On Multiculturalism in Reference Services

Note: I originally posted this on my personal blog. I thought it would be useful to share here. We talk a lot about multiculturalism in library school, but to a great extent, those of us who look like the majority are not going to “get it.” To those of you who look like me: we need to get it. And best to get it now.


2014-09-28 14.40.22
For the class I’m taking in “Information Sources and Services,” I was assigned to review a “multicultural reference resource.” We had previously spoken (briefly) about acknowledging and accommodating cultural differences in providing services in information contexts, but it seemed that the point of this assignment was to focus on evaluating an information source. And by the way, it should be about or not geared towards white, straight, cis-, male, Christian adults.

I took this opportunity to review a unique-sounding American Sign Language resource, The American Sign Language Handshape Dictionary. I learned of this resource from our course textbook and wanted to see if it would be better than a standard ASL dictionary when it comes to easily confused signs. It is…sort of. But that’s not my purpose in sharing this post.

My school’s library has the DVD that accompanies the ASL Handshape Dictionary. Or, it has it in its catalog, but it is missing. And would be on reserve with a 1-day checkout period. In other words, not useful to me. The library at Gallaudet, however, has it in general circulation.

I know a few signs. But I certainly can’t sign in “complete sentences” (so to speak) and I get nervous about doing new things, so I was very anxious before going. So anxious that I used the library’s chat reference to see if there was anything I should know before arriving (ID requirements or similar). Or what to do if I needed actual assistance from a real live person. I went to the library, found the book, went to the circulation desk where I shoved the book and my school ID at the student assistant with my patented deer-in-headlights look (perfected during 10 months in Israel), got it checked out, and then confidently signed thank you.

I was much more nervous than I needed to be. I would be much more confident if I were to go back.

And this experience was, I think, vital to my preparation to be a responsive and responsible librarian in a world where not everyone speaks English and not everyone feels at home in the library. This was minor. Five minutes as a language minority where in every other respect I had everything going for me. But it did give me the experience of being culturally “other” so that I can better be empathetic when I’m the librarian in a setting where not everyone is just like me. This is what the assignment should have been about.

Categories: Diversity

Tagged as: ,

3 replies

  1. Thank you Becky for writing about diversity in library settings! I love reading posts that forces us (in a good way) to acknowledge and understand that as a library professional we will have opportunities to encounter all sorts of library users. It reminded me a lot of the piece I wrote back in February, “Language of Compassion: Multilingualism in the Library”. Being mindful of those differences, whether it’s language, culture, identity, etc. helps to make us not only better librarians, but human beings as well 🙂 https://hacklibraryschool.com/2014/02/17/language-of-compassion-multilingualism-in-the-library/


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s