By Karen Carmody-McIntosh
Last week, 26 library professionals from across the United States and Canada participated in the University Libraries’ “Minnesota Institute for Early Career Librarians from Traditionally Under-Represented Groups.” A broad goal of the institute is to change the status quo — to build more diverse leadership for academic libraries.
“It’s been an excellent experience,” said institute participant Erik Ponder, African Studies Librarian at Michigan State University. “It’s important to situate [the institute] in a discussion of, hopefully, progress. Where are we moving to? How will the profession look in five or ten years? How can I influence on a national level, on an institutional level, and within my peer group? Those are the seeds that have been planted — to think on those terms.”
This was the 11th Minnesota Institute hosted by the University of Minnesota Libraries biennially since 1998. Each institute welcomes a new cohort of academic librarians to the U of M campus for a week of workshops, events, and collaboration designed to hone their leadership skills. The participants, selected through a rigorous application process, are in the first three years of their career and all are members of racial and ethnic groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in the library profession.
This year’s cohort immersed themselves in the five-day institute, learning from institute faculty Kathryn Deiss and DeEtta Jones, and speakers Wendy Pradt Lougee, Trevor Dawes, Harriett Green, Janet Bishop, Claire Stewart, John Butler, Erika Lee, and Jason Roy.
University Librarian and Dean Wendy Pradt Lougee noted the expanding impact of the institute: “We now have over 260 graduates of the program, spanning 20 years, and we’ve seen the impact in impressive emerging leaders and in the strength of the network participants develop.”
Leadership for the future
While speakers provided case studies on contemporary programs and issues for academic libraries, leadership sessions focused on topics including developing individual leadership skills, finding new models of collaboration within libraries, and creating change at the organizational level.
After a week of intense focus on leadership topics, participants at the institute have learned some strategies they’ll take home with them.
“I’m interested in creative forms of management, people-centered management of staff centered around universal design and redesigning cultural expectations — creating a culture that expects change,” said Jasmine Clark, Resident Librarian at Temple University. “Moving forward I want to continue exploring that and use the principles we’ve learned over the week to pursue that.”
Networking and the value of peers
Bringing together a diversity of participants, who share their experiences with each other, is another strength of the institute model.
“It was wonderful to meet everyone — a wonderful way of placing oneself within the profession,” said Ponder. “To have such a diversity of people, but also a diversity of career choices has been amazing. I will be very excited to follow the career trajectories of the cohort.”
Added Clark: “I’ve found it to be really interesting to hear responses and feedback from a large group of people who come up against similar challenges, but who may cope with them differently.”
Hearing about the strategies and reactions of other cohort members is something Clark believes will stay with her, making her more adept at supporting her colleagues — fellow librarians of color.
Today’s participants, tomorrow’s leaders
The Minnesota Institute came to a close last Friday, but its legacy will continue. Each institute brings new speakers to campus, including some past attendees. In ten or 20 years, some of today’s participants will undoubtedly return and share wisdom learned, strategies developed, and support for another generation of early career librarians.