JCLC 2018: The Power of Safe Spaces, Finding Affirmation, and Exploring Mindfulness


By: Alea Perez, Head of Youth Services, Westmont Public Library, Westmont, IL20180929_133345

When I arrived at the Albuquerque Convention Center Thursday morning, I had already missed half of the keynote speech due to the timing of my flight. Yet, the moment I walked into the ballroom, I felt as though I stepped through a fictional portal and into a whole new plane of existence. Before me were a thousand library personnel of color who all understood the highs and lows of being in a predominately white profession, and onstage was Mr. Benjamin Alire Sáenz, who was sharing great insight with fire and enthusiasm. That feeling of euphoria would only grow the longer I was there and the more I interacted one-on-one with others.

I spent much of the morning getting my bearings, taking in the sights and sounds (often, of other languages being proudly spoken), but I really felt moved by the Diversity and Research: Impact on Decision Making in Libraries and LIS Education session. It was there that I had confirmed, for me, the need for public libraries/librarians to be included and actively involved in directing the research (currently 20180927_123213predominately done in academic settings) surrounding libraries and diversity. I was able to connect with another audience member who was interested in seeing the same outcome, as well as with one of the presenters. Their willingness to guide and assist reignited a spark within me and I’m eager to be in touch with them to see what can be accomplished. Although the work it will hopefully lead to is something bigger than my individual library, it will undoubtedly help it and many others like it to go beyond diversity statements and squarely into the realm of diversifying the staff, programs, and collections.

Another session that I expect to have a lasting impact was the Using Mindfulness to Cope with Microaggressions and Workplace Stress session on Friday morning. As one of the attendees shared, it was reaffirming to hear from a mental health expert that workplace experiences can have a significant impact on our well-being. Even more helpful was the exercise we performed together to demonstrate active listening and just how unnatural it feels to engage without practice and determination. This activity is something that, as a manager at my library, I have the power to introduce to my staff and management team. I’m incredibly excited to see how using active listening can bolster our conversations and understanding of each other.20180928_191404

These were just two of many powerful, supportive, and affirming moments I had at this conference. I’ve had many more opportunities since to reflect on the experience and to ask more big questions thanks to social media and the friends and colleagues with whom I made connections. I will carry this experience with me always as I strive to help my current and any possible future library to better reflect our community.