less biased in what we buy? Also having teachable moments with books with patrons. “Problematic” books provide teachable moments so you can provide info on other sources on the topic.
P – Collection Devt could be its own SIG. Does a non-diverse population still need diverse materials in the collection? Yes, diverse sources provide windows and education. Just because it doesn’t reflect what your community looks like doesn’t mean diversity shouldn’t be offered.
Book club earlier this week – sticker on Street Lit and whether that’s problematic. Collection Development is a huge topic.
R – I don’t like the label “Street Lit” on a book, but when patrons come int --- actually I don’t think it’s called Street Lit anymore. 15 years ago patrons called it Street Lit or Hood Lit. But now they more often call it “Real Black Books” or as chat suggests “Urban Fiction” or “Urban Lit” –
P This could be a whole discussion.
Advocacy – no one in this group
Community Involvement and Programs
A – Started with a question. One of the libraries, their demographics are changing as people move out of NYC and coming up to the “country” so the face of the community is changing. The question was asked how does she work with her collection to reflect the newer groups that are coming and now part of that community. Specifically mentioned Asian community moving in. Suggestion that Census Bureau info might be helpful – they might provide some assistance. Census Bureau very willing to participate in inclusivity things. Adults who don’t speak English relying on their kids to speak English because they are uncomfortable. One said she addresses the adult apologizing for not being fluent in your native language, learning a second language is hard, thanks. Matter of showing the librarian is willing to reach out human-to-human. I don’t know your language… Program and Outreach suggesting connect with ENL teachers at the school district who teach those specific students specifically. Professional Development/ grass-roots – take stock of the talents that exist within your own staff for programs and outreach. This went along with another topic – groups within library staff aren’t interacting. Programs-circ-collection dev – each is unique but also complementary to each other. Asking other staff for example at circ – what have you heard from patron interactions? Mentioned that social media is a great way to collect data – anecdotal but also good baseline from which to start. Get response on proposed plans. Caitlin encouraged identifying other organizations in the community already in dialogue with Asian people new to the community. Amy added that relationships with ENL faculty in schools is about making it clear that the library is willing to come into spaces where they are comfortable and not just wait or try to think up ways to encourage them to come to us.
C – Encourage patience. There’s a delicate balance in bias testing/ checking. One of the ideas brought up was one library is doing like a choose your own adventure on their website with a variety of topics. They work in a county structure so maybe …. A lot of people are doing bias training but not really getting to equity and diversity training yet.
P – I want to go back to Anita’s earlier point about the people in charge set the tone. As a person in charge being supportive of your staff and maintaining a positive environment in which everyone feels safe and heard and make these trainings and conversations mandatory in order to keep and create safety for everyone in work. No one should have to feel vulnerable to the point where they don’t feel safe.
A – My favorite word from this entire conversation was what Allison said at the beginning – making this joyful and make it something that people can feel proud of participating in. If there are ways that we as a SIG or as a larger library community can seek to inject that joy into everything we design, I think that will go a long way to helping bring people into it who might otherwise be opposed. Thanks to Allison for bringing up that point.
P – Sometimes these conversations can be draining or people don’t want to participate in these discussions but finding ways to make it part of the culture so that everyone is engaged.
H – It’s nice to bring joy but if you’ve worked in a space where your joy has been trampled, Where do you find the energy to create that.
P – Going to the person in charge about how workspace is trampling/ making me feel uncomfortable or that I’m not respected. When your not a person of color you don’t even think of it.
H – Everybody has a norm and when you’ve always existed in your norm, then you don’t think about the other side. In the majority it’s not intentional and even after you as a BIPOC have broken your way into a field that’s dominated by white women – you’re a ship without a sail. You can feel the energy. You don’t even have to say anything, the attitude is there. It’s difficult to know how to navigate in spaces where you don’t feel accepted. I’m not afraid to have any conversation and share exactly what I feel but then you don’t want to offend people and you don’t want it to seem like you’re being too forceful or a bully. I’m not afraid to talk about race. It’s either you engage or you don’t But I think that’s the only way that change can happen. We have to talk about it.
P: (White) People take for granted that they can share or express their feelings without feeling in danger about it. But as a person of color we need to think about how to express things so as not to get labelled just to express how we feel.
H – I usually call a friend and in order to express how I feel about something at work – so I say to a friend “if I say this – I think being from another country where it’s acceptable to say things boldly and directly but that’s not accepted in this country all the time. I mean no ill will. I want to speak directly about it. So I call up a friend and ask if I say it this way How do you think it sounds? If I do this how do you think it’s going to be received? I have to take longer time because I don’t want to offend anyone and I don’t want to deal with HR issues where I’m being accused of bias or something.
I would consider myself the only black staff member. The only other BIPOC staff member sees herself as white. I’m very relaxed in terms of things at work including people bringing their kids to work sometimes. I understand with parenting and childcare there’s last-minute changes. WE don’t have a set policy, so it’s relaxed. A few of the white staff have brought their kids to work before and it’s never been a problem before. One day the other BIPOC staff member (who identifies as white) brought her son to work once day. Manager says what’s going on, people are bringing their kids to work? Immediately I assumed I might have done something wrong, thinking thinking… oh yeah. There was a recent instance of this staff member bringing her son to work and manager said well it went to the union and to HR> I was hurt and disappointed because if the child had caused problems or was unpleasant, I would have appreciated saying something directly to me. Instead it went all the way to HR and union. So I had to address it at a meeting that I’ve allowed everyone to bring their children to work from time to time. I want it to be a flexible and welcome place. I knew within my heart that if I were a white manager it never would have gone that far. It’s fighting with people on your own team over little things. How do you manage in a space where you have to fight just to get your statements hear.
T – And you have to fight for your confidence every single day. We create this avatar of ourselves that we show to the public. A version of ourselves for fear of losing our job or being labelled as “the angry Black woman” for example. We have to create defenses of our own inner selves and emotions.
PP – Thank everyone for coming today and being open with yourselves and showing moments of vulnerability. The mission of this discussion is to remind ourselves that we are all human and to be able to shift our focus to our similarities and not just our differences. Yet at the same time our differences create opportunities for some and not for all. In those moments of awareness we must create equitable opportunities. To be mindful of who is in the room and who will and won’t be heard. Remember to ask the question is this environment safe for everyone to feel like hey belong? Whose safety has been scarified on behalf of the safety of others?
Kristen Fragnoli’s 8 Steps to Meaningful Conversations about Race
00 – Prepare – Research, & learn in advance, seek multiple perspectives
01 – Breathe – Take a pause, settle your nervous system, go slowly, be present
02 – ADMIT – authentically acknowledge the topic is hard and we are all still learning, it’s okay to be wrong/ make mistake and to ask questions
03 – Commit – Respect the dignity & integrity opf everyone, Listen, Learn & Grow
04 Monitor – check for defensiveness and adversarial thinking, watch your body language
05 Check – Watch for blindspots, check your assumptions, Leave space for learning
06 Recommit – There will always be more to learn
07 Repeat – learn more, listen more, prepare more and commit more.
On Friday, October 30, we hosted a webinar called "They're Just Not a Good Fit: Interrogating and Interrupting Hiring Practices in Academic Libraries That Center Whiteness." You can view the recording and related files online here: