This post is part of the Student Experience series, which features current and former archives students as they reflect on graduate school, internships, and early career issues. If you would like to contribute a post for this series, please email me.
Guest poster NaVosha Copeland, graduate student at the iSchool at Illinois, discusses her experience with taking an Information Services for Diverse Populations course and what she learned from it.
No one forced me to take the Information Services for Diverse Populations course at The iSchool at Illinois this semester, but I wanted to for several reasons. First, I was curious about the subject. I studied Race and Difference during my undergraduate studies and I was interested in learning more information about the topic. Secondly, I wanted to be taught by the professor who teaches the course. During Orientation, she gave a short presentation about diversity in the Library and Information Science profession, and I was impressed.
I am enjoying the class, and I am learning a lot, but what I am most enjoying about the course is that my experiences as a Black woman are consistently affirmed by the texts that we read each week, and this has been one of the most gratifying experiences I have had while taking the course. Furthermore, the texts that we read each week challenge and motivate me to better serve people who are different from me. The affirmation and knowledge that I receive in this course should be given to all Library and Information Science professionals, therefore, I make a case for all members of the LIS profession to take a course that teaches them how to properly serve diverse populations.
In our class, we engage with Critical Race Theory and we learn about the ways in which certain communities have been excluded from benefiting from libraries in the United States, due to a particular identity and/or socioeconomic status. The scholars we have read such as: Daniel Solórzano, Tara Yosso, Tracie D. Hall, and Todd Honma, have written texts that have caused me and my classmates to look in the mirror and recognize our privileges, adversities, and shortcomings. We are made aware of books that reveal the history of segregation in public libraries, such as Cheryl Knott’s Not Free, Not For All, which has caused me to recognize the inequalities in libraries and archives that still affect people today. I, too, have experienced this inequity in some of the libraries and archives I have frequented. Gratefully, this class serves as a space where I share my experiences and they are validated.
The discussions in the weekly forum and live classes online give me an opportunity to share my identity and experiences with my classmates. I am one of the few Black people in the class, and this had the potential to get a little awkward because I did not know if my classmates would look to me to speak for all Black people. I cannot do this, and I will not. Also, I did not want to be looked upon by my classmates as the spokesperson for diversity. Gladly, none of these things have occurred in my class. Our discussions are honest and vulnerable, and I am grateful that there is space for us to:
- inquire of each other, how do I serve this particular group? and
- provide our answers, based on experience and scholarship.
I share this space with my classmates, knowing that my experiences and identities do not make up the totality of diversity. In our class, we learn about how to serve people who are in different groups. I thoroughly enjoy learning about the needs and experiences of others. It is humbling to know that I am not the only one who needs unique services in the libraries and archives, but that others need them too.
I encourage all Library and Information Service professionals to take a course that teaches them how to serve diverse populations. It is vital to decentralize one’s own culture in our profession, in order to serve different groups effectively. We aim to manage and disseminate information, but the information we handle yields much sweeter fruit when it comes from a variety of sources, rather than from one source alone. Let us hold our selves accountable by taking a course that teaches us how to serve diverse populations. As a result of this, we will improve our profession and ourselves.
Addendum: Dr. Nicole Cooke teaches Information Services for Diverse Populations at the iSchool at Illinois. To learn more about enrolling in the course via the iSchool at Illinois or the WISE Consortium, please visit https://ischool.illinois.edu/ .
NaVosha Copeland is a graduate student in The iSchool at Illinois, pursuing a Master of Science in Library and Information Science, which she will attain in Spring 2018. She is currently a Visual Archives Associate at the Atlanta History Center. To learn more about her projects, follow her on Twitter @navoshacopeland.