Black History Month: Making a Successful Entry into the Profession
Black History Month Symposium

iStudent Blog
Wanda Brown

Published: May 1, 2023 by Eori Tokunaga

In honor of Black History Month, the San José State University iSchool hosted a free online symposium on February 23rd, 2023, titled “A Celebration of Black History Month: Equity in Libraries, 2023 and Beyond.” The symposium featured moderator Wanda Brown and keynote speaker Elaina Norlin. The symposium also hosted a panel discussion with Michael Crumpton, Kelvin Watson, Dominique Dozier, Binnie Wilkin, and Dr. Stephanie Brasley.  

Dr. Anthony Chow and moderator Wanda Brown began by opening the symposium and encouraging attendees to take notes throughout the event. Participants were also asked to reflect on how equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) can be applied in their own professional practices.

“Is there more you can do to support diversity, equity, and inclusion? Did a speaker give you something to think about, something you’d like to pursue further?” - Wanda Brown 

Elaina Norlin

Keynote speaker Elaina Norlin opened up her presentation, “Inclusive Workspaces??,” with a poll on how participants thought “inclusive workspaces” could be defined. She then began to share a case study of a business librarian whose approach to business culture was different than the traditional methods that were implemented at the public library, which resulted in the library management giving him a lukewarm performance evaluation for his innovative efforts.

“I’ve been a manager before. You have to allow trust in the experimentation so some of the things that he was doing did work out and some of them did not, but that trust and experimentation is what comes to the innovation on the other side. So as managers, for the managers who are here, allowing for that time to have trust and experimentation is where the inclusivity comes in.” -Elaina Norlin

Norlin then shifted the topic to focus on advice for incoming librarians on how to advocate for themselves in the workplace.

“If you don’t remember anything that I say for this keynote, true inclusiveness will change, or at least tweak, the work culture.” 

The symposium continued with individual presentations by Michael Crumpton and Kelvin Watson on applying equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in LIS settings, creating more spaces for diverse voices in libraries, and serving as mentors for staff. 

“I use this term called ‘Inviting the Uninvited’ with not just the staff, but it’s really about the community. It’s opening up resources and making them available, making people feel welcome.” - Kelvin Watson, Executive Director of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District  

Following up were presentations by recent SJSU graduate Dominique Dozier who talked about her perspective as an early career professional, Binnie Wilkin’s presentation about the historical backdrop for current EDI work in libraries, and Dr. Stephanie Brasley’s presentation on fostering avenues for ensuring EDI work that new professionals will need to thrive.  

Binnie Wilkin:

After the individual presentations, the symposium concluded with a final summation by Binnie Tate Wilkin: 

“The next steps will require professionals on all levels, including library education and organized activities addressing services, to step up and become part of the fray. Be active. Participate in processes that help push the profession forward toward more diversity and our inclusion. Remember what marginalized means. Marginalized means living, existing, and surviving in the margins of the story. The power lies with those who control the narrative. The goal of diversity, equity, and inclusion is to bring information and accomplishments of those who have existed in the margins into the main narrative and make them an essential part of the action. The progress of humanity is at stake.”

Below are some best practices as provided by the speakers during the symposium:

  1. Always go into an interview loaded down with research and make an informed decision. 
  2. Trust your gut instinct and know that “true inclusiveness” will always impact the work culture. 
  3. Think about these questions throughout the interview process:
    1. How do they resolve disagreements in conflict? 
    2. Does the workplace instill more of a scarcity or an abundance mindset?
    3. Do they encourage creative thinking? How comfortable is the workplace with challenging the status quo?
    4. What kind of career progression is available? 
    5. How do you talk to the person that you are directly reporting to? Are performance evaluations only annual, biannual, etc?
    6. Is this company retaining employees? How does the company see value in the people who work for them?

To view Elaina Norlin’s presentation, “Inclusive Workspaces??,” click here. 

To watch the full symposium, click here. 

To view the Black History Month Symposium 2023-Transcript, click here: 


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