National Dialogue on the Curriculum of Readiness for the 21 st Century Librarian

ALA Annual Conference - Chicago, Illinois - Tuesday June 28, 2005


Plenary Session III: Don’t Just Talk About It, Be About It: New and Veteran Librarians on Connecting LIS Pedagogy and Readiness to Social Justice and Societal Change

Clara Chu:  Moving right along we are going to go into our next session which is plenary session 3, which was going to focus on "don't just talk about, be about it." And it's going to be moderated by Bharat Mehra, who is an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Bharat Mehra:  Good afternoon. I hope everybody is, after eating, we all are kind of not lethargic, because I can promise you we have got a very exciting panel out here, a lot of wonderful speakers. They are going to going to be talking about, "Don't just talk about it, be about it," and how one can connect LIS pedagogy with social justice and social change. How do we connect theory and practice towards community building and community engagement? How do we train our students to be collaborators and work in partnerships with people from underserved populations? And not in a mode of helping people, but helping people help themselves, and there is a slight difference there.

But without going further, I'll let the speakers talk about different case studies and best practices and applications in different contexts and that will be the theme that might come out.

I will start with Kawanna Bright who is my resident librarian at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.


Kawanna Bright:  Thank you all. Can everyone hear me OK, right now? Great.

I'll be honest, I wrote down something to say this afternoon about 12,000 times and I'm throwing it all in the trash because nothing was coming out quite right. So, there are a few things I want to say and hopefully I'll be on the right track for what Bharat has been talking about.

When the question was first posed to me, I did sit and think what do I have to say about this? What have I done personally or what have I done in different contexts? And I guess when we do things like that sometimes we don't realize the type of work we're doing, or the types of things we are involved in. So, I actually had to go back to library school for myself in terms of when I first got started trying to do things, and trying to get the word out, trying to make sure people were aware of diversity and diversity issues.

I went to the University of Washington Information School and when I got out there the position I went for, the only reason I was able to go as an out of state student, was as a graduate assistant. And they offered me a position as the diversity committee's graduate assistant. It was a new committee that had just formed. Needless to say, no one in the school other than those on the committee knew about the diversity committee and the work they had done as a task force for the entire year before.

So, when I got out there, part of my job, or what I made part of my job, because it actually wasn't listed as part of my job, but I made it a point that everyone in the school was going to find out about the diversity committee, find out what they had done, been doing for the past year, what they were planning to do in the following year after that.

I did things like creating websites and posting fliers. I suggested starting new programs. We did one; we did a diversity spotlight where we chose one student who was doing diversity work, or a diverse student, we focused on their activities, and we basically plastered their face and their activities all over the school for everyone else to know about.

So we did this for our distant students. It didn't matter what level you were in. We did this for all our students because one thing I learned when I got out there was that in Seattle there is a different type of diversity from Tennessee where I am from, and I had to readjust myself. There were many times where I was alone in many places and I had to get used to the fact that it was sometimes left up to me to make sure that others knew about diversity and diversity issues.

Luckily as other people were saying right now, and were saying before, I did bring this upon myself. I was not made to do this. So, it was easier to do it that way, I thought it was something that I should do.

But I moved on from Seattle. I became one of the first minority residents at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. And once we got out there, we've been talking a little bit about curriculum and how we're leaving some of our students unprepared. And one thing I would like to point put is that in the residency programs and there are some fellowship programs and internship programs. These programs right now are serving as bridges for many people. They are giving us those skills that we would like to come out of library school with, but we are unable to. The teaching skills that many people don't get, the training that many people don't get, and the professional development.

Unfortunately though, there aren't enough programs for everyone. These programs are not adequate enough because you'll only get two or three librarians, sometimes only one and you are talking at the most maybe 30 programs. And not all are diversity based. They don't have to be. You can be a diverse librarian and attend any program. Everyone is qualified. I do want to make people aware of that.

But as a resident, working in different programs and I do have two other colleagues who are outstanding and I wish they could have been here today, their names are Mod Mundaba and Jaya Chaudhry. And they have helped me become a better librarian just working with them and collaborating with them.

But we came up with a project that we call the diversity librarian's network. That was not the original name. It had a very long 15 letter name that I try not to remember now because it was a little scary. But the whole point to begin with was to actually get word out about residency programs and training programs because when I applied for Tennessee, I knew nothing about anyone else. I didn't know there were other programs. I didn't know what a residence program was.

So we set out collecting information, collecting data and trying to collaborate and get this information out there. And it's grown into something else. We're trying to actually just create a network where people can actually share, collaborate, no matter where you're at, whether you're out in Seattle by yourself or maybe I'm back in Tennessee with other people where there's another library school.

But just getting the word out about different activities in diversity, you don't have to be a person of color to care about diversity. And that's a big point with us. And there are all levels of diversity that we're trying to get the word out about. So, I did actually leave brochures outside so as you're leaving today, if you'd like to pick up a brochure and find out more about us and also help us with this network because it's brand new. It's just starting out and it's just developing.

But just to finish up, in terms of talking about, not talking and actually doing, that's something that I actually do a lot. Realize that sometimes I forget to talk though. Because sometimes you do have to actually talk first and make sure that others know what you are trying to do, and make sure that you are not just jumping in and doing something and not sharing. Because that's something we've learned with this network is that there are other channels. There are people doing great things that we don't know about.

We are not trying to step on toes but it's happening and we don't want that to happen. We need to talk about it first. So, we spent a year a trying to talk about it more. We've talked about it a lot at this conference. Hopefully now we can actually set out going about doing it and getting other people to join us and helping us with this project.

So, I will conclude with that today. I will say that in terms of curriculum and being prepared based on the curriculum for being a librarian and coming not library school and actually being able to do things, I can honestly say, the curriculum didn't prepare me for that, but the diversity committee there did. And the great people there on that committee did prepare me for going out and not just talking but doing. So, thank you.

Bharat Mehra:  I must add that the UTK's minority resident program, two out of the three positions that were or the positions that were filled up are now made on a permanent basis. And this year we are still interviewing for three new positions. So, that's quite exciting. Thank you, that was most enlightening.