Creating Networking Bridges

Posted Tuesday, June 17, 2014 - 17:36
Five Knowledge Alliance workshops connect students and professionals
Speakers and attendees at the Knowledge Alliance event in Chicago

In May, ALA’s Office for Diversity and Spectrum Scholarship Program partnered with libraries and graduate schools of library and information science in five cities—Seattle, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York—to present essential information workshops for people interested in graduate education and careers in library and information science as part of the Knowledge Alliance project. The project, funded in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), is intended to create a diverse network of library colleagues who serve as resources for those interested in pursuing library careers. 

According to an analysis of census data by ALA's Diversity Counts, there was a 1% increase from 2000 to 2010 in the number of racial and ethnic individuals working as credentialed librarians. In 2012, students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups accounted for 14% of ALA-Accredited MLIS degrees awarded.The five workshops were meant to provide attendees, especially those from underrepresented groups, with: information about the career options available to MLIS holders; opportunities to network with peers and potential mentors in the profession; and guidance for selecting, applying to, and financing a graduate degree.

The workshops were free, and most of them had a mix of speakers, recruiters, and LIS students present to create networking opportunities for attendees. Here are some insights from the workshop organizers and attendees.

Seattle (May 17, 2014)

Cynthia del Rosario, diversity programs advisor at the University of Washington’s (UW) iSchool, engaged four alumni and four current iSchool students, as well as 10 students and two mentors from Heritage University in Toppenish, Washington. Additionally, more than 50 iSchool students, faculty, and community members attended a networking reception at the Northwest African American Museum.

Attendees at the Knowledge Alliance workshop in Seattle.

“Some of the most difficult and confounding goals for information and library-oriented professions are around ensuring free and equitable access to knowledge, information and technology for all, especially for ethnic communities with different cultures, languages, traditions, and beliefs,” Rosario said. “Diversity enriches everyone by exposing us to a range of ways of understanding and engaging with the world, ways to view challenges, and of discovering and applying innovative and relevant solutions. Yet, the gap between ‘haves/have nots’ is still deep and wide. We are looking for people to help us solve these problems.”

Of the 25 candidates who attended the event, del Rosario says 10–15 of them are now considering applying to the MLIS program at UW.

The Seattle event was hosted by UW iSchool's Office of Diversity Programs; Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships, and Awards; and Undergraduate Advising.

Atlanta (May 30, 2014)

Recruiting a diverse group of professionals for the Atlanta event was a main goal of Steven D. Booth, archivist at US National Archives and Records Administration, and the 13 speakers were a major highlight of the workshop.

Though the event drew only eight attendees, Booth and Iyanna L. Sims, head of bibliographic, metadata, and discovery services at the F. D. Bluford Library at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, stressed the importance of showing prospective students an assortment of career paths and programs like Knowledge Alliance.

“Even if the students decide not to pursue an LIS degree and career, we’ve done our part as recruiters by simply exposing them to and broadening their understanding of the profession, and debunking stereotypes,” Booth said.

Panelists at the Knowledge Alliance Event in Atlanta

Diversity is not limited to ethnicity, Sims said. Age and experience level are also factors.

For Linda Cooks, MLIS student in her last semester at Valdosta (Ga.) State University, the networking opportunities at the workshop were essential. Cooks confessed she was unsure how to navigate the job search process, especially as a “mature professional” with no library work experience.

“I see the LIS profession as an opportunity to bring the research skills, career experiences, and professional knowledge I’ve acquired over the years in former careers to a new forum,” she said.

The Atlanta event was hosted by Georgia Perimeter College – Dunwoody Campus Library and Spellman College Women’s Research and Resource Center.

Chicago (May 30–31, 2014)

The Chicago event was organized by Kate McDowell, interim assistant dean of student affairs and associate professor at the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and Amani Ayad, coordinator of the LIS Access Midwest Program at UIUC, who took the lead in reaching out to prospective students. Of the approximately 30 attendees, McDowell said about 18 were potential UIUC recruits.

Panelist Liza Booker, membership coordinator at the National Association of Women Lawyers and user experience researcher, said that attendees wanted to hear from working library professionals. “A lot of students are worried about whether they can have a career or the ease of finding a job after the LIS program. Students of diverse backgrounds need to interact with professionals of diverse backgrounds to settle that worry,” she said.

Attendees at the Knowledge Alliance workshop in Chicago

Jasmine Pawlicki wanted to learn more about the experience of being an MLIS graduate student. She says the variety of specializations and programming makes librarianship an appealing profession, especially when it comes to addressing the needs of underrepresented groups. “Diversity plays an important role in my consideration of a graduate program because I will be seeking mentorship to help me develop an LIS course of study that addresses my interests in Ojibwe Language revitalization, tribal libraries and archives, and curriculum development,” she said.

Veronica Cajigas had been interested in library school for a year when a UIC librarian told her about the Knowledge Alliance event. She said that as a woman of color, she hoped to see more racial diversity in the profession, and that this workshop was an eye-opening experience. “I knew I wanted to become a librarian, but after attending the event, hearing the speakers, and meeting with mentors, I’ve never been more determined to actually focus and accomplish that goal,” she said.

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Richard J. Daley Library and the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) hosted the Chicago even

Los Angeles (May 30–31, 2014)

The first day of the Los Angeles workshop focused on introducing students to librarianship: a “speed networking” event connected participants to 30 LIS professionals from across the spectrum of librarianship, from university archivists to medical librarians. The second day provided students with a tour of the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) central branch  in the morning and an afternoon focused on the LIS grad school experience and application process.

Jennifer Masunga, reference librarian at Loyola Marymount University and a co-coordinator of the workshop, said, “We didn’t try to sell the idea of librarianship in a formal, classroom-type setting. Instead we had librarians talk candidly about what they do in their jobs, what they like or dislike, and what they wish they’d known before the entered library school. This type of honest dialogue about professional work is something I feel many undergraduates struggle to find in college."

Attendees at the Knowledge Alliance workshop in Los Angeles.

Jesse Lopez, a 29-year-old recent US Marine Corps disabled veteran, has always been drawn to libraries. Having left the defense industry, Lopez was on the lookout for a new profession, and librarianship seemed appealing. “I feel that libraries are becoming increasingly more important and more relevant to our society and democracy for reasons of access to information and free speech,” he said.

Lopez has been accepted into the LIS program at Wayne State University in Detroit. "I feel as though veterans are one of the most overlooked minority demographics in the country. I am sure outreach to veterans with their own unique skills would only serve to benefit and enrich the profession," he said.

Masunga took this idea a step further, explaining that diversity in the profession has an enormous impact on its relevance to patrons. “We know that when the racial and ethnic diversity of patrons and library staff are well aligned, libraries do a better job of meeting the needs of their patrons. I firmly believe that we should continue to address diversity in our LIS schools because otherwise we will not sustain all the progress we have made so far.”

The event was hosted by Loyola Marymount University William H. Hannon Library, Career Development Services, and Los Angeles Public Library.

New York (May 31, 2014)

The last workshop held in Brooklyn, New York, brought together librarians from around the country, with a total of about 60 participants.

Edwin B. Maxwell, library information supervisor at Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), said that the biggest challenge to overcome was the geographic distance that separated all the event’s planners. However, that challenge also allowed participants to get a holistic view of libraries. “The planners were from totally different backgrounds, and from a diverse group of libraries, and the program reflected this,” he said. “This event educated people to the fact that a career in library science is a viable option. Many times, especially in minority communities, people are unaware that this pathway even exists.”

Attendees network at the Knowledge Alliance workshop in Brooklyn, New York.

Taina K. Evans, library information supervisor at BPL, said that the event allowed speakers and panelists to share their passion for their unique role. “It’s safe to say that everyone left with a new found drive to impact the library profession, with an understanding that it’s not what the library profession can give to you, but what invaluable service you can add to the entire community,” she said.

Maxwell said helping shape people’s perception of who librarians are and what they do was a success in itself. He added, “This event gives those of us that were fortunate enough to be a part of librarianship the opportunity to showcase our diverse backgrounds, skills, and talents. Additionally, non-professional attendees are given real-life examples of how people that they can personally identify with, have not only chosen, but also excelled in the career path.”

The New York event was hosted by Brooklyn Public Library; Queens Library; New York Black Librarians’ Caucus, Inc.; and Reforma: The National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking.