The first run of Hiring Librarians was pretty eye-opening. I learned that there is no secret to hiring and that people who hire library workers have all sorts of contradictory opinions and practices, including many rooted in internal bias. This time around, I’ve been looking for ways to help mitigate harm, both in the work of this blog and in our collective practices, and to help move towards Hiring Better.
I have been interested – and hopeful – about the possibility of Residencies to improve two issues: the difficulty inexperienced librarians have getting their foot in the door and the lack of diversity in the profession. In practice, I have heard that Diversity Residencies can actually undermine the latter.
In the post below, authors of The Diversity Residency Toolkit provide an overview of the resource they created. It is grounded not only in the literature, but in the experiences of Residents themselves. In this thorough and thoughtful post, you will find information about what libraries need to do in order to create Diversity Residencies that actually serve their purpose. I am glad to share their words here. If you are looking for more, the citation for the full toolkit is:
Adolpho, K., Bergamasco, M., Corral, A., Peralta, M., Rawls, M., Tadena, L., & Tavernier, W. (2021) Diversity Residency Toolkit. ACRL Residency Interest Group. https://doi.org/10.5967/egje-kw85
In 2019, members from the ACRL Residency Interest Group (RIG) (an interest group of the Association of College and Research Libraries) were tasked to examine diversity residencies in terms of institutional readiness, support, and success. In response to this charge, the group developed the Diversity Residency Toolkit. This tool was designed to provide guidance for a residency program from its inception to its completion and beyond. While the toolkit was designed to address a growing need for consistency across residency programs, it can also be used to improve hiring practices and assist with onboarding staff from underrepresented identity groups. This blog post was collectively written by the toolkit’s authors and will provide an overview of the tool and how it can be used to improve hiring practices.
What is a Diversity Residency?
A diversity residency is an entry-level temporary position that provides early career library workers from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups with professional experience. What this looks like will differ from institution to institution; a residency might have a particular focus, or it might be structured to introduce a resident to different areas of library work before the resident finds their area of interest. Residencies can be anywhere from one year to three years long, with model programs providing three-year contracts.
Why was the Diversity Residency Toolkit created?
First, it is important to recognize why diversity residency positions exist. An increase in representation in all types of libraries has been at the center of inclusive hiring practices for a number of years, and in academic libraries, one option for addressing this issue is to create diverse residency positions. These positions are often advertised as a career pipeline for individuals from underrepresented identity groups within the library and information field. In academic libraries, these positions can provide individuals with entry-level experience that can be used to help springboard an individual toward the next stage of their careers.
The Diversity Residency Toolkit was created by RIG members that were appointed to serve on the Diversity Residency Subgroup. The subgroup was tasked by then RIG Convener Twanna Hodge to identify, critically examine, and assess current ACRL Diversity Alliance Member Residency Programs to establish the efficacy of existing programs and develop Diversity Residency best practices.
Can you talk a little bit about the process of creating it? Some of the specifics I’m interested in:
a) The Toolkit was created by a 7-person subgroup of ACRL RIG who were themselves current or former residents. Did they self-nominate? The subgroup was appointed by Twanna Hodge, 2019 RIG convenor. When the work began, it was a space for the subgroup to share their own experiences as residents and learn about the commonalities and differences between the residency programs. When this began, many subgroup members were in or had previously left a diversity resident position in the United States, with a few going through the job-hunting process or facing significant life changes. Therefore, it is essential to recognize the physical and emotional labor that went into this work, given that many were in temporary and precarious positions.
b) How did you gather additional experiences from other current or former residents? The members of the subgroup were part of a cohort of residents who communicated regularly and shared their experiences through various networks. The first was from a cohort of resident librarians who attended the 2018 Diversity Residency Institute hosted by UNC Greensboro, which received an IMLS award to host a national cohort development program for Library Diversity Residents. This program enabled one to two incoming residents from each institution to attend a two-and-a-half-day institute to 1) receive instruction from national experts on how to make the most of their residency experience and 2) gain a professional network of their residency colleagues nationally. The second network was from a national Slack Space, created by the two inaugural diversity residents at the University of Texas, Natalie Hill and Laura Tadena. The Diversity Resident Slack space administrators facilitated quarterly meetups for residents to share their experiences or provide career support for members of the Slack space (i.e., interview and presentation practice, shared resources, CV review, etc.). The other network that was essential for guiding the work was the RIG list-serv, which before moving to ALA Connect, was freely available to anyone interested in receiving information about residency programs.
c) Were the existing resources/literature helpful, or did you find much that contradicted your own experiences? While exploring the literature, a recurring thread was the amount of choice and agency resident librarians were given in their positions. While there is no formalized structure for library residency programs, a common structure is a rotation model in which the resident works in 3-4 different library departments during their residency to gain skills and experience in various parts of library work. For example, a resident might start work in the collection development department for about three months, then “rotate” to work in research services for the next three months, and so on. Some residents wrote that the rotational model worked for them because it allowed them to explore various library careers and learn new skills. However, other residents noted that they were dissatisfied with the rotational structure because it required them to work in areas they were uninterested in and didn’t match their career goals, or required them to rotate to a different department when they would have preferred to stay longer in their current department. We noticed a trend in which the resident’s level of satisfaction and interest in the rotational model—and, therefore a measure of its effectiveness—depended on how much choice and agency they had in modifying the model to suit their needs.
As we noticed a trend of agency or lack of agency in library diversity residencies, we also noticed a lack of commentary or dialogue from libraries as employers. There were few suggestions that included a call to reform or standardize diversity residencies, despite residents advocating for more agency or wishing their residencies were different. The subgroup’s focus was to equip library institutions with a set of tools to enable them to better support residents. The subgroup identified the value of institutional accountability and transparency, and designed the tools in the Toolkit to be interactive and iterative, and to encourage the generation of action items to set change in motion.
Key steps for ensure that a Diversity Residency is as beneficial for the resident as it is for the organization: A conversation with members from the subgroup:
What are the key steps an organization can take to ensure that a Diversity Residency is as beneficial for the resident as it is for the organization?
Specific steps would probably vary depending on the institution’s specific program and the resident librarian’s specific needs, but here’s what we (the subgroup) recommend:
- Remember that the goal of a residency is to increase the recruitment and retention of BIPOC library workers.
- Don’t treat residencies as a way to solve diversity and inclusion issues at your institution and really take the time to assess institutional readiness for hosting a resident librarian before posting that job ad. Bad residency experiences have absolutely pushed good people out of the field.
- Planning or redesigning your residency program to center the resident librarian’s needs will go a long way in helping ensure resident librarians have good experiences. This should include flexibility around rotations and placements based on their interests and support in applying, interviewing, and being a competitive candidate for positions post-residency.
- Is your institution ready to host a resident librarian? Evaluate your workplace and critically examine if the library staff and administration is ready to provide an immersive experience to an individual in this position.
The toolkit is in beta testing, is that correct? How is that going? Have you learned anything surprising?
We have fewer institutions taking part in beta testing than anticipated. In addition, most institutions have experienced delays in their hiring process for various reasons. We were surprised to find out that a public library was interested in the toolkit and that institution is part of the beta testing, which is encouraging, as it will give us insight into how the toolkit can be used in a non-academic library setting. However, we know that institutions are using the toolkit more informally who still need to sign up for beta testing, which is also encouraging. While it means an extended timeline for our research, we think it’s still worthwhile.
If you were to rewrite the toolkit today, would you change anything?
At this point, we have reservations about making revisions before seeing the feedback from the institutions that are participating in the beta testing process. Any revisions should be evidence-based and centered on the resident experience.
Do you have suggestions/resources for current diversity residents who feel unsupported in their residency?
Getting involved with the Residency Interest Group (RIG) is a great way to connect with other current and former resident librarians. Community is especially important for librarians from marginalized communities—it’s a way to process and share experiences with library professionals who may be in similar positions or who were residents in the past and may be able to provide guidance. Individuals who are in residency programs can join networks like the ACRL Resident Slack Space or the informal space created by the University of Texas’ former resident librarians. These spaces will provide you the opportunity to connect with others in similar positions as your own and learn about the different residency experiences. Finally, consider joining an racial or ethnic affiliate of the American Library Association like the American Indian Library Association, Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association, Black Caucus of ALA, Chinese American Librarians Association, or REFORMA, to name a few. These affiliates, like ALA and the ALA Divisions, offer mentorship opportunities, scholarships, leadership development, and other resources for career development.
Do you have suggestions for what library workers should look for when applying to a Diversity Residency? Are there any red flags?
We found in the literature review that there were several diversity residencies where residents were given menial tasks and other work that was not at the professional level, and where their colleagues mistook them for interns. Be wary of any diversity residency with vague job descriptions and/or job tasks not clearly at the professional level. If you’re unsure whether or not a job expects library professional-level work, compare it against other non-residency entry-level job postings.
We strongly advise against applying for jobs that do not have “librarian” in the job title and avoid residencies that are not salaried and do not have benefits. Residencies with host institutions that are in the ACRL Diversity Alliance are required to provide a salary commensurate with the salaries of entry-level librarians or archivists.1 Tools like the Hiring Librarians salary table can help you determine whether the salary offered is commensurate.
It’s important for applicants to diversity residency positions to inquire about DEI initiatives at the library, and the purpose in starting a diversity residency program there. If the search committee frames the impetus for the program around solving DEI issues at the library, that’s a red flag. Any institution where they place extra emphasis on the resident librarian doing “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)” work, as opposed to doing the work the resident would be interested in might be a red flag. Temporary, early career positions for BIPOC cannot solve climate issues at a particular institution, and people in these positions should not be responsible for getting DEI work started.
The toolkit is aimed at Academic libraries, but I know of at least one public library that’s starting a diversity residency. Do you have thoughts on how it might be adapted or on how processes or considerations might differ in other library types?
The toolkit is flexible enough to be adapted by institutions of various sizes and focuses. As we mentioned, we have 1 public library in the group of 3 institutions that are participating in beta testing. Within the toolkit, we acknowledge that institutions may only be able to form some of the recommended committees because of constraints, whether related to the number of staff a library has or because of schedules. However, if an institution understands the purpose and processes, it can find ways to implement support and structure for a residency that works for its institution. We encourage all administrators, coordinators, and stakeholders in diversity residency programs to read the toolkit and see how it is adaptable to their institution. If they have questions, we’re available to help answer them!
Similarly, as libraries in general continue to have difficulties diversifying their staff, are there lessons from the toolkit that can be applied to the wider world of library work and workers?
Yes, without reservation. The tools can be used to support early career librarians, librarians new to an institution, and any librarian who does not identify as being part of the dominant library culture that is mainly cisgender white women. The toolkit provides tools/information for administrations, coordinators, and other stakeholders to think more inclusively about how they hire and onboard workers. All four toolkit parts can be applied to library work/workers. Assessment practices (like the survey at the end of the toolkit) should become more normalized in this profession, especially when it comes to evaluating how an institution hires and onboard workers.
Are there any resources/articles/research on Diversity Residencies that are currently blowing your minds?
Residencies Revisited: Reflections on Library Residency Programs2 edited by Preethi Gorecki and Arielle Petrovich is a great read for anyone who’s interested in residencies and learning more about them. The book is a personal narrative of what it’s like to be a resident.
Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
Resident librarian positions are not the solution to diversity problems. They can be incredible examples of springboards for advancement in the field of librarianship, but they can also be why people leave their institutions or the field. An institution’s preparedness is critical for its success, so take the time to do the work and research what has been published in residency programs.
If you are a resident, find your network and if you need help, ask your coordinator, mentor, or someone you trust at your library to connect you with another resident (either past or present). If you need someone to ask, email one of us, and we will be happy to connect you with other folks in similar positions. There is power in sharing your experience. Consider connecting with another resident (or two).
Connect with other coordinators if you are a coordinator, manager, or someone thinking about starting a residency program. There will be another resident institute in the fall of 2023—consider sending your residents. If there is a learning day, consider attending so that you can ask questions and ensure that your resident program is equipped to host a resident.
Finally, administrators, leadership, executives, or anyone with positional power, consider using it to help your residents grow their networks. Check in with your resident and invite them to sit down with you at least once a semester and hear about their experience—you might be surprised at what you learn.
- ACRL Diversity Alliance, https://www.ala.org/acrl/issues/diversityalliance.
- Gorecki, P. & Petrovich, A. (Eds.). (2022). Residencies Revisited: Reflections on Library Residency Programs from the Past and Present. Library Juice Press.
Kalani Adolpho (they/he) is a Processing Archivist for Special Collections and Archives at Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries. Their research interests include ethical issues in description and trans and gender diverse inclusion in libraries. Kalani is the current convener for the ACRL Residency Interest Group, and a member of the Homosaurus editorial board. He holds an MLIS and BA in History from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Maya Bergamasco (she/her) is the Faculty Research & Scholarly Support Librarian at Harvard Law School Library, where she provides in-depth tailored research and scholarly publication support to the HLS community. Maya’s academic interests include community outreach and engagement, critical data studies, and user instruction. She is a past ALA Spectrum Scholar and current ALA Emerging Leader. She holds a MLIS from Simmons University and a BA in English literature from State University of New York at Geneseo.
Michelle Peralta (she/her) is an archivist for the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. She holds an Master of Library and Information Science from San Jose State University, as well as an Master of Arts in History and Bachelor of Arts in Humanities from San Diego State University. Her interests include community archives, reparative archival description, and primary source instruction.
Mallary Rawls (she/her) is a Humanities Librarian at Florida State University. She works with the English department, African American Studies, and Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies programs. Her research interests include critical information studies, critical librarianship, African American literature, and American history.
Laura Tadena (she/her), is the Community Engagement Librarian at Austin Public Library in Austin, Texas, and a current ALA Emerging Leader. Laura’s background is in architecture, education, and organizational development. She specializes in addressing inequities in the built environment and creating inclusive and welcoming library spaces and services. She holds a MLS with a School Librarian Certificate from the University of North Texas, a BS in Architecture from the University of Texas at San Antonio, and is an MBA candidate at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Willa Tavernier (she/her), is the Research Impact and Open Scholarship Librarian at Indiana University Bloomington. Her research interests are in public open digital scholarship, equitable scholarly communication and how the idea of community intersects with open access and scholarly communication resources and providers. She holds an MLIS and Graduate Certificate in College Teaching from the University of Iowa, an LL.M. in International Business from American University Washington College of Law, an LEC from the Norman Manley Law School and an LL.B. from the University of West Indies at Cave Hill. Her most recent work is the public open digital scholarship project Land, Wealth, Liberation – the Making & Unmaking of Black Wealth in the United States.