In this episode, we talk with Chantel Walker, Director of the Marin County Library Foundation and change management consultant with the County of Marin and other government organizations, and Patricia “Patty” Wong, City Librarian for the Santa Clara City Library and immediate past president of the American Library Association.
These two dynamic leaders share challenges and successes from their own lived-experiences, as well as provide suggestions on navigating leadership and opportunities as professionals of color in predominantly white spaces.
Date of interview: May 19, 2023
Hosts: Ericka Brunson-Rochette and Krista Neth
Hello and welcome to OVERDUE: Weeding Out Oppression in Libraries, a podcast created by the Oregon Library Association's Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism Committee. I am Ericka Brunson-Rochette, she/her pronouns, a community librarian serving early learners and families in Central Oregon.
And I am Krista Neth, she/her pronouns. I am a member of the EDI Anti-Racism Committee for the Oregon Library Association and work for Smart Reading in Organization Oregon that promotes children's literacy.
Thanks, Krista. Today we are excited to be joined by two amazing and successful leaders in the library world to have a discussion around what leadership looks like in predominantly white spaces. We're so excited to welcome Chantel Walker and Patty Wong.
Chantel L. Walker has more than 35 years of experience in collaborative community development, libraries, human resources and training leadership in the government, philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. She is fluent in Spanish and is an experienced convener, trainer and facilitator. She has published and presented on issues of library services and racial equity; organizational design; the role of philanthropy in advancing community economic development; and, employee engagement.
Chantel is Director of the Marin County Library Foundation and
change management consultant with the County of Marin and other government
organizations. She is the immediate past Assistant Director of County Library
Services at the Marin County Free Library (MCFL) where she focused on library
technical services, finance, human resources, capital projects, strategic
planning; and working with community partner organizations. A core component of
her overall leadership role at MCFL focuses on equity and inclusion in
librarianship, library services and community partnership. Chantel is an
American Library Association Spectrum Scholar and a Co-creator of California
Libraries Cultivating Racial Equity and Inclusion (CREI), an effort designed to
catalyze a statewide network of libraries and library staff committed to racial
equity and inclusion for all.
And, Patricia “Patty” Wong is City Librarian for the Santa Clara City Library, in service since October 3, 2021. In her 37-year career she has held positions throughout CA at Santa Monica Public Library, Yolo County Library, Stockton-San Joaquin County Public Library, Oakland Public Library and Berkeley Public Library, and Oakland Unified School District. Her work in managing change, equity and diversity, youth development, developing joint ventures and collaborations between public libraries and community agencies, and fundraising has been published in a number of journals, conference proceedings and edited collections.
Ms. Wong has worked as a school librarian, children’s librarian,
cataloger, and special librarian as well as her leadership roles in public
libraries. She provides continuing education for practitioners at national and
regional conferences. Ms. Wong is very active with the various ethnic
professional library associations, and the American Library Association, where
she has served in several voluntary governance positions, and is currently
Immediate Past President.
She is a Library Journal Mover and Shaker, recipient of the ALA Equality Award (2012), Faculty of the Year, and Woman of the Year in her voting district. In addition to her role as board member for a number of nonprofit institutions, Ms. Wong is
also part-time faculty for the iSchool at San Jose State University where she
has taught hundreds of students since 2006 to serve young people and write
grants to benefit local and regional communities and make the world a better
Wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you so much for having us. It's an honor to be here.
Thank you. Glad to be here.
Wonderful. Yes, I'm so excited for this conversation. So we like to start our interviews or our discussions with an icebreaker, so we can make sure that we are adding some fun to our conversation and also breaking the ice. Our question today, if you choose to respond, do you have any hobbies or interests that you think might come as a surprise to others? And we'll start with Patty for this one.
Terrific. Thank you. One of the things I like to do whenever I move to a new neighborhood is, I love to cook and to bake. And so, in terms of getting to know all of my neighbors to create some goodwill and also to create some bonding and community, I usually make wonton to share with all of my community. And we develop a fondness for each other and cultural norms and share cooking at the same time. The other thing that I wanted to share, that is a little unusual, is that I used to raise snakes. And so a lot of people gasp when they hear that, but it's also a way of actually breaking ice with our community in terms of getting to know a different kind of pet in the neighborhood.
What kind of snakes?
Well, I had pythons, reticulated pythons, Burmese pythons, I've had lots of boas, and also some other reptiles as well, but enabled us to actually to share the animals with the community as a whole and to learn more about herpetology and how they're needed in the community too for a lot of reasons.
That's fantastic. Thank you for sharing those things with us, Patty, what about you, Chantel?
Actually, cooking also is one of my hobbies. I don't know if it'll be much of a surprise, but I'm from New Orleans, Louisiana. And cooking large meals and shopping for the meals and having people over, I really enjoy that. And often in life there's not as much time to have as many people over things like that, but I do enjoy making red beans and rice or making gumbo, taking the time for those long cooked dishes and then enjoying the fruits of it and often sharing it with friends. So cooking is definitely a hobby.
I'd say the other thing that's a little more unusual, but I've done it since I was a kid, I collect things, so coins. When the new coins for each state came out, I was looking for the coins from each state and each of them has a different stamp depending on where it was made. So for the mint stamps and the state stamps that come on the quarter coins or collecting flattened pennies from places that I go. State parks or some of the older amusement parks have those things, so I collect. And then have them in little jars and things like that. And even my children will sometimes say, "Look, I found this quarter, do you have this state yet?" So it's a really fun thing.
I love that. Oh, that's wonderful. I used to collect the flattened pennies and then it just kept getting more and more expensive to flatten the pennies, so I now collect rocks from everywhere that I go. Yeah.
Very sustainable. Yeah.
Yeah. Yeah. So it's collecting artifacts but also collecting memories, right?
Everything has a story.
Well, thank you for sharing.
Awesome. I'm going to start off with the first question. Both of you have made remarkable achievements in your careers. Please, share a little bit about your journeys into leadership.
Oh, thank you for that question. In my experience, it started before paid work. As an African American woman and as a child, my family volunteered often. We went to church often. I'd say my very first leadership experience was when our Sunday school teacher didn't quite come and our pastor came over and said, "Well, you're the oldest in the room. Why don't you get started with this lesson? You know the story." And I remember that moment of, "Oh, okay, I guess it's me." And so being called on for leadership and being a part of community, as a leader, has been a norm in my life. And then I'd say, in terms of more formal leadership, certainly in school as a child up through college, I often volunteered for governing bodies and leadership bodies that helped to make decisions and shape and set norms.
Now my paid work and probably in some ways as a result of all of that came together as looking at community and looking at policy and looking at community change. And I think it was rooted in my background. So early on, undergraduate, I was psychology and Spanish. And then early on I worked in communities and direct service, primarily with youth early on focused on how youth were able to socialize themselves after trauma and challenges, into broader youth development that ultimately when in the '80s and '90s, crack cocaine hit communities on the east coast, where I was working at the time. I really saw the opportunity to look at public policy differently and started working on public policy and community structures in that moment beyond leadership in community of different kinds, thinking about the impact of public policy and public resources was when I began to make a shift towards government was a part of my role.
So everything from hands-on, working with young people in school settings to nonprofit settings on through working with the Philadelphia City Council on some advocacy issues and community-based groups that ultimately translated into being a technical assistance provider at national level looking at community change. And I'd say in that work, it brought me back to some of the seeds of my love for libraries very early on, where I read through the children's reading room at my local library during my 9th and 10-year-old summers. And the librarians were amazing and they'd let me sit in the corner all day and maybe have a snack and then keep reading. And so that was a lot of fun.
But as an ongoing professional, what I learned from caring about communities and equity and public policy led me to think about how to remain connected to community, and from roles in philanthropy, and grant making on through community development roles, which was a very active component of my life, onward to the library. One of the things that have always been important is being purpose and values driven, passionate about the work that I do, being able to understand and hold and move forward the levers of change that I thought were important. And so as a direct service provider or as a technical assistance provider, teaching people how to use public funds to build buildings, including libraries and children's spaces, or as a staff leader and assistant director and director of organization roles, that's been my path. But the through line has been caring about equity and understanding the levers of change, often organizing people a lot of times keeping an eye on the money. All of those things have been a part of my leadership journey.
Thank you. Patty?
Thank you for that question. And like Chantel, I think we share a lot in common, but not so much perhaps in... A lot in common probably with all of our listeners out there in that there's always a sense of purpose and a sense of commitment. And I would say building community is above all part of that. As a child also, I was in the eighth grade and we graduated from school and everybody said, "How are we going to still keep connected?" And so by default, I became the class reunion person. And to this day, pretty much every time there's a holiday, Christmastime, wintertime, all of the eighth graders get together. So we've been together for many, many years. I don't want to tell you how long that's been. But anyway, I think you get the idea that the connectivity is very important to me.
When I was young, I lost my dad at an early age, I was 12, so single parent, household, younger sister. I became, on so many levels, the head of the household, so there's that leadership that comes along with circumstances that you find your family in. But the other piece is also one of rebellion that I will share with you, that I'm not even sure Chantel knows. When I was a young person in high school, I became involved with a group of young men who were seeking a different way of life, and they were almost all runaways, and they congregated around Polk Street. And I took on an interesting role to be sort of their house mother. We worked with a young doctor from Kaiser who actually gave us a home. And he said, "Patty, I don't know what you're going to do, but we need to keep these kids out of trouble."
And so I would go to my high school, and then I would convince other people to give me rides down to Polk Street, and then take care of these younger people because they didn't have anybody else. So I would say there's always been, for me, a sense of building community wherever I happened to be. I got into big trouble later with my mom for keeping this from her. But in the long run, she actually understood because from her, she was an RN. She worked to keep us clothed and fed and going to school, but she also volunteered at our local school quite a bit in the library. So that's where I got my first taste of how much the library could mean to people. And then when I went to high school, I got that same taste from my high school librarian too. And like Chantel, very much an organization that give to people, that gave them a sense of purpose, especially young people in terms of youth development.
So as we go through our lives, I think we feel a connection to a sense of purpose wherever that happens to take us. So libraries have been a part of my life for a long, long time, and I think my purposefulness, especially when it's come to equity, diversity, and inclusion started when I was very young and we went to the San Francisco Public Library. And our children's librarian, also the branch manager of this very small branch, Glen Park, she was a worldwide traveler, but she saw in this very young family that came in every week for story time, we're not only struggling because we weren't in our minds a nuclear family as a whole, but also that we read pretty much every book in the library, and were so hungry for more. And she wasn't sure how to deal with that exactly, but she allowed me to go into the adult room when I wasn't of age and helped guide me through that process.
Now having said that, one of the things that was critical about her is that not only was there that sense of belonging and a strong, very positive adult mentor, but she understood the value of diversity in its broadest sense. And so made sure that my reading actually was very inclusive, that she understood that I needed to see people like myself in the picture books. And so she cultivated that because I wasn't always able to find that back in the day. So she would hunt very strategically, especially for independent authors and anybody who would resonate with my own experience. I got my undergraduate degree in women's studies, and so the whole sense of equity and fairness and inclusion was very important to me. I did a lot of volunteer work at a women's place, which was one of our local bookstores that specialized in women authors. And I think that set me up for a very strong dedication to building community wherever I was.
I will say in my current life and where I am and how I've developed over the last 37 years, 39 years as a librarian, is really a strong commitment to our National Associations of Librarians of Color and within the American Library Association, continuing to make sure that our library workers first of all feel connected and have a place in our community and a voice, that we encourage them if it's within their path to continue to serve, getting their degrees, and serving with a purpose in that perspective. And then making sure that there's a voice for everyone as we go through the work. So that's my story.
Thank you. Thank you both for sharing your remarkable journeys and all of the amazing ways that you have found strength along the way. And we know that your stories are just still continuing, and we're so excited to see what comes next. So our next question for you is how would you describe the primary differences between BIPOC leadership and white leadership in the library profession? How does this look at a micro level? So say leadership on an internal team, or an entry level supervision role, or at a larger level, like the roles that you two fill. And I'm going to start this one with Patty.
That's a very great question. There are differences between BIPOC leadership and white leadership in the profession, and evidence by just the question that you've asked. So I think there's multiple levels of spoken and unspoken, both formal and informal responsibilities that BIPOC leaders feel. I can't speak for everyone. I can speak for myself and other people I've spoken to, and those strands revolve around community to our colleagues, to volunteers, to our staff. And actually a heavy burden, I would say, and a responsibility to Black, indigenous and people of color within the profession, both as workers and librarians. Oftentimes we find ourselves as the sole voice in shouldering the work, the training, the ability to talk story when and to be that voice of community that's so valid and so needed. We do recognize that our white leadership is definitely some really strong allies, and sometimes actually it's been my experience that they are sometimes even the proponent of the work.
They're established within the profession and within the organization to be able to position for better outcomes, some of the EDI work we're doing. But there is a big difference between not only the roles that BIPOC leadership and white leadership play within the profession within our oral organizations, but also the outcomes and what they're responsible for. Chantel and I were talking about this a little earlier. And frankly, one of the things we also shoulder as BIPOC leaders is sometimes the burden of trying to make our white leadership feel okay and better and comforted somehow in their approaches to doing good EDI work. No one comes automatically positioned well or knows there's no always right way of doing all of this work. And it takes time, and energy, and well intentions and, beyond the intentions, good deep work and making mistakes once in a while, or a lot of times frankly.
It has to continue. And so whenever there's a bump in the road, which sometimes our white colleagues encounter, I often feel, individually anyway, that sometimes I need to help them through that. Sometimes without being told, sometimes with an expectation that we make it better for everybody somehow. One of the key things that I've relied on though is, my white allies, to actually help be partners in the work because we cannot do it alone. We always have to be working together. I am grateful to them for the opportunities to have different steps of leadership and to be able to have their investment within my own experience to bring EDI work forward. I do think that the other thing that lies out there, and we can talk about that a little more deeply, is that there is an expectation that BIPOC leadership always work on BIPOC issues and how unfortunate that the huge dynamism of humanity, as we know it, is related on some level to how we look and who people think we represent.
I think the second question you had really was how does this differ or how does this look in terms of being on an internal team or an entry level supervisory position as opposed to larger levels. To go along that, I will say that some of my formative experiences as a BIPOC leader has been within bargaining units and working with employee association, and how that has really influenced the work that I do to always remember that we live within a very complex organization that we need to make sure that all voices are heard and that we especially need to remember all of the staff at every level within the group. So I think I'll stop there and share with my colleague.
One of the things that has been true for me is that leadership in the profession, leadership in libraries, and in many paid professional roles, but certainly in libraries has been multi-dimensional. There's the core work that you are charged with as the leader of a team or a section, and if it's producing a certain amount of results, or the comfort of a team in executing and decision making, if it's connection with community. And there's a certain set of skills around that, how you connect with others, how you collaborate, how you document, how you grow and cultivate programs. But then I feel like there are at least three or four other sides to leading as a woman of color in libraries, which were predominantly started in the United States by white women's improvement groups with support from philanthropy and where the cultural norms are predominantly white.
It does speak to some positives though loads that we carry. Like sometimes often, even as the assistant director of the library, if I happen to be at the desk or I happen to be in the library, the joy of a community member saying, "I'm so happy to see 'you' here." So there's joy in that and there's responsibility, realizing that there's so few that it's easy to pick me out regardless of role and just to be happy to see me here. So a level of wanting to make sure not only can you enjoy those moments, but you recognize if you are the only one or one of few, making sure that you're not forever the only one or one of few. So how do you build community? How do you create entry points for others? How do you make sure that you're working across roles and levels in the library system or in your government to support entry points?
I think the other is part of what Patty spoke to a lot of ways in my experience and certainly my personal experience, that as a person of color to become successful in libraries, I had to understand the norms of libraries, which as I mentioned were primarily white. So I needed to master that set of norms. I needed to work to master those norms if I wanted to have longevity in a way that was comfortable for the current leadership and I needed to not wear myself out in the process, which is a whole other line of things. And once those three components, being a strong professional, hitting your metrics, supporting and trying to engage with community, trying to make sure that you understood cultural norms that weren't necessarily your home norms, then there's the moment of how do we support the creation of libraries that are more expansive in the norms that they accept and that they lead to, and the skill around the art of persuasion that works in an environment that wasn't designed for you can often leave a library leader...
Even if you're feeling successful, "This is going well, that's going well. I'm working with my association. I'm experiencing success in this role," where you find that you're holding your breath because you've thought it through, or I have thought it through, from so many angles to try to achieve the goal, that even before I take the action, I put in a bunch of work, then I've taken the action, then I'm reflecting on the action and there isn't a calmness in that. And I think some libraries around the country now are having conversations about that cost of that extra work, that extra thinking, that extra holding your breath, either metaphorically or actually that doesn't promote wellness. One of the first times that I think Patty and I actually got to do any deep work together is the state library was funding through leadership of Patty's and Luis Herrera and Camille Alire, but that we were looking at something called the color of leadership.
And in that work, we were delivering what was a day long training. And really Camille Patty and Luis invited me to join them because they launched the work and I got to join them later, but was really how do we lead as people of color? How do we have the self-awareness, the situational awareness, and make change. And that needs to be thought through, it needs to be taught and it needs to be supported. In addition to that color of leadership work, which led to a number of other things that we're all doing in different ways, there's a really important movement I think right now around wellness. Certainly the wellness of all staff, certainly the stressors that all staff across backgrounds and identities feel and experience, and the additional burden of people of color, and how wellness needs to be a part of our work. So I do see differences now I've only led as a woman of color ever.
But I do see differences when I talk with my colleagues about a different straightforwardness to their leadership and their professional outcomes that may be don't have you checking your left right shoulder and then behind you and maybe up in the sky once in a while to make sure that, that you're on a track that you can perform at a level that you want. And there are also times in that journey where it's important to say, "Okay, I've done a lot here. It's been very good." And now I need to change library systems or step in and out of the profession for a moment, and to keep your skills sharp so that you always have options. I've talked to many people of color who were in libraries and left libraries, come back to libraries or have done other things that impacted libraries, volunteered for libraries. So I'd say making sure you keep your skills and your relationships sharp and that you perform at a high level so you have options that promote wellness and allow you to follow your passion and purpose in multiple areas.
Can I add just a little bit to that? One of the other key things that is a deep part of our responsibility as women of color, who are leaders, is that there's leaders across our organizations. We need to recognize and see those leaderships. And we also need to make sure that there is a self-preservation piece of this, but it's also how do we bring around and support other library workers of color with us, so that they're not alone? Because part of the dynamics that we have in a library organization, and you know all of this, that the data really says that most of our staff can be staff of color, but they're not necessarily at high ranks within the organization. So as library leaders, one of the things I do think that we have somewhat of a responsibility to do is to make sure that there's equity across the board and that we can bring people up with us.
Not to the exclusion of others, but actually just to recognize the value of the great team that we have to give them voice to pull for policies and procedures that also reflect the need for equity within the work that we do as well. And that leadership and that voice happens actually throughout the organization. I just wanted to say that out loud because I think sometimes when we talk about leadership, we tend to often focus on just the top parts of the organization. I do think that there's lots of leadership pervasive throughout our communities, but they need just to be tapped and then we need to acknowledge and then bring support to some of the work that's being done. But wellness, as Chantel mentioned, is probably key to everything as we move forward as communities.
I really appreciate the answer, Patty and Chantel. The next question, what challenges have you faced as BIPOC leaders in library environments? And what could ease these challenges for future BIPOC leaders in libraries? And Chantel, if you want to go ahead and start.
Sure, absolutely. But one of the early challenges was someone told me how lucky I was to have my role in the library. I had to take a breath for a moment. And I laughed and I said, "Yes, and our library's really lucky to have me too." And as I did that, I also said, which I had to reflect on later, "I have multi-level experience about working with communities and working with libraries and loving libraries, and I'm glad that we're together," but I realize that that may not have ever happened to a white assistant director of a library. There may hopefully should have been an assumption that the role was earned and that it's a great fit. So I think that's one of the things, the challenge of credentialing yourself that's faced. And I think learning what will my response be that doesn't necessarily trigger stereotypes about how I might respond, but also doesn't force me if I don't want to remain silent on the topic.
Always an edge of sustainable education. I don't want to spend all of my time working through all the problems that I might see with a statement like that, but I do want to have a few stock answers so that I can feel heard and I can feel prepared to move ahead. So I think that is a challenge, the credentialing. I think another challenge, and I've heard this from several library leaders, is assuming that librarians of color are best in and remaining in the community of color that's most connected to their background. So, that a branch manager in a predominantly African American community or Latino community should be Latino or African American, but that person you don't necessarily see on the track to be the leader of the library system. And so that is also kind of a boxing in, much like what Patty mentioned, assuming that all of the equity work will be only done by communities of color.
And I think your listeners and all of us here together right now know that that couldn't possibly be true, that people of color will be all of the levers of change in the library profession. We are a small portion even at all levels of library. We don't have all of levers of power. No one would say that when the 19th amendment was passed and most white women in this country got the right to vote, that white women gave themselves the right to vote. It was they advocated, they gave voice, they worked in partnership, they had some wins, they had some losses, they cut some potential allies out. But ultimately, the people who had the power to vote at the time supported the right of women to vote to make that policy change.
So a challenge is certainly those micro moments of micro/macroaggression depending on how you're feeling it at the moment, but also recognizing and making sure that you do bring great value to multiple communities by having lived experience and by connecting your lived experience with another community's lived experience and the perspectives that you bring, but making sure that library workers of color are not pigeonholed there. And also thinking about the collaborative, the allyship, the active allyship that is necessary to change our profession. People of color didn't get us here, per se, and won't be the only thing to get us out. It's all up together. We'll need to share the leadership, centering the voices of people of color to make change.
A similar challenge for me in that often it's being the only one in the room who is a person of color, sometimes at any level within the organization, not just the leader. And then having, being responsible for representing all people of color in terms of decision making or input or engagement and being totally responsible for that, that's a heavy lift. No one should have to do that. We don't expect that from anyone else. I do think as a more seasoned librarian coming into communities that are not ready for equity, diversity, and inclusion work has been a challenge. And how to create readiness within the organization, within the community, within our political environment when it's not ready, even if we are surrounded daily with examples of why things need to move forward as a community. It is also hard when libraries actually do not see their role as community-engaging organizations and take that responsibility with heart and with passion.
We keep wrestling with the library as a neutral space, that whole concept. And how unfortunate that we're still at that trajectory where I've seen it in libraries across the country, not just locally, that there's a growing fear of retribution, frankly. And we see it in legislation. We see it in our constitutional rights to be able to read whatever we want to, and that there's creeping and very specific attacks on our profession. And I didn't necessarily want to go into this road quite like this except that I've never felt as unsupported as a professional as I do now, not from our immediate community, but from the fact that our public doesn't quite know what to do with this conundrum now. And they're not sure how to act. And I would think if you really ask the public what they thought, they will say, they want everyone to be able to read.
They want everyone to be able to communicate and to engage fully. But along the way, the love of libraries has taken a little bit of a different turn. And I do think it's related to the situation we find ourselves in today, where unfortunately people of color are at the center of that and individuals who represent a different or in other people's minds. So that's I think a pretty significant challenge we face both as individual library workers and also as a profession. And I'm hoping, I'm really hoping that our library team can coalesce around this not as a defensive mechanism, but actually as a call to action for us to take opportunities to have good conversations about how we can build community and how we can center conversations and how we can lift up our role as human beings in terms of making this world a better place. I didn't mean for it to be that heavy, but when you talk about challenges that we're experiencing, unfortunately that's the first thing that comes to mind right now.
Yeah, understandable. And I know you said you didn't want to go down that path, but I'm thankful you did because even in talking about it, you've brought up the fact of how we really need to show up for one another right now as libraries, as librarians, library staff, educators. I mean, to be truthful, I think identity affirming materials and books are under attack. And if we are doing this equity work and we are saying that ability to or the importance of engaging with community is important to us, we need to reflect that. So I think now more than ever, we need to have the camaraderie of our peers. And I'm thankful that you brought that up.
And speaking of supporting our peers, Chantel, I am impressed with your ability to take one breath and to really reflect on somebody saying how lucky you were to have a position because I would've had to take several breaths and maybe a few hours to respond to that. I've never been faced with that question, and I can't imagine that I could have responded with such grace and integrity as you did. And not just for yourself, but for others too, because you do deserve to be in that position and other people and women of color do deserve to be in positions where they are allocated at least a fraction of power.
Yes. Thank you so much.
Well, your work in general, both of you, is a great example of how we should be recognizing and facing how the history of public libraries is deeply rooted in white supremacy and how white cultural norms still dominate management practices in public libraries today. I'm thinking especially of Chantel's panel presentation at the 2021 PLA on Reweaving the Culture Through Inclusive Norms in the Public Library. This presentation highlighted how in order to create more inclusive workplace cultures in public libraries, institutions and management must create decision making processes and modes of communication that honor the cultural norms of BIPOC staff members and BIPOC community members. So my question for you is, what advice do you both have for a library staff member who is not in an official leadership role, but who wants to see this work done at their institution? And for this, we'll start again with Chanel.
So this is where I think we get to be hopeful because in pulling together concepts and conversations about reweaving culture, in that statement, we recognize that it was woven in the first place. It was not a fact of the universe, it was created. So we need to think about how we cast and recreate. And one of the key things, regardless of your role, often I find so many purpose-driven people in our profession who want to help and want to share their perspectives. I would say three things about entry point. Many of us love to read and we're in libraries because we care about information and books. Sometimes finding those really crisp articles for your team or your leaders to read can be a helpful entry point, easy to find, to move ahead.
There's an article that's been in many places, but the one that's coming to mind is the version of the article that was in the Stanford Review that was called the Curb-Cut Effect that really talked about how universalist policies to take care of the most vulnerable are most effective, so that many of us who remember a time before curb-cuts, that little ramp that helps you up on the curb if you're in a wheelchair. Those came about because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and they were designed for people whose mobility required wheelchairs, which eventually evolved public policy into all this work around elevators and new buildings and things like that.
So starting with something that educates about universalist policy is important, and then moving to a system. One of the things that I like about, and think it's important, around inclusive decision making is that we really can say this is about the work of our organization. Decisions are to be made. This is a way to improve some of the outcomes that we have by having input at various point. And there's a lot written on inclusive decision making, but I say the three things that a staff person could bring forward is to say, "I realize that you want our input and I'm excited to give it. Could we look at a model like this?" Which could be inclusive decision making, meaning the person who defines the problem isn't one person, it's three or four people who come from different perspectives.
So you might note that your 9:00 AM story time used to have lots of folks and now it doesn't. And so if the primary person who's leading the story time defines the problem, develops the solution, and moves ahead, they may be considering, "Oh, I know some of my patrons or my clients who come into the library." But how would that process look different if the page along with the librarian who was doing the reading and the library assistant and maybe a literacy specialist that you worked with we're all sitting together and talking about the problem for a moment and you time limited it.
So you might say, "Hey, can we have more ideas about how we define the problem and make sure that you define the problem as two or three ways." For some of us during COVID, we may have known before that 8:00 to 9:00 hour was very underpopulated in our libraries, but then we needed to have minimum staffing and three or four folks who were there. No. For some of us and some of our libraries, we then decided, "Well, why don't we close at eight in the evening, and instead of opening at 10:00, we open at 9:00?" Then the problem wasn't necessarily that we weren't drawing enough people in between eight and nine. It was more how do we use our resources well to meet community need, which then changed our model. So you can either start at that early space around inclusive decision making, let's all define the problem together, or let's ideate solutions together once the problem is defined.
Now, I think the hardest thing to ask for at almost any level of an organization, but certainly at the earlier levels where you may not have staff that report to you or designated resources that you directly influence, is who gets to make the decision? That one's harder. It is a part of inclusive decision making, but I think it's important to note that a decision or the process can be inclusive even if you start with multiple perspectives on the problem, multiple people coming up with solutions. Now, and into a degree would be delegate with constraints. Maybe we can't spend more money and we can't hire more staff, but delegate the actual decision on which solution to move ahead with to the staff closest to the work. That usually takes building muscle.
And so if you can get through a couple of rounds of good problem identification with multiple voices and a couple of rounds of good solution identification with multiple voices and different perspectives, different ranks, different backgrounds, different home languages spoken, different tenures in your library system, getting to decision making help, but just having the idea and a regular conversation that, "Yes, this is the way that we've done things and it is really important." Even I once in a while come across one of those old card catalog boxes and feel wistful, although it never in my library career was I the person who typed those cards, and I wouldn't necessarily want to, but I'm sure the person who used to type those cards really thought it was a really good and important idea. Now we have other ways for wayfinding. So I mean, I think also bringing ideas in that are from your cultural background or your perspective could be small is good. Relationships are deeply important. Not everything is scalable across settings, just small ways to do it. But inclusive decision making is one of my favorites because it has so many entry points.
I concur with everything that Chantel said. There are a few other ways, I think, that in my experience, and we've tried to encourage our own teams to do this internally, there is something that one of my colleagues used to say is, "Whoever thinks that they don't have influence has never been in bed with a mosquito," because we all have influence. I think sometimes when we think we're the soul and we're not sure about our place within the organization, we hang onto that. And I'm encouraging all of our listeners to think a little bit differently, which is, it's so much easier actually, if you have a colleague, is finding other people within the organization who feel like you do. It's so much easier to have an ally in the work. When Chantel mentioned about who makes the decision, most organizations will have a little bit of a track towards getting something on an agenda.
And how you do that is actually also finding an influencer within the organization who can champion that work. And sometimes you start small, and I don't even have this within my own organization yet, but a lot of teams have said, "Oh, we started an affinity group. We're starting to read together. We're starting to have stronger conversations. And management is listening." And they're listening, and there may be a little fear and trepidation there, but there's some action and there's activity and there's things moving forward. I will say that sometimes you don't always find the right ally within your own unit or department, so sometimes you have to look around. I know that, in my case, hasn't always been as a department head. Sometimes it's been as a frontline children's librarian, and I would look across the way at other departments, my parts and rec colleagues that are doing the work. The regular officer that came from PD, that came through the building, to pick up his books, who really cared about what we were doing as a community.
Because when you start talking to the right people, you develop a coalition of your own, and there's influence there. I would suggest that we look around at who we know. There's going to be opportunities everywhere. I love the fact that OLA is doing this because I think one of the things that you have at your disposal is the state organization, and you also have our National Associations of Librarians of Color, many of whom live in Oregon. And what a great group of people who are already determined and passionate about the work and becoming a member, becoming active, sets you on a path actually for stronger leadership and influence yourself. And learning the tips and maybe some shortcuts, but actually having the onus of the situation where you don't feel like you're the victim. This is about empowering ourselves to get the work done, and to have good conversations, and to take some action.
Chantel outlined some wonderful ways in which we can internally think about things. I will tell you, I'm speaking in front of a bunch of wonderful staff, technical services staff and catalogers, and not that long from now. And they all have great ideas, but we're still in this slump about subject matter headings, and how to create access, and what to think about accessibility from the very beginning. It just takes one person to make sense. I'll give you an example. There's something I haven't shared before. My uncle was a paraplegic in San Francisco. Before curb cuts were a thing, he actually sued the city and county of San Francisco to get the curb cuts put in. So long before ADA became legislation, he actually made San Francisco take a chance and do the right thing. And so that's one of the reasons why San Francisco had that long before other cities.
I'm sharing that with you out loud because it really took a voice, a single voice who got a lot of other people in the community together who then try to make a difference. And we weren't working for the city. There wasn't any internal structural issues. They got fought all the way but needed to happen. And I found that out actually upon him passing. He never shared that with the rest of us. And I'm going through his effects and I'm going, "What?" And here we have it. So what I'm saying to you is that people can make small differences all the time, but please look, you don't have to do this alone.
I appreciate your answers. I was going to go ahead and move on to the next question. And this is for Patty and Chantel. Within your leadership to expand broadband internet access in libraries, how are you using your experience as BIPOC leaders to close the gap on the digital divide? And go ahead and start with Patty.
Thank you. I will say that's something that I've had a passion for my entire career. I think all of us can remember when the Gates family gave all of us five public access computers to every location. And right away it was, "Oh my gosh, it's not enough." And now we can't even think about a day when that isn't a reality for us. When I became a ALA president, one of the things that was still an issue for me is the fact that we didn't have access for everyone. There were still 80 million people in this country who only access to the internet was through a smartphone. So, I decided to really emphasize digital equity, and that meant encouraging all of our community to do what they could. Many communities did exactly the right when we had curbside service during COVID, they expanded the depth of their broadband access instead of retracting.
Even though we shuttered our doors physically, we provided more internet expanded programs. We delivered homebound services. We actually provided and maybe converted some of our budgets to distributing hotspots and laptops and other kinds of materials to create stronger access. I think more importantly, one of the things that we did as libraries is made sure that although all those kids were going home with devices, their parents didn't know what to do, and so they couldn't really help them. In fact, we saw huge groups of communities disappearing physically because they didn't know how to continue their children's education. And the children were in this awful position of trying to educate their parents on what to do. So libraries took up the mantle of being that third level of access where they could actually visit with parents and do activate and to make sure that our databases were available, including the ones that involved homework help and special rooms that they could use for the support.
Having said that, the digital divide is stronger than ever. And what we know is that even in the most rural geographically isolated communities and in the most dense populations, we have a huge divide. And we do not have high speed broadband access available for all for free. It should be for free. It is as critical as water and electricity. One of the things I was very happy about is that during my tenure, there were I list grants and actually ALA put forward probably the largest group of funding available to create stronger access, especially for isolated communities around digital equity. And then we had an audience with FCC chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel as part of my presidential platform. She is the key person who could make some of these things happen in terms of making broadband a household name and also ensuring that we have legislation to back that up.
Has it happened yet? No, but we got her attention. And FCC is... Politics is everything, it's a firm driver. But I think the critical thing that we all have to fight for as librarians, no matter whether we're public, special, academic school, we need to fight for the right of our communities to have free robust access. That is a critical part of the success that we find ourselves in. In addition to the access, we also need to make sure that our community is well-informed and can navigate this well because it is complicated. It is full of information and disinformation. And as we know, even with the advance of AI and ChatGPT and a whole lot of other things, there is the opportunity for some good, but there's also the opportunity for things that are destructive and disruptive. And so I know that's maybe a higher level conversation, but the digital equity piece is so near and dear to my heart. And I hope that as libraries, we champion that work as we move forward in continuing to be advocates for our communities as a whole.
I really agree with the details as well as the outline that Patty put in place. I think that the only thing that I would add in having worked in this space is that as libraries information is our business. And so when it was papyrus in private libraries of ancient times, when it was books, it's now books, and all kinds of digital materials and libraries of things, each time we transformed, we moved ahead. But sometimes that transformation was transactional and sometimes it was true transformation. And I think it's okay for us to do either, as long as we're doing something on this because it's part of who we are, professional value of information access and democracy. It's hard to have information access or democracy, big or small, not even political, without broadband. So for those libraries and libraries systems, and I'm thinking more public libraries just 'cause I have more experience with it, but who... Maybe they're not in a city or town who's about to put up a mesh network that gives everybody free access, that's totally okay.
Can they expand the wifi hotspot lending that they have? Can they connect that wifi hotspot lending with a technology pack that includes a Chromebook or some other device that can be used? Can they add multilingual, and we did this in our library, these classes on how to use different technology platforms or software. I think a really important thing that we had certainly tried to do, that we don't always, I think as libraries look at as part of the transformation and cutting edge of equity, diversity, and inclusion, is how do we use our support organizations? One of the things that we did, and certainly we needed the resources, but we partnered with the Library Foundation to raise money from individuals and institutions to buy lots of hotspots during the pandemic that ultimately ended up numbering about 800.
But was it a scale up quickly? Yes. Was it a little bit breakneck speed and breathless? Yes. But the advocates that some of those donors and members of the sponsorship organization became for broadband access in a mesh network was so much expanded by starting with just the transactions of getting some hotspots into the hands of children, and young adults, and eventually seniors who didn't have wifi access. So while we do the big thing and work towards the ultimate goal, what are the transactional things that you can do that are within the wheelhouse of your library system or the vision, however large or small of your library leaders, what can you do? And then how do you leverage public opinion by starting with your sponsorship organizations? If they're asking their friends for a hundred or a thousand or $10,000 and learning to make the case, they can later make the case for the community. Don't be afraid of transactional, especially if you have a vision of transformation.
Thank you both for those responses. I think it's important as folks who work in education and with information, we're always thinking really big. It's so easy to see what the big problems are that sometimes we forget that those small transactional steps can really help get us there. And with this issue, especially you both brought up examples of how this was perpetuated or how this was really easy to spot that digital divide during the pandemic. And I think for those folks that are out there that, maybe before prepandemic, we're hoping to get to a place where these things aren't behind paywalls, where these things are free and accessible for all really can resonate with that now, because they saw how their community was affected and what was truly lacking when we didn't have the support systems in place that we were working with before.
So thank you for bringing up those really important concepts. And I'm going to move to our next question, although I do know that we've had some examples of this already in our conversation. My question for you is, how do you navigate instances of unconscious bias, conscious bias, and microaggressions, maybe even macroaggressions, when interacting with colleagues as a peer? And how does that look differently from navigating these situations in a leadership role? And I will start this one with Chantel.
I think we did touch on it a little bit, but I'll say something and start with something that Patty and I have done together because certainly some of the earlier examples of microaggressions and macroaggressions, both as an individual staff person in roles or as an individual in with more conferred authority in a titular role. But one thing that's given me peace and has helped to build allies, and that Patty and I have done together and with some others, was really to look at our system and try to think about systems change, meeting people where they are by creating opportunities for education that grow from libraries and library systems with others. Certainly with Sarah Jones as well as Patty and I working on cultivating racial equity and inclusion, we were looking to build a field of practice that would feed each of our organizations at the time because we were working on racial equity and equity inclusion and our delivery and making sure their institutions were inclusive. But in doing that work, we started to think about it systemically.
How do libraries need to learn? How does this meet our mandate to serve communities? What are the settings that we can use to bring library staff members together to create impactful, critical mass of four or five people who can train the insides of those library systems? And so I think one of the key navigation issues around bias and when you face bias and when you want to see your library system change, is to look for the opportunities to educate, to meet people where they are. We were in the great position of trying to create a program that ultimately got funded and impacted more than 30 libraries in the state of California. But how do you maintain hope? Because the bias is relentless. And so to change the bias, you need a systemic approach and it has to be grounded in what libraries do well as well as best practices and equity, diversity, and inclusion through the lens of change management, because we're really talking about change management strategies that are grounded in equity outcome. What would you say to that, Patty? I mean, I think that hopeful approach was how we mounted the battle.
Agreed, Chantel. I think we've been talking earlier about a lot of things that are very important to us, but we also want our listeners to understand that there are some things that can be done and it can be done in our thinking around California libraries. It was really focused on how as cohorts we could create systems change that would be sustainable because you're doing it as a group, and you have actually the support of administration. So I'm not sure that we mentioned all of the dynamics of that, but that was critical for us in terms of dealing with some of the bias that has become actually unfortunately so much a part of the norm that we find ourselves in terms of serving community. It's not just within libraries obviously, it's a systemic societal issue where people are saying things incredibly difficult and so very destructive that never would've probably been a natural form of our experience even just a few years ago.
But libraries, we challenged our libraries to start thinking differently about their role as community builders, as community influencers, as community engagement opportunities that they had. And I will say that sustainability-wise, a good portion of them are still doing the work, even though the grant has long passed. For those that are listening, you don't have to do anything quite that big, but because it really took support from our state library, which thank you to them for that opportunity, but they also recognized the need that we weren't doing a whole lot around the cultural shifts that we saw ourselves in and creating sustainability around EDI work, and that we needed to do something. So when we came along and had the proposal, I think they were overjoyed actually to hear that there were a couple of team members that could take the lead in terms of getting the right components of team members together to execute and to make it happen.
Now, I will tell you that part of that training and the experience in that group is that they did experience a lot of unconscious bias and not so unconscious bias. And also I would say outright dissonance with some of the work that was being done comes in small forms. You have a Black Lives Matter wonderful logo in front of your library, and then somebody comes by and erases it, or you have a great program that you're offering and then you might have some people who boycott it. The work is tough. No one said it wasn't going to be tough, but we have to undo and unlearn all of those things that have made it so difficult, not just for people of color, but for anyone associated with change in the work. It's been difficult for all of us to live with that. I do think that the other piece that I wanted to share is that our leadership also went through a shift and change in thinking. You have a lot of staff at the grassroots level, I think, advocating for the work.
And maybe not necessarily sure how they're going to get there, but there's lots of impetus, and there's wonderful energy. And they committed to some very structural plans. And they involved their leadership. And that was, for some, a very big gamble. It took a lot of courage and stamina, and we were right there helping coach them, but it's not the same thing as being in the room to have those hard conversations. And kudos to all of the staff, but also the library leadership because they're still struggling with ways they can make it because they also want a quick fix. Let's face it. They don't want the work to take so long and they're not sure that they always have the answers, and that makes them feeling a little insecure. But I think for the most part, our directors are feeling like the work does need to be done.
They understand the impetus. They understand the urgency certainly. And I think they're willing to say they don't know all the answers, and they want their staff to help them in the move forward. So that ally work is so incredibly powerful. As a result of that, Chantel and I were invited to actually talk to our public library directors in the state of California too, because everybody wanted to get in on the action and they wanted some money to make that happen. Actually, I will tell you, when we talk about self-care, one of the things that Chantel and I decided to do is take a break because we also felt that incredible pride in what we were doing and the incredible pressure and accountability for maintaining it for the entire state of California, and that was a lot. So we decided to take a little bit of a break. I'm hoping that we'll get back to those things and part of the reason why we said yes today is because this is an example of continuing the work.
Thank You. All right. Are there any other leaders in the library field or not that you have admired and drawn ideas and strengths from? We're going to start with Chantel and then go to Patty.
Thank you. That's a great question and there really are so many. They're the folks who've given like the extra hug or the squeeze and congratulations or the example or the strength. But a couple come to mind just specifically in libraries, certainly I'd say Luis Herrera, who's led for a long time locally and nationally, and was the leadership partner in the color of leadership, and it remained active. And had certainly, for me, had inspiring conversations and fun coffees and moments of joy and lots of advice and guidance. I would also say the late Dr. Yvonne Chandler, who was a mentor and of mine, especially during library school, who took a systemic approach to including more people of color locally and globally in the library profession and making sure that there were resources for people to come together. Certainly also add Sara Jones, who really created space as an ally, who was my director at Marin at the time and has history as a state librarian, but under systemic need for library programs and that individual systems had to support how we'd build a field of practice.
And I would also say Eva Patterson, who's a branch manager at Marin, the first Black librarian professional at Marin, who's now retired, but was certainly over decades epitome of grace and push forward, and strength, and ultimately a leader in our equity alliance, which worked to change the organization. And then finally, I'll close, and not just because she's here, but Patty Wong. Patty's work on a small scale at the large scale at the national level, but also the support and investment in me has been growth, promoting, nurturing, comforting, pushing me ahead sometimes, all of the above. And so I would say that she's certainly essential to whatever I've been able to accomplish in libraries, not just because you're here.
You're making me cry, Chantel. It's a good question and I think actually anyone listening should actually think about that too, because you each in your own right have people that have influenced you. And hopefully you pass it on and pay it forward because there's so much work that needs to be done. Immediately comes to mind, definitely Luis Herrera has been a good friend and ally and mentor to me. Camila Alire, I think Chantel mentioned her a few times out of Colorado, former ALA past president. I served on her presidential advisory committee. She's wonderful, inspiring woman, and a strong leader within REFORMA, but actually just a leader overall. I would say Tracie Hall has been very, very instrumental and I've learned so much from her and I'm so very glad she's part of our executive director at ALA. And she's getting the recognition that she so deserves right now. Always full of grace and just inspirational.
Other people that come to mind, I was lucky enough to get to know Dr. E.J. Josey and miss him so much. I miss Ginny Moore too, also from the Black Caucus, who has had very strong support for me in terms of ALA and certainly council. Ken Yamashita is the president of the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color, and I helped a little bit the vision of that group, but is a strong leader within APALA too. And Betty Turock, who actually, she's the grandmother of Spectrum. And so the other person I want to also mention is Elizabeth Martinez. Betty continues to make sure that Spectrum is well funded with her own personal money and her family's personal money.
She's going to have a birthday very soon and I wish I could be there, but she has really been the forefront of really making a difference in terms of our profession. Elizabeth Martinez has the courage to say what could not be said. I applaud her all the time. She gives me strength and keeps me going. Chantel does that too, definitely. And then I'll say the up and coming leader that we have in Lessa Kanani'opua Pelayo-Lozada as the first native Hawaiian ALA president, but also as the strongest leader that I know within APALA, and actually she's doing marvelous things, so I hope you watch her and learn. We all learn mutually, but she's been an anchor for me on so many levels.
Thank you both, one, for sharing the folks that you admire and, two, who you draw a strength from. And I can easily say that you two are two that I highly respect and admire as well. So I want to thank you for the influence that you've had on me as an individual, but also me as a professional. And I have just gained so much confidence looking to leaders like you, and I'm just very appreciative of that. And I'm so appreciative that you both could join us on the podcast today. We've had a lovely discussion. I know that some of it can be really heavy, but I also think there was just so much inspiring conversation that happened as well, and so many good tidbits to move forward with and create those call to actions that we all need to be focusing on.
Thank you so very much. It was wonderful to be here. A pure pleasure. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you.
Absolutely. Thank you, Ericka. Thank you, Krista.
Yes, thank you. Oh, wow, that was such a powerful discussion. I feel like I just have all of these thoughts and feelings floating around in my brain right now, Krista. I'm so excited that you could join me for this. I am looking forward to hearing some of the things that you are reflecting on and that you took away from this discussion today. It
It was great, and like you said, there was so much information that was just flowing through and so many great ideas that they proposed, and there are so many things that I can think of myself. But first off, I didn't really know Chantel before this, but I really liked what she had to say and I'm inspired to learn more about her and what she's done and her views. Patty was my grant writing professor at SJSU. And a requirement for the class was to pick an organization within the community. And as she talked about during the podcast, her focus on including members of the community and other organizations to work on EDI and to work with the library in that area. And for example, the grant writing class, I selected a group that focused on women and BIPOC, LGBTQ people and helping them get into the tech industry. Those voices are so crucial to be heard as we heard just in the podcast.
Wonderful, Krista, and that sounds like a really good project that you are working on too. Thank you for sharing that. I also agree. I was just super delighted with how much content they shared with focusing on community and how important that community aspect of everything we do is. One of the things that really resonated with me was more inwardly focused, and that was when Chantel and Patty both were talking about looking at your internal teams and looking at who is making decisions. Chantel said that one of the best things that we can do is move delegation of the problem to the people that it affects most. And I think of my own internal teams where I work and really questioning who is defining the problem. And is it just one person? And if so, that should really be two or three people at the table to really be moving things towards inclusive decision making that involves the people it affects most. So that is my challenge to our listeners today, is to look at who is making decisions in your workplace, what needs to change to make that more equitable and more inclusive?
That's a really good point. My action item focuses around broadband and leadership. So as Patty and Chantel discussed how the expansion of broadband impacted the opportunity for intellectual freedom in communities where it was lacking, it also pointed out how we should be looking at the information provided by this axis, the tools used and how they have influenced and how to prevent it. And you could do this just by reading a book such as Algorithms of Oppression and Data Feminism. Another step is also to look at our media literacy and tech through programming and education to ourselves as well as the public to help prevent racism and bias through information sharing using broadband, and still expand the intellectual freedom needed to prevent it.
Thank you, Krista. I'm going to jot down those titles myself because I have so much more to learn around this and just so much more change to insight.
It was a great podcast. Lots of information.
Yes. Thank you. And thank you to our listeners out there.
This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Library Services and Technology Act, administered by the State Library of Oregon.
Este proyecto ha sido posible en parte por el Instituto de Servicios de Museos y Bibliotecas a través de la Ley de Servicios de Biblioteca y Tecnológia (LSTA), administrada por la Biblioteca Estado de Oregón.
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