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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.


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