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Life as a Diversity Fellow: My First Six Months

Hello there! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? The past six months have been a whirlwind: I finished the first rotation of my fellowship at Rare and Manuscript Collections, was featured as the ACRL Residency Interest Group’s Fellow of the Month, and began my next rotation at Albert R. Mann Library. (Oh, and my kittens are about to turn A YEAR OLD!)

What Does a Diversity Fellow Do, Anyways?

My mom (Hi Mom!) sometimes struggles to explain what I do to her friends. I’m currently a Diversity Fellow at Cornell University Library, a position that was designed for recent graduates who want the opportunity to learn about academic libraries while acquiring core competencies and skills in instruction, scholarship, and research - like me! My Diversity Fellowship allows me to explore several departments in Cornell’s library system, to collaborate on projects, and to explore new information technologies and/or user-centered services. My goals and interests are balanced with the Library’s needs to create a flexible program which is supported through a mentoring program, continuing education, professional development, specialized training, and participation on library committees.

Archival Processing

I spent my first six months at Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC), which is home to fantastic collections such as the Fiske Icelandic Collection and the Human Sexuality Collection. I’m forever grateful to Brenda Marston for her mentorship, her important work curating the Human Sexuality Collection, and her fierce advocacy for diversity, inclusion, and belonging. I had the wonderful opportunity of processing my first archival collection - the James. D. Merritt Collection - which includes the personal journals, correspondence, and other personal papers of Dr. Merritt. I utilized my knowledge of this collection (obtained through research & archival methodology) to arrange the materials from this collection (ranging from photographs to fifty years of journaling to bags of hair and dirt to social justice and activist papers) to facilitate research access and long-term preservation of the records. After I finished rearranging and rehousing the materials from this collection, I prepared a finding aid for use by scholars, using current technology, descriptive standards, and techniques (like Encoded Archival Description aka EAD). I also prepared scope and content notes for this collection.

Metadata Policy and Procedure

At RMC, I created metadata policy and procedure for describing digital collections, including those containing offensive and possibly traumatizing materials, in alignment with our vision of diversity, inclusion, and belonging (related: I love this post from Hornbake Library about offensive content in our collections).

Reference and Instruction

My fabulous colleague, Julia, trained me on answering reference inquiries at RMC. This involved using my broad & general knowledge of our collections to search databases for information about the materials in question (which may be complex due to language, format, subject, or publication pattern). I also led a series of zine workshops over the last semester, which I will continue and expand on in my new role.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging

While I was at RMC, I served on the RMC Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DIB) Task Force. Our work culminated with the creation of a strategic report on workplace diversity recommendations. We also made efforts to celebrate events such as National Coming Out Day and International Pronouns Day through placing out baskets of pronouns pins. This had significant impact: A visiting researcher told us that she loved our Pronouns Day promotion so much she had already contacted her own college librarian about doing something similar next year.

I continue to serve on several committees and project teams which has involved organizing a DIB unconference; acquiring, organizing, and developing diversity-related resources; investigating diversity vision and mission statements; and planning a DIB book club!

So, Why Does Any of This Matter?

My college years were tough, as I suffered from PTSD, but the library I worked at - and the people there - were my home, community, and family. As a result of fearless organizing work to get a LGBTQ library and resource center on campus, to which I am incredibly grateful to my elders and ancestors for, there was space for me to grow, recover, heal, survive, and thrive. Diversity, inclusion, and belonging in libraries is incredibly important so we are able to create spaces like the LGBT Equity Center. It’s so great to be involved in building an accessible, inclusive, and anti-oppressive culture here at CUL, building on the work of my predecessors.

Access is a part of this too. The work I do, whether it’s archival processing, creating descriptive metadata, making our LibGuides accessible, or teaching students about library resources, furthers our community’s access to resources, knowledge, materials, collections, and histories. The past six months have been so rewarding because I’ve been able to improve description & access of crucial collections documenting the history & lives of LGBTQ people & communities (who have been historically erased from archives) for researchers (anyone with a photo ID can visit & view our collections!)

What’s Next?

I started my next rotation yesterday, as an Outreach and Instruction Librarian at Albert R. Mann Library. I will be continuing my DIB advocacy work, doing outreach and instruction for both Mann Library and the mannUfactory (our makerspace), working to make all of our LibGuides accessible, and leading zine and DIY workshops. I’ll be sure to keep you updated on how it goes as I continue to learn and grow in this role! As always, you can reach me at karina.hagelin@cornell.edu.

In solidarity,

Karina