Reflections on Mentoring in Libraries


Hadeal Salamah, Children’s Librarian, D.C. Public Library1_0

After reflecting on my time spent at JCLC, I realized that I wanted to share my thoughts on some of the presentations that I have heard. We are a community of information professionals, and yet, there is so much ignorance in our community in dealing with culture, diversity, race, etc. It’s even more evident that there is a problem as I think about staff relations and how they relate to those issues.

At the discussion panel I attended called “Mentoring the Next Generation of Librarians of Color,” I learned about the benefits of having a mentor in the library world, specifically, the discussion of identifying the characteristics of successful mentoring, and strategies for mentoring librarians of color.

After this session, I realized how grateful I was to have mentors. At the time, I didn't think of my supervisor and colleagues as mentors, but looking back, the word ‘mentor’ fits perfectly. I learned so much about programming, schedules, grants, conferences and social networking from them. But just as important, I learned how to advocate for myself, how to answer questions about my religion or background, and that I didn't have to be mistreated or harassed by anyone because of what I look like, or how I dress, or what I believe.

I once worked with someone whom I believed to be a role model. I thought that I could learn from them to be a better and stronger librarian. But instead of inspiring me and helping me grow, this person showed their ignorance and prejudices by questioning my beliefs, asking questions to undermine me, and using tired excuses like they had never met someone like me and had a lot of questions. Instead of having a connection to a mentor, I learned a different lesson: to take every opportunity I could to learn about the diverse community I was serving, the culture, languages, etc. I would not let ignorance be an excuse. I choose to be better, to do better. 2

When colleagues don’t take the time to learn on their own and educate themselves, it can make others seem like token people for that “other”, and that is a lot of emotional strain to take on-- as well as then having to educate people that not all Muslims are the same, or African Americans, or Jewish people. As I attended these sessions and listened to how people have dealt with these microaggressions and their answers, I realized that this was my solution back when the person who was supposed to help me didn't. I teamed up with other colleagues to bring a professional in to speak about diversity and correct terminology for diverse communities. I created an element of growth and change for my community. Instead of letting prevailing and stereotypical elements control the library culture, I reached for something better- based in information and knowledge, and let own voices speak.

Resources from select panels: Cultural Humility | Organization Assessment and Project Management | Women of Color in the Workplace