Learning well with others

A group of geese is a gaggle. A group of cats is a clowder. A group of sharks is a shiver.  So what do you call a group of collection-development librarians?  Last Friday, Annabelle invited me to Schaumburg Township District Library to sit in on a collection-development librarian networking meeting. It was beneficial to hear about the real-world issues librarians encounter, and I learned so much just by listening. I would advise students (in particular those like me who don’t have a lot of experience working in libraries) to see if there’s a way to attend networking meetings in their areas of interest, because hearing from practicing librarians helps make manifest the things we learn in class.

The meeting started off with a good and frank discussion of efforts to introduce and measure equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in collections. Annabelle began by talking about her efforts at Skokie (if you saw her panel about this topic at ILA, you know the gist; if not, I’ve got a blog post about it in the hopper). One of the larger points of discussion was how to make a good faith effort to diversify collections when the demographics of a library is mostly homogenous and the current interest level is low. One of the responses that resonated most was that even in homogenous communities, it is important to know each others’ stories. (On a related note, if you haven’t heard, ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ by Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, I highly recommend it.) A point was made that, ‘it’s not going out,’ is not a good enough reason for not including diverse materials – active promotion is the next step. Commit. Make an effort. Try different things and see what happens. Be creative – librarians are good at this!  Some ideas that were brought up: Include diverse books in storytimes. Incorporate diverse materials into programs and readers advisory. Create adult reading challenges like, ‘read outside your comfort zone’ or ‘travels to…’ various places. As a librarian, consume diverse books and media so they become an organic part of your conversations. When selecting, don’t forget genres and independent presses. I am sure I am forgetting other good ideas, but if this is what comes up from just 20 minutes of discussion, plenty of inspiration is out there.

We didn’t talk about this on Friday, but I would bet that incorporating EDI into strategic plans (like at SPL!) makes a huge difference. There are certainly things individual staff members can do to promote diverse collections, but it is inevitably a tougher road without official support. On the other hand, if there is resistance, it may help to start small. Taking a lesson from my past experience, especially when user experience was a fairly new field, it was often challenging to try to convince companies that investing in it was a worthwhile long-term strategy – it not only takes time and money, it often requires a big shift in culture. Building up small, measurable successes over time, combined with visibility, transparency, and sustained advocacy, can provide proof of value in the long run. (Confession: this did not always work – resistance to change is a powerful thing, especially when the resistance comes from the top.)  

Back at the meeting, the group moved on to discussions of hot spots (how do you get people to return them? how long do you lend them out?), board games (good idea? if so, how do you keep the pieces together?), tips for streamlining the process to make items ‘shelf-ready,’ and experiences with Vox books, My Media Mall, Canopy, RB Digital, and Great Courses. Again, hearing both positive and negative direct experiences with these platforms/products/services was invaluable. Because the Collection Management class at Dominican gave me a solid understanding of the responsibilities and processes and vocabulary in this area, I was able to listen to the details of this discussion without having tons of questions about the basic lingo. Onward and upward!

I can’t think of a smooth way to end this post, so here’s a photo of the Trickster Native American Arts Gallery, which I drove by on my way out of the library and had to go check out (it was cool):


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