Session 705: Young, Black, Brown and Yellow: Diversity Recruitment Practices from the Field

Session 705: Young, Black, Brown and Yellow: Diversity Recruitment Practices from the Field
Guest author Rossy Mendez


Holly Smith, a recruiter of the Knowledge Alliance states that “the opportunity to tell our own history” is one of the rewards of diversity recruitment, particularly as it relates to the field of archives. Smith is a mentor and a recruiter for the Knowledge Alliance, an organization supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The organization supports the recruitment of young adults into the library and information science field. The session on Saturday morning entitled “Young, Black, Brown and Yellow: Diversity Recruitment Practices from the Field” featured presentations by recruiters Holly Smith, Steven D. Booth, Hannah K. Lee and Deena Smith who travel throughout the country teaching the good and exciting news of careers in librarianship.  Most of the recruiters expressed that they had interacted with several young people that had never met people in the field that looked like them and that were unaware of the variety of careers in library and information science.

The largest aspect of the program is the online mentoring program available through http://knowledgealliance.org/ that allows young people usually between the ages of 15-29 to be matched with an “ally” in their prospective field of interest. While the program is not limited to people of color it actively recruits both mentors and mentees of various minority groups to encourage diversity in the field. The slogan “Meet your Ally” markets the organization as an alliance rather than a relationship bound by hierarchies. The driving principle behind this concept is that the relationship between a mentor and a mentee is mutually beneficial and that a more diverse network is beneficial to the field as a whole.

In his presentation Stephen D. Booth talked about the origins of the initiative and the nature of the recruiting events and the online mentorship program.  Other presenters such as Deena Smith and Holly A. Smith discussed the nature of the recruiting events and even provided sample scenarios of how they approach students.  Deena Smith referred to the effort as “planting the seed” stating that even though students might not be immediately interested in the field they might consider the field at a later time. Among the methods for recruitment cited were college and career fairs, joint events with libraries such as New York Public Library and spreading the word through the web and advertising.

Regarding the skills needed to become a mentor Stephen D. Booth expressed a need for being approachable, down to earth and informed about current events. When a student compared his duties at the National Archives and Records Administration to that of a character in the hit TV show Scandal, Booth went along with it using the pop culture reference to explain the value of records. All recruiters spoke about the great need to promote the field and as Hannah K. Lee stated to be an “ambassador for your profession.”

For library students and new professionals, the challenge is how to encourage others to follow in our footsteps. Holly A. Smith stated that new professionals have the advantage of being more in touch with the current career opportunities and new trends and therefore, they can provide valuable insight to the younger generation.  In addition to being in tune with career opportunities, new professionals are also aware of the realities of the current job market, a point that a new professional stated during the Q& A portion of the session. The panelists although validating this concern expressed optimism towards the future of the field. Citing scholarship programs and other opportunities, the panelists also reminded the attendants that advocacy for the field also promoted the value of libraries and archives thereby increasing the opportunities available. They also agreed with another attendee’s remarks regarding the fostering relationships with current graduate school students who might be unaware of diversity initiatives and networks.

The Young, Black, Brown and Yellow session was valuable to students and new professionals because it reminds all of us that no matter how new to the field we are ultimately responsible for the field’s future. We are not only ambassadors for the field as Lee previously stated but also the stewards of history. While some might focus on the abysmal job market, it can be of value to see diversity recruitment as a way to give the field a new outlook and direction. For archives at least, it is true that the addition of perspectives might offer solutions to the problems which the field has experienced in the past while attempting to provide access to historical records. Lastly, a reality approach while useful must be matched with the teaching of strategies and tools to obtain positions in the field.

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