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.