|Weekly News Digest
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ASERL Hosted an Uprooted, Nomadic, and Displaced Webinar
On March 1, the ASERL (Association of Southeastern Research Libraries) Professional Development Webinar Series hosted Uprooted, Nomadic, & Displaced, inspired by Katrina Spencer’s article for NewsBreaks, “Uprooted, Nomadic, and Displaced: The Unspoken Costs of the Upward Climb.” Spencer, the librarian for African American and African studies at the University of Virginia, moderated the session, which featured the following speakers:
♦Lorin Jackson, executive director of the Region 2 Regional Medical Library, part of the Network of the National Library of Medicine and located at the Medical University of South Carolina
♦Alonso Avila, information literacy and student success librarian at Oberlin College
♦Tarida Anantachai, director of inclusion and talent management at the North Carolina State University Libraries
♦Mimosa Shah, associate curator at the Schlesinger Library at Harvard Radcliffe Institute
The speakers introduced themselves, sharing where their education and job searches have taken them. Avila is from Chicago and was educated in the Midwest; he has stayed in that region, but is still relatively far from his home. Jackson is from New York and has lived in Philadelphia and California; she said that moving to the South, where she now lives, was a difficult transition from her Northeast roots. Anantachai is from Illinois and has lived in New Hampshire, Boston, upstate New York, and now North Carolina—so she said she feels she’s never really been “rooted” anywhere. Shah, who said her childhood community normalized moving from place to place, started her library career in Chicago and had to wait to bring her children to live with her in Massachusetts until their schooling was settled.
Anantachai noted that diversity residencies and similar positions often require BIPOC folks to uproot themselves. She wondered if she would have to move to grow her skills. Shah is excited about her current job and the opportunities for growth and mentorship there. She’s fortunate to be able to relocate, she said. Avila was excited to travel, but he realized that to do so, he’d have to compromise on which relationships to let go of and which ones he could do long-distance. Jackson’s current position is for a term of 5 years; she said people should ask themselves whether they’re OK with missing family events and milestones for a job. She opined that the definition of success changes depending on what someone’s values are.
When Spencer asked what makes moving around easier, Jackson said video calls with family and friends, and Anantachai said knowing there would be a community of support at the new job. Avila echoed this, saying that his connection to the Latinx community at Oberlin is very important to him. Shah said that friends of friends in the area can be a big help, and keeping in touch with a variety of people can help build your network. She also advocated for mailing postcards to loved ones as a reminder that your travel experience is real and that your friendships are being nurtured. Spencer noted that the power of a digital or physical community in the place where someone takes a new job is the common thread of how best to cope.
As for the pros and cons of termed positions, Avila noted that the system, which is unsupportive of BIPOC librarians, needs to be challenged. Many diversity residencies are for only a few years, forcing BIPOC participants to uproot multiple times. Anantachai explained that diversity residencies might be the only positions for which some BIPOC library school graduates are considered, regardless of their experience level and qualifications. Shah said it forces people to live with weights on their shoulders, not knowing their next move. However, Shah added, she does get plenty of support from her colleagues. Jackson agreed, saying that residencies provide a safety net—beginners don’t have to know everything yet, because they’re still learning. Another positive side is that the shorter-term jobs provide lots of opportunities for exposure to new things, said Jackson.
Spencer asked to what extent the benefits are worth the costs of moving. Shah’s spouse is supportive, she said, and “sometimes, you have to venture into the unknown and take a risk.” Each of Avila’s travels have taught him something about himself and helped him grow as a person. Jackson added that even if one job is a mistake, mistakes get you closer to what you actually want, and “sometimes, rejection is protection.” It’s about looking at the overall picture of your career, Jackson noted. Shah said to ask whether a move aligns with your values. She got valuable advice once, which was asking the question, “Will this change or improve my quality of life?”
The last question Spencer posed, before the participants answered some audience questions, was, “What contributes to others’ ability to stay in one location?” The speakers agreed that both staying and moving are due to a person’s privilege. For example, Jackson noted that, as a Black, queer, disabled person, she needs to feel safe where she lives. She also feels it’s important for people to be in a place where they have cultural touchstones such as cuisine, appropriate medical care, and hair care. People with family support, having their housing paid for in some way, or another benefit might be able to make different choices about staying or going. Avila acknowledged that there are a lot of ingredients that go into those decisions, but a support system in your existing institution can be an incentive to stay, especially if you can grow beyond your current position there. Shah reminded the audience that librarianship has struggled with opening opportunities to everyone beyond the white upper middle class. It often boils down to economics, she said: Some people can’t afford to stay, and some can’t afford to leave. Anantachai reiterated that the reason people stay doesn’t necessarily mean they lack ambition; maybe they cannot leave. In evaluating job candidates, not having a bias either way against someone who has moved or has not moved is important, she said. Her institution has been doing stay interviews, not just exit interviews, to help understand these issues.
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