Ethnic Caucus Presidents Discuss Advocacy at JCLC

September 20, 2012

Diversity, leadership, and community engagement were the three main themes at the September 20 plenary/all-conference session at the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC) in Kansas City, Missouri. While each leader of the five ethnic caucuses discussed how these three topics play a role within their associations, a few other common themes surfaced: branding, membership, and advocacy.

The Latino community, for example, “is constantly shifting and changing,” said Denice Adkins of Reforma, but the unifying group for advocacy within the Latino community of librarians is the association, she said. Because a variety of cultures make up the community, Adkins emphasized that Latino librarians need to “have a voice in librarianship.”

Jerome Offord Jr. of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) struck a similar note, saying that the ALA’s oldest caucus is “looking at branding” as a way to recruit younger librarians. He said his caucus and other librarians of color need to engage with students at a younger age to introduce them to the profession. Offord joked that in Anaheim, some younger prospective librarians were surprised to see that librarians like to party.

Likewise, Janice Kowemy of the American Indian Library Association discussed mentorship programs and advocacy efforts within the Indian community. “It’s part of our culture to welcome people,” she said.

To capture the scope of diversity within a single organization, Jade Alburo of the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association detailed a list of countries, regions, religions, and languages that encompass the word “Asian.” Even within those various groups, she said, there are LGBT people, people with disabilities, younger folks, new immigrants, and others. “People think APALA is homogenous, but it’s not,” Alburo said. She cited the August 6 shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin as an example of the continued urgency to fight discrimination and racism against Asians.

Esther Lee of the Chinese American Librarians Association discussed her organization’s collaborations with ALA and the Spectrum Scholarship Program, and, like many of the other leaders, encouraged all attendees—not just those of Chinese descent—to become members.

This message of inclusivity was no surprise. ALA President Maureen Sullivan, who moderated the discussion, said the relationship between the Association and caucuses is “critically important.” ALA not only wants to hear from caucus leaders and members about what their hopes, dreams, and expectations are, she said, but it also wants to know what they would like to see from ALA.

One such proposal, offered by BCALA’s Offord, was for the five ethnic groups to become part of ALA as affiliates instead of caucuses. He said they work “just as hard to promote ALA [and] want equal power at the table.” Sullivan agreed that the matter was an important one and would lead to further discussion.