Hack Your Worldview: How to Build a Diverse Network of Allies and Mentors

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!

Editor’s note: this post was originally published May 14, 2014.

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

8 replies

  1. SAA’s Issues & Advocacy Roundtable is another opportunity for archives students and professionals to discuss our profession across global borders. And I’m not sure where the Archivists Without Borders organization is right now, but it’s another opportunity for non-US points of view.

    I cultivate my network digitally by reading blogs and following people on Twitter who might not share my opinions, who are not archivists, who attended different schools (or no school at all); this in turn introduces me to news, videos, and opinion pieces that I might not see otherwise. In person, I try to seek out art, literature, films, and events outside of my comfort zone. I ask my friends what they’re reading (a lot more non-fiction than me!), watching, or thinking about. Volunteer work is another way I’ve gotten involved with my community. I meet people whose path I might not cross otherwise; and then I get to explain to them what an archivist is! I win (I am hopeful they also win)

    It sounds silly – “so you read more…” – but I have noticed a difference in my perception, which in turn changes my viewpoint inside and outside of the office.


    • Stephanie,

      That’s a wonderful suggestion! Much like Twitter and the blogosphere, literature can be a great starting point for these vital conversations. Sometimes, it can give us the space we need to really grapple with our worldview as it changes and grows.

      I’m actually on a mission after I graduate to dig into new literature and non-fiction, particularly by women authors around the world. I’m part of a group wiki on PB Works called “A Year of Reading Women”. It’s just starting up, but anyone who wants to contribute or participate is welcome to request access and make a space.

      This is my reading list so far: http://yearofreadingwomen.pbworks.com/w/page/79940408/Sam's%20Reading%20List


  2. Look for a mentor who’s not a librarian. Mine has a background in project management and non-profits. I have to explain some things about libraries to her, but it’s so helpful to get an outsider’s perspective-and it helps you build a strong, professional connection with someone outside your usual orbit.

    Just my two cents. Good article!


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