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Collaboration Over Competition: Attending the 2019 Library Diversity Institute

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Library Diversity Institute (LDI), a 3-day intensive orientation and training for new North American library diversity residents to get the most out of their residencies. I didn’t have the opportunity to attend last year but thanks to funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, I was able to head down to Greensboro, North Carolina to learn more about best practices in getting the most out of my residency experience while building community and solidarity with a professional network of colleagues nationally. 

Dr. Franklin Gilliam, the Chancellor of the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, presented the LDI 2019 keynote address. He spoke to the necessity of protecting yourself, knowing, setting, and enforcing your boundaries, the power of authenticity, and the importance of supporting our colleagues/each other. Some of the points from his keynote that particularly stuck with me included:

  • Be strategic about picking your allies; not everyone you align yourself with has your best interest at heart.

  • Protect your energy, protect your mental health, protect yourself. Your institution isn't your "family" and won't protect you. We need to have lives & hobbies outside of our work or we won't last.

  • Being your authentic self is challenging and can have professional ramifications, since "professionalism" is invested in upholding white supremacy, heteropatriarchy, ableism, & capitalism (to name a few) but work isn't worth losing yourself to. Living in a performative state 24/7, pretending to be someone you're not, hiding out of fear and shame, all of this takes a toll on us. Not bringing our whole, authentic selves to work has consequences; we could lose ourselves, completely.

  • COLLABORATION & CELEBRATION, NOT COMPETITION: SUPPORT YOUR COLLEAGUES. A few ways to do this include giving them feedback (affirming and validating them publicly, especially), reading their work, helping them edit their publications or work on presentations, collaborating together, and coming together to build community, power, and solidarity.

  • Finally, I hope that we're ALL successful. Capitalism and the scarcity myth want us to believe we can't be - but our successes don't have to be at the expense of each other. Our successes can be BECAUSE of each other. 

To be honest, I missed a fair amount of the LDI because I had chemotherapy the day before and was still recovering. I decided to miss sessions, despite how desperately I wanted to be there, to prioritize my wellness and practice good self-care. The #FOMO was real but so were the side effects of chemotherapy so I stayed in my room and rested.

Another thing about LDI that impacted me was the emphasis on crowdsourcing our residencies, creating shared knowledges, and building community, solidarity, and power. It’s easy to feel powerless and helpless in the current political climate, however, one thing we can do is recognize what skills we have and offer to use them for community-based and local organizations that are doing good work. Are you great at writing grants? WRITE GRANTS. Is organizing accessible events your thing? DO THAT. We all have something to offer! 

At the end of LDI 2019, we discussed reflections and next steps: what our ideas were for next steps, comments on the institute (What would you have liked more of? Less of? What wasn’t addressed?), topics and goals for the Journal of Library and Residency Studies, and future institutes and sustainability. Here’s what I had to say:

  • I appreciated the emphasis on collaboration and celebration over competition; to work and collaborate with and support our colleagues. I loved the opportunity to build a cohort, community, and solidarity with other residents, since as the only resident at my institution it’s been isolating. It’s also been isolating to be one of the few disabled and chronically ill librarians at Cornell. Only 3% of librarians are disabled so I would love for diversity initiatives to include us too.

  • I wish that disability was openly talked about and accessibility was taken into greater consideration. I’m sad I had to miss so many sessions to recover from chemo; having more small breaks would have helped me be able to participate.

  • Gender-inclusive bathrooms would have been great so I wouldn’t have to leave and go back to my room every time I needed to pee. 

  • I want to focus on ways we can organize and build collective power to protect and support each other. I don’t know what that looks like but we need to support and protect each other since we’re in vulnerable and precarious positions.

  • Finally, I suggested creating a salary spreadsheet, similar to the ones for archives/museums/libraries, specifically for diversity fellows & residents to anonymously report our salaries & benefits to help in the negotiation process. 

Ultimately, being able to participate in the LDI was immensely helpful for me in terms of building a professional community, figuring out how to make the most of my residency, thinking about best practices, and life after my residency is over.