I have been caught in this strange space for the last five years where I desire to have a better and higher paying position, but I still grapple with the fear of being rejected, again. I’ve spent most of this time not applying for jobs, but looking at job announcements every single day and doing a mental checklist of my qualifications and then never applying. I consider myself to be a fairly confident person, but constantly subjecting myself to the angst I feel when applying for jobs and then being told “no” has grown tiresome. I mean, I know what I offer and what I bring to a space. However, what I have found to be part of the problem is trying to get my foot more firmly placed not just in the door, but the room itself.
I am a Black degreed librarian and I know it’s a bit strange to say, but I’m an anomaly. When you look at the numbers it’s very obvious that there are not a lot of Black and Brown people with Library Science degrees. Sure the numbers are growing (FINALLY!), but there is still a relatively large racial gap within the profession. According to zippia.com, the library profession still consists of 79.8% white professionals compared to the 7.7% of Hispanic/Latino, 6.5% of Black, 4.1% Asian, and 0.6% American Indian/Alaska Native. Not to mention, most people choose to become a Librarian as a second career, which means that I am still subjected to being outranked by those who have more years of work experience and can be considered “subject matter experts.” As a result, I am more likely to be interviewed by people who don’t look like me.
While interviewing in the last five years, on those rare occasions when I’ve mustered up the courage to apply for a position and then wait 3-6 months for a response, I have received three in-person panel interviews. These panels consisted of 3-4 people and out of those three interviews, only one of the interviewers was a person of color.
I’m not writing this for pity, but really to point out that even in spaces where we celebrate and welcome diversity and inclusion we still have a diversity and inclusion problem. Library’s have only been desegregated for the last 70 years or so. In the last 70 years, the library world has been attempting to create multicultural and multigenerational spaces for people to learn, connect, and thrive. However, after becoming a librarian, I have found that there are some significant job disparities. In my observations, there are more people of color in low level support staff positions (i.e. aide, page/shelver, technician) than those that occupy higher level functioning positions (i.e. librarian, supervisor, manager/director). Within those lower level support positions, many of the BIPOC people are degreed librarians. I am one of the degreed librarians in a low level position who has never held a job with the formal title of Librarian (recently received a temporary Reference Librarian position, 4 month detail).
It is my opinion that this goes against what we are trying to communicate about libraries as a whole. I believe that in order to aid those who are disproportionately disadvantaged when it comes to resources (i.e. access to technology) we need more people in those higher level positions who reflect those groups and backgrounds to be in the room as advocates. As a Black American, who grew up in high poverty, I know what it’s like to just survive. To quickly adapt to a rapidly changing environment or go without. To be economically resourceful with what I have available to me. These survival skills are what have been aiding me through the transition into full-time telework. It took less than two weeks for my survival instincts to be back in full swing during the world of COVID-19. My experience is not unique, as it is the story of the marginalized.
These skills are what can be useful in top level organizing of library spaces when trying to service “tech deserts” throughout the country. Quick adaptation and resilience in a fast changing environment is only known to those who understand uncertainty. It’s known to those of us familiar with the caress of “make it enough.” There has to be a space created for these survivors in the library world at the top.
In the library, it seems that we have begun to merely idolize the idea of being diverse and inclusive in our methods to assist customers. Reveling at how good it looks on paper. However, this false identity has caused us to lack integrity in creating truly diverse and inclusive hiring and promoting practices. What I am suggesting is a restructuring of the system to authentically reflect diversity and inclusion internally on every level. Creating space for the voices of the marginalized in all rooms. This is how we create true identity within the Library. Let’s stop just talking about it and be about it.
Bri Michelle is an Author, Publisher, & Librarian from East St. Louis, IL now based in Arlington, VA. She has over 8 years of professional library experience and 4 years as a publisher. Her book “Confessions of a Young Adult’s Life” is available on Amazon.