This past July, I received a mysterious phone call from a number I did not recognize. As a skeptical member of the 21st century, my initial instinct was to just let it ring. But something inside me prompted me to—just this once—answer this call. I’m glad I did, because it was a phone call I was secretly hoping for without getting my hopes up. The call was from the American Library Association (ALA) offices to let me know I was awarded a Spectrum Scholarship. I screamed internally (and then externally, successfully scaring my dog).
The Spectrum Scholarship was created to encourage diversity and it benefits our field immensely. As library users become more and more diverse, they should be able to connect with the people who are working behind the reference desk. And I’m not talking about just racial or ethnic diversity, people from all walks of life and experiences should take on that marvelous role of librarian! After all, librarians wield a great power in the world, which is the trust of their users. To nurture and engage this trust, we should show users that no matter who they are, they matter to the library. And shouldn’t they see themselves in their librarians?
I can see this theory in effect in my own life. As someone who loves to work with teens, I’ve been able to observe this species of human up close. Teens have their own unique library needs, but my personal research has shown that above all else is the need for empathy. As someone who was once a teenager, I can empathize with their victories and struggles at least on a theoretical level. But I’ve noticed that when I interact with teens of diverse backgrounds, they view me differently. After the awkward observation of niceties, there’s a kinship there...and a trust. I thrive in that trust.
I’m excited to see what the future holds for me and for libraries. I may be a student now, but I know that my learning does not end upon graduation. There are many more experiences to be had, lessons to be learned, and changes to be seen.
But right now the phone is ringing. Diversity is calling. Are you going to answer?
Alice Son is a Teen Advisor at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, an MLIS student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Gryffindor. You can tweet her @alicehson.