By: Denice Adkins, Associate Professor, School of Information Science & Learning Technologies, University of Missouri
As part of the Diversity Research Grants Program sponsored by ODLOS, we've started a monthly spotlight on research advancing issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion in libraries. We welcome your submission of research for inclusion in future spotlights, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This month we highlight, Dr. Amy VanScoy of the University at Buffalo and Dr. Kawanna Bright (then a doctoral student at the University of Denver) to discuss their research into the practitioner experience of reference and information service by including the voices of librarians of color. We sat down with Dr. VanScoy and Dr. Bright to talk more about that research.
Dr. Amy VanScoy is an associate professor at the Department of Information Science at the University at Buffalo. Prior to that, she was a librarian at the North Carolina State University library. She studies professional thinking, particularly in reference and information services, but also in other areas of LIS as well.
Dr. Kawanna Bright just finished her Ph.D. at the University of Denver (DU) in Research Methods and Statistics, and she is currently working as a visiting assistant professor at DU. Before that, she was an academic librarian for about 12 years, and Amy was her former supervisor.
Tell us about your research project.
Amy had investigated reference and information services as part of her dissertation research. She looked at her research data and realized she only had one librarian of color in her pool, and that person had some different answers than the other participants. So, she wondered, was it just this person, or was it something related to race and ethnicity? Amy asked Kawanna if she had different experiences doing reference work as a woman of color. When Kawanna said yes, she asked why Kawanna didn’t tell her, and Kawanna said it was all part and parcel of what you put up with. And that sparked a conversation about what we deal with and why.
When this grant opportunity came out, it made Amy and Kawanna think about the limited diversity of our pool of candidates, and Amy realized that the voices of white librarians got a lot of airtime. As noted by Brook, Ellenwood, and Lazarro (2015), our definitions of concepts like objectivity, neutrality, or approachability are framed in terms of the white majority. Dr. VanScoy realized that she wanted to have a really inclusive definition of research and information services, and this grant was the catalyst for her to reach out to that group.
What did you learn from this research?
We deliberately focused on the perspective of reference and information services for librarians of color. We wanted to hear their views first as librarians, and we found that a lot of their views echoed views that had come up in previous research. But we also learned some new things.
First, and this is not news today, but it was when we did the study, we learned that librarians of color face a lot of racism and microaggressions in their reference service, both with users and with other staff. When we presented this finding, a lot of librarians were surprised by that and didn’t really think about racism in the reference context.
The other thing we learned was that librarians of color talked a lot about special relationships with students of color. This was not only things like better communication and users seeking them out, but also librarians played a role in user development, giving their users a sense of shared social capital and bringing them into the group of people who do research. They were developing relationships with students as mentor, role models, and also coaches, pushing students to do better. This was sort of a Student Affairs approach in reference that we hadn’t seen referenced except in one white paper published 50 years ago. So there is something here for white majority librarians to learn from librarians of color.
Where can we find more information?
- Project Website: Including the Voices of Librarians of Color in Reference and Information Services Research http://www.amyvanscoy.net/ivlc.html
- Bright, Kawanna. “A Woman of Color’s Work is Never Done: Intersectionality, Emotional and Invisible Labor in Reference and Information Work,” in Pushing the Margins: Women of color and Intersectionality in LIS, edited by Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press, 2018.
- VanScoy, A. & Bright, K. (in press). Articulating the experience of “uniqueness and difference” for librarians of color. Library Quarterly.
- VanScoy, A. & Bright K. (2017). Including the voices of librarians of color in reference and information services research. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 57 (2) 104-114.
- VanScoy, A. & Bright, K. (2016). Racial/ethnic matching in information intermediation. In Proceedings of ISIC, the Information Behaviour Conference, Zadar, Croatia, 20-23 September, 2016: Part 1, Information Research, 21(4).
Brook, F., Ellenwood, D., & Lazzaro, A. E. (2015). In pursuit of antiracist social justice: Denaturalizing whiteness in the academic library. Library Trends, 64(2), 246-284.