Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Just because you can doesn't mean you should

Remember a couple of weeks ago when Rachel wrote about the value of preaching to the choir? I wholeheartedly agree. We haven't been up and running all that long, but I think that Constructive Summer is a safe space for us to tell our stories and challenge our beliefs. Hopefully in doing our own work, we challenge you to do yours as well.

ACRL's Dr. E.J. Josey Spectrum Scholar Mentor Program is looking for technical services librarians from academic libraries to volunteer to serve as mentors for Spectrum Scholar recipients. As a technical services librarian, I immediately went to the volunteer form. I want to do my part to help recruit and retain new technical services librarians--especially people from underrepresented groups.

The goal of the Mentor Program, as stated on its ALA webpage is:
to link participating library school students and newly graduated librarians, who are of American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino or Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander descent, with established academic librarians, who will provide mentoring and coaching support; serve as a role model in academic librarianship; and provide guidance in seeking a career path and opportunities for leadership in the profession.
I want to serve as a role model and help new technical services-minded librarians find their way in the profession, so I started to fill out the application. The questions asked about my ethnicity, my gender identity, and my physical disabilities. And these questions served as my light bulb moment that maybe I'm not the right person to do this job.

I'm a white, able-bodied, cis-gendered female. I basically check all of the white privilege boxes.

As much as I want to help mentor a new technical services librarian, my privilege definitely creates a lens through which I see librarianship. And I am pretty sure that the last thing a person who already feels like an outsider in librarianship wants to hear is another white lady telling them how to "do librarianship." Librarianship is overwhelmingly white. According to the 2012 edition of ALA's Diversity Counts, 104,392 of the 118,666 credentialed librarians were white. In academic libraries, 23,207 of the 26,954 credentialed librarians were white. That's 86%!

By using our privilege to put ourselves in positions of power--especially in positions where we give advice to new librarians--we shape a future of libraries that looks a lot like us. In a recent blog post about the amorphous idea of "fit" in libraries, Jacob Berg breaks down the idea of homogeneity in librarianship. Berg points to a Smithsonian article that states that diverse groups get better results when it comes to decision-making, problem solving, creativity and innovation, and scientific research.

All of this leads me to this place: just because I can be a Spectrum Scholar mentor doesn't mean I should. I do have advice and experience to share with a newly minted technical services librarian, but I also have biases that come from privilege.

So instead of serving as a mentor, I want to signal boost the opportunity. I am not sure I have an abundance of street cred or clout, but I want to use whatever I have to share this opportunity with you. If you are a technical services librarian from an underrepresented group, I urge you to apply to be a mentor for a Spectrum Scholar.

I'm trying to do the work to build a future of libraries. And sometimes that work requires me to challenge my beliefs and, as a result, go a different way. Building the Unified Library Scene isn't easy, but doing awesome things never is.

Stay positive,


Laurie Bridges said...

I was doing a little research on Spectrum Scholar mentors when I ran across your post. Thanks for putting your thoughts to paper - I would like to push back a little on your decision. As faculty member who has worked at a PWI for nearly 20 years (first in student affairs and then in librarianship) faculty of color are often tapped to do service - but, in many ways they are often doing double-duty (and I've read articles and opinion pieces that back up this information). First, there is the type of service required of all faculty - serving on university committees, working with students, outreach, etc. However, faculty of color often do "double-duty" (my term) because they are also tapped by students and faculty of color to serve as mentors, chairs, club advisors, search committee members (because every search committee should be as diverse as possible) and the list goes on. Then take all of this, and think beyond the University for the types of service faculty give to their profession, and again you have the same issue.

I do not think there are enough librarians of color in the library profession to mentor all the incoming librarians of color. Therefore, I chose to apply to be a Spectrum Mentor. I applied over a year ago, and just this week was assigned to mentor a student. I leave it up to the group who makes the assignments to decide if we are a good pair. AND, on the menthes application, they do the importance (or not) of having a mentor of color (gender, regional location, etc).

Food for thought.

Erin said...

Hi Laurie--
I definitely appreciate the feedback--thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. Part of building this community of practice is hearing other people's points of view, so I'm definitely grateful that you took the time to look at mine and push back against it.

My intent was not to dissuade anyone from applying to serve as a mentor. I think that the Spectrum Scholar program is unbelievably important to the recruitment and retention of underrepresented people to the field of librarianship. I hope that you are paired with someone and that your mentoring relationship is fruitful.