The ALA Spectrum program is celebrating its 20th year working to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the librarian population. As part of the ALA Annual Conference, Spectrum hosts several events for recipients of the Spectrum Scholarship. At Thursday’s opening reception, current scholars, alumni, and program leaders intermingled at tables. There were plenty of “long-time-no-see” greetings crisscrossing the room, as well as the beginnings of new connections.
We heard from Jody Gray, director of the ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services, about the history of Spectrum, including the year they thought the program was coming to an end, and the year the institute met in dorm rooms in Florida and found themselves sharing space with some local lizards.
We heard from ALA President Jim Neal, President-Elect Loida Garcia-Febo, and Executive Director Mary Ghikas about their hopes for the scholars, the Spectrum program, and the future of librarianship.
Following dinner, we scattered to prepare our “I come from…” poems, an exercise that challenges us to describe the complexity of our identities using concrete and abstract details. Scholars included descriptions of their childhood homes, unique advice and reprimands they received from elders, religious practices, family stories and traditions, meaningful foods, and geographic locations.
The institute leaders invited those who wished to step up to the podium and share their work. As the evening continued, we learned that there were people in our group from California, Chicago, New York, and right here in New Orleans. We laughed when we recognized connections to our own family histories.
When our colleagues’ words overwhelmed us with emotion, we passed tissues, responding to revelations both beautiful and painful. We heard memorable family sayings in Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese, as well as English. We could almost taste the foods described, from Double Stuf Oreos to black-eyed peas. We applauded the courage it took to stand in front of a room and share the truth of who you are.
The message of the evening was that our complexity is welcome in this space, and that the leadership of ALA is looking forward to our contributions to the profession. As a Spectrum Scholar myself, I am looking forward to learning all that I can from the Institute experience.