As future information science professionals, each of us has a responsibility to promote diversity in our profession, the collections we manage, and the services we offer our patrons. This notion is a fundamental value of the American Library Association, the Society of American Archivists, and the Special Libraries Association (among others).
Hack Library School has published several great articles over the years about the benefits of professional diversity, how students can learn about and promote diversity within their LIS programs, and how library professionals can do more to serve diverse populations. Information professionals on Twitter recently used the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks to discuss the lack of diversity in young adult literature.
Translating talk into action
In spite of the rich conversations happening across the profession, even well-intentioned resources like HLS can struggle to translate a desire for diversity into diverse outcomes. As our peers in the science and technology sectors have demonstrated, diversity doesn’t just “happen.” Recruiting an inclusive panel of conference speakers and blog contributors, for example, takes concerted effort. So, what can you and I do to promote diversity in our own professional spheres?
One strategy is to broaden our professional learning networks (PLNs) to include perspectives that complement and challenge our own. In January 2014, The Atlantic cited a study by two top-tier research universities which found that adding a single woman to a conference planning panel increased the proportion of female speakers by 72 percent when compared with conferences planned by an all-male panel. Adding a single female voice to the planning committee had an exponential effect on the outcome of the conference participation.
Similarly, each diverse voice you add to your PLN can have an exponential impact on your ability to change career paths and make more effective decisions. More importantly, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discussed in her groundbreaking 2009 TED talk on “The Danger of a Single Story”, limiting your perspective to a “single story” leads to critical misunderstandings. In contrast, when our PLN includes several perspectives – or several stories – we become better equipped to recognize our professional privilege, counter the effects of groupthink, and identify what we do not know. In turn, we learn how to serve diverse user populations better and how to support our professional peers from historically marginalized communities. A diverse PLN empowers each of us to identify areas in our profession where we can leverage our resources and privilege to empower others.
Building your own diverse network
Hopefully by this point, I have convinced to you diversify your own network. You may be wondering what this might look like on a practical level. Business journalist Brynna Leslie recommends seeking opportunities beyond your comfort zone, while entrepreneur Ivan Misner discusses the importance of creating networking groups that are “diverse in many, many ways.”
First and foremost, consider plugging into the international community across the web. Two of my favorite venues are WordPress (or the general blogosphere) and Twitter. In addition to creating a supportive network of fellow students, you can talk with LIS professionals from all kinds of institutions, demographic backgrounds, geographic origins, and levels of professional experience. Twitter in particular has helped me learn about new conference opportunities, international events relevant to archives, and emerging best practices.
Second, try stepping outside of your comfort zone within your favorite professional organization. Get involved with conferences, committees, roundtables, and listservs that promote diversity or present a perspective that is new to you. In SAA, for example, you might look to the Archivists & Archives of Color Roundtable, the International Archival Affairs Roundtable, the Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Heritage Archives Roundtable, Lesbian & Gay Archives Roundtable (LAGAR), Native American Archives Roundtable, or the Women Archivists Roundtable.
Most importantly, make an effort to meet new people in your professional circles and classes. Ask them what they are doing and experiencing in their realm. Remember that you have a unique perspective to share as well. Try to identify what experiences and characteristics you can offer the community.
Do you have a story to share about diversifying your network? Share it with us in the comments!