On April 14, the second day of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) 2021 Virtual Conference, Kaetrena Davis Kendrick invited attendees to think beyond the idea of openness in library and archival spaces—a concept that generally involves open access to resources—to imagine the idea of welcome for both library users and library workers. Kendrick, dean of the Ida Jane Dacus Library and Louise Pettus Archives and Special Collections at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, said that her theory of welcome has been proven through her own experience and research, as well as through national and international perspectives on the practice.
She began her talk by laying out the challenges facing the field—such as rising tuition costs, student retention, competition, and the pandemic—and their corresponding opportunities, including attracting nontraditional students, expanding degree programs, tapping alumni resources for networking, and rethinking what the campus experience could mean to students after the pandemic.
Kendrick spelled out her theory of welcome in four parts: the Why, the Way, the Waylay, and the Wow.
- The Why: All people should walk into your library with a sense of purpose, belonging, place, and value. To that end, you must show them how they fit into your mission, showing sensitivity to factors ranging from library anxiety to institutional racism. Those values of welcome should extend to your staff as well. And it must be genuine: Policies that include diversity rhetoric without accountability lead to low morale for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) library workers, Kendrick’s research has found.
- The Way: “Getting to welcome” requires collective goals, an honest evaluation of the organizational culture, and honoring the institutional mission. It also requires inviting and highlighting marginalized voices, creating more inclusive policies, and seeing your work through a critical lens, Kendrick said.
- The Waylay: Waylays prevent a library from getting to welcome. For instance, bringing in people who fit the culture but don’t have the right skill set contributes to low morale, she continued. Other waylays to welcome include constant job precarity, with decreased operations and competency gaps; leaders who are unwilling to advocate for library workers and not just financial bottom lines; and a reliance on resilience narratives and vocational awe. Low morale—the core of Kendrick’s research—has exponential negative effects, she said: “How do we bring in people ethically to a field when they will be exposed to abuse and neglect?”
- The Wow: Once your library is a place of welcome, she said, it will lead to increased collection usage, creation of new services and collections, higher program attendance, improved facilities, and increased faculty development and collaborations. Benefits for your staff include continuing education support and more opportunities to travel and speak. The message is, “You want to invest in us,” she said. “We take care of everybody on campus.”
Reflections and advice from Asian women leaders
A 2017 Ithaka S+R survey of academic libraries showed that the proportion of Asians in job roles decreases as positions become more senior. In the panel “Beating the Odds: Asian Women Leaders in Academic Research Libraries,” five library leaders reflected on their experiences and offered advice to younger librarians.
Adriene Lim, dean of libraries at University of Maryland, College Park, said her experiences with feminist activism were where she first learned leadership skills. “How do you influence others to embrace a vision and work toward it?” she asked.
Denise Pan, associate dean for collections and content at University of Washington Libraries in Seattle, wanted a seat at the table to have a greater say in collection development in her current job. She said recent instances of anti-Asian violence have her seeking a more activist role.
Hilary Seo, interim dean of library services at Iowa State University, who is a third-generation Japanese American, said she still doesn’t see many leaders who look or sound like her. “We need to change what the dominant culture sees as leadership,” she said.
Lorelei Tanji, university librarian at University of California, Irvine, said the demographics of her campus community—which is 85% BIPOC and 38% Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander—were a big factor in her desire to be leader. But when she was hired, she became the campus’s highest-ranking Asian leader, even among this community.
Panel moderator Mihoko Hosoi, associate dean for collections research and scholarly communications at Penn State University Libraries in State College, said she thought more about her gender growing up in Japan than her ethnicity, until moving to North Carolina. When she wanted to move into library leadership roles, she kept hearing “that’s not a good fit for you,” which she said just made her angry and more determined. She went to business school and chaired committees, but that didn’t change perceptions among her colleagues. Over the years she has become more comfortable with her own leadership style and accepted that she can’t please everyone.
“We don’t often own our accomplishments,” said Seo when asked about strategies and approaches to leadership. Lim said one of the advantages of her position is getting to sit on search committees. “In my experience leading those searches, I would be pained to see candidates of color hold back on sharing their accomplishments or sharing something personal. Are we holding back out of a false sense of professionalism or out of vulnerability?” She said she freely shares now that she was a high school dropout who overcame adversity, which she has come to see as a strength in her background.
Pan commented that recognizing the contributions of others instead of just focusing on your own accomplishments is a leadership skill. Talking and not listening is an old model of power; compassion and empathy represent a new model of power, and power is amplified when it is shared.
Hosoi countered that sharing power was frustrating for her because people would take credit for her ideas. She said she learned to say things like “I’m glad we’re on the same page” when they repeated something she just said.
Hosoi asked panelists to offer advice to the younger generation of librarians. Seo said one of the best things to have is a good network. Lim added not to forget your own value as a person, a professional, and a library worker. She advised going after jobs even if you don’t have all the qualifications when it’s a position you really want. “We do need you to be in leadership,” she said.
Demand to be at the table, question when you’re not, and don’t be surprised when you’re asked to leave the table, Pan offered. “It might be because you’re questioning their authority. Good job!”
When asked about how to improve retention and advancement opportunities, Lim said her research showed that the middle management pipeline is missing people of color and women of color. “I call upon leadership in libraries: Do more to correct this so we can retain our BIPOC colleagues,” she said.
Update, April 16: Corrected the percentage of AAPI representation at University of California, Irvine