Tina Samuel Learns about Diversity in Libraries at 2018 Joint Conference of Librarians of Color in New Mexico

by Tina Samuel, Titusville Branch Library

L-R: Tina Samuel and Titusville Library branch manager Amanda Jenkins

My name is Tina Samuel. I am a Library Assistant III at the Titusville Branch Library. I was given the opportunity to attend the 2018 Joint Conference of Librarians of Color (JCLC). This is a somewhat unique and rare opportunity considering the years that accumulate between each gathering.

JCLC was first held in 2006 in Dallas, Texas; in 2012 in Kansas City, Missouri; and in September 2018 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The conference brings together a diverse group of librarians, library staff, library supporters, and community participants to explore issues of diversity in libraries, and how they affect the ethnic communities who use library services.

Although I may not ever be able to convey the full experience gained by attending this conference, I will attempt to allow you to peak in.

My journey began in a general session led by Benjamin Alire Sáenz, who was born in Old Picacho, New Mexico, in 1954. Sáenz is a recognized novelist, poet, and essayist. He started his session by encouraging us as library workers to appreciate what we do. He said that we are “the gate keepers of American culture and passion for living comes through reading books.” He also added that “children become what we educate them to become.” These, among many other profound statements by Saenz, really made me think and held me accountable to the role I play in our library system.

Benjamin Saenz shared stories about his childhood and how being different affected his path through life. He graced us with a reading from one of his favorite poems, "Homage to My Hips" by Lucille Clifton:
these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!
We were engulfed in his words. Yet there was still more to come.

Most of the sessions I attended were interactive and lead by a panel of diverse librarians. They were very blunt and open, which meant they didn’t mind questions from the attendees; in fact they encouraged it. In the majority of the sessions People of Color (POC) shared their personal testimonials. They shared stories of how they had to deal with microaggressions and the lack of affirmation because of their race, gender, or sexuality. We were urged to be catalysts for change. Our presence alone should hold others accountable for what they say and/or do. This brought about a quote from James Baldwin: “Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?” Although this may be considered an over-exaggeration, many of our POCs walk into a “burning house” every day. 

Although the conference was centered on POC, it also included those that are excluded daily. We were educated on gender diversity and transgender inclusivity in libraries. We were introduced to the concept of incorporating mentorship into our libraries. We learned tactics on how to really hear what someone is saying and how to have a productive conversation with someone that we normally would not. We met the publishers of Librarians with Spines and I was gifted the book. We learned that culture trumps strategy, and that we need to get out of the boat and take back depression and internalized racism. We were given tips on how to deal with work overload and how to determine what we are supposed to do versus what we find ourselves doing.

I will leave you with a quote that was used many times and will forever live in my psyche: “You don’t get credit for doing what is right.”