To my fellow LIS Black, Indigenous, and People of Color [Series]: ALA Ethnic Caucuses (and more) Part 2

In this second part, I cover the American Indian Library Association (AILA) and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA). At the end I touch on some other non-ALA groups that might be of interest to readers.


AILA “addresses the library-related needs of American Indians and Alaska Natives” and “is also committed to disseminating information about Indian cultures, languages, values, and information needs to the library community.” Along with a yearly business meeting held during the ALA annual meeting, AILA often hosts events during ALA annual as well. This past conference, AILA celebrated 40 years and hosted a pre-conference tour at the National Museum of the American Indian Cultural Resources Center. Like other ALA ethnic affiliates, AILA also offers a scholarship for American Indian students: the Virginia Mathew Memorial Scholarship.

Sandy Littletree, past president of AILA and lecturer at the University of Washington iSchool, chatted with me about the benefits of joining AILA as a student. For $10 a year, students can access the AILA listserv and newsletter (published twice a year) as well as have voting privileges. If you’re interested in getting involved, there are volunteer opportunities for small and large projects as well as committees. To Sandy, “the real benefit of joining is getting active, meeting people, taking on responsibilities, and being a part of the discussions…Being an active member of AILA as a grad student opened a door for me to work on a seemingly small project with ALA right after graduation. And then this turned into a huge and very impactful project that I got to lead as a new professional.” For current students, there’s opportunities to take on leadership roles in AILA if you’re interested in being involved with Indigenous librarianship. There are volunteer projects available to help you gain leadership skills and meet other Native people in the field. Several years after Sandy joined AILA as a graduate, she became president of the organization!

While not everyone in AILA is Native, joining AILA is a great way to meet Native people in leadership roles in libraries. Sandy also points out that “being aware of the issues of Native librarianship can help a student who is interested in serving and working with these communities.” American Indian or Alaskan Native make up a little over 1% of ALA membership in 2017. Seeing yourself reflected in the field and connecting with other Native librarians can tremendously help Native students as they navigate graduate school, and AILA can help students find success.


BCALA’s mission is to serve “as an advocate for the development, promotion, and improvement of library services and resources to the nation’s African American community; and provides leadership for the recruitment and professional development of African American librarians.”

BCALA will be co-hosting the 11th National Conference of African American Librarians (NCAAL) along with the NCAAL XI Programming Committee in 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma; this will also be BCALA’s 50th Anniversary. It is the “largest professional gathering of African Americans working in library and information science, individuals working in libraries serving predominately African American communities and those with an interest in African American librarianship.” For Black LIS students, this is a unique opportunity to meet and connect with other Black librarians in a smaller setting compared to ALA Annual. A member of the group We Here explained that it is “small, informative [and] with a family reunion atmosphere.” If you are attending ALA, be sure to look out for BCALA events. In the past they’ve hosted BCALA meet and greets, Black Librarians Welcome Mixers, and BCALA socials. BCALA also occasionally hosts webinars; one past webinar was on using social media to promote your work.

Just as Sandy mentioned with AILA, students can get involved with BCALA committees. For those looking to become more involved, there are a number of committees including Literary Awards, International Relations, and Awards. BCALA offers a scholarship opportunity for Black LIS students: E.J. Josey Scholarships are awarded based on essay submissions. This year’s essay topic is “They Were Giants: How BCALA Early Leadership Helped Shape the Future of the Organization” and the deadline is December 13, 2019 for those interested! This is a great way to not only receive some funding for school but to also learn more about the history of BCALA. Students who are employed in libraries can apply for the Baker & Taylor Library Support Staff Award. Finally, check to see if BCALA has a local chapter in your area. Smaller events and meetups can be a great way to really connect with librarians.

If you are a BIPOC and haven’t already done so, make sure to check out the group we here. It is a “supportive community for BIPOC library and archive workers and students. Some of the ways in which we here can be described is as a support group, collaboration network, and mentorship platform.” You find them on Twitter and join the closed Facebook group, as well as request access to the we here Slack and Google Groups. As an online student, I’ve benefited tremendously from We Here through connections I’ve made and support I’ve received online. Hearing about other BIPOC’s successes and struggles helps you realize you aren’t alone.

Babak, a librarian at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, recommends the Progressive Librarians Guild, an affiliate of ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table. According to their website, PLG “exists to expose and call out librarianship’s active and passive complicity and acceptance of those systems, to offer and practice alternatives to those systems, to empower the voices of those excluded from positions of power and/or the historical record and to develop a praxis that contributes to on-going pursuits of human rights and dignity.” They offer the Miriam Braverman Memorial Prize, awarded each year for the “best paper written by a LIS student about some aspect of the social responsibilities of librarians, libraries, or librarianship.” It is also only $10 for students to join.

Babak also recommends the open access journal In the Library with the Lead Pipe which “publishes articles by authors representing diverse perspectives including educators, administrators, library support staff, technologists, and community members.” They are also open to student publications.

For those interested in archives and are part of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), check out the Archivists and Archives of Color Section (AAC). This section “helps to identify concerns and promote the needs of archivists and archives of color.” I was lucky to intern for this section last year and not only had a great time helping develop the newsletter manual and assisting with the AAC member directory, but also met some amazing and inspirational Black archivists who were on the leadership team. You can read their newsletters online and follow them on Twitter and Facebook. Check out their project Archiving in Color for interviews with leading BIPOC archivists in the field.

Look into your regional associations and organizations to see if they have sections or groups for BIPOC or dedicated to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) issues. They might also offer scholarships specifically for BIPOC students. For example, the Washington Library Association offers a scholarship to a WLA member of color working towards a graduate degree in LIS or Education.

Finally, Brittany Fielder created a great document with links and pricing to all the ALA ethnic affiliates. Remember that they are open to all librarians!

Have a recommendation for a group, affiliate, or caucus for BIPOC? Have a great experience to share? Comment below!

Cover photo from Pexels.

Kelli Yakabu is a MLIS student at the University of Washington focusing on archives and digital collections. You can follow her on Twitter @kelliyakabu.

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