California Conference on Library Instruction
Published: July 21, 2023 by Blanca Garcia-Barron
The California Conference on Library Instruction is an annual one-day conference in the California Bay Area. The conference began in 1973 as a forum for academic librarians to exchange ideas and present their work. This year’s conference, hosted by the University of San Francisco, focused on labor and power dynamics in academic libraries. The theme, Power and Empowerment: Labor, Agency, and Dynamic Relationships in Academic Libraries, explored cross-departmental collaborations and projects. With the generous funding from the SJSU iSchool’s student travel grants, I was able to attend and present at this year’s conference. Though this conference is geared towards academic librarians, the call for proposals and theme were flexible enough to encompass all academic library workers.
Mentorship and Academic Libraries
While this was not my first conference presentation, it was my first library conference presentation. When I was an undergraduate and graduate student in history, I presented at various conferences focused on public history and borderlands history. Switching to the field of library information science, I was eager to contribute and to network within the field of academic librarianship. Since I started this program in 2021, I have been working towards various projects and research to prepare me for the academic job market. I also applied to all the scholarships and funding I could find. I was grateful to be selected as a 2022-2024 ARL Kaleidoscope Program Scholar, along with three other SJSU iSchool students. *
One of the components of the ARL Kaleidoscope Program is being part of a formal mentorship program. I was matched with a wonderful mentor, Sandy Enriquez (Public Services, Outreach and Community Engagement Librarian at the University of California, Riverside’s Special Collections department) who has been incredibly supportive of me throughout this journey. From our conversations within the past year, she saw the value of my work as a student, library staff member, and future academic librarian. When the call for proposals for CCLI 2023 came out, she encouraged me and another SJSU iSchool graduate to present alongside her.
Disrupting Norms and Finding Agency
Our presentation, Transcending Silos: Communicating Across Roles in Academic Libraries, focused on the academic library job market and racial diversity, and two case studies exploring the ways library staff and librarians can work across roles and titles with the goal of creating partnerships, mentorships, and diversifying the field. While the conference theme explored labor and power, it was interesting to note that an overwhelming amount of people attending our panel were librarians, and only three were staff (myself, my fellow panelist, and one person in the audience).
For my section, I presented on my work as a library technician at Mt. San Jacinto College. My case study looked at the various projects and work that I do as a library tech that are not traditional to this role. Typically, these roles are often relegated to customer service positions, and it is often difficult to make the jump from library tech to full-time academic Librarian. I did not know this when I accepted this position back in 2021. I quickly experienced this reality, but my eagerness led me to simply ask what I could and could not do. I began to set-up book displays, supervise student workers, serve on committees, and collaborated on LibGuides with student workers and librarians. Of course, I did all this within my professional boundaries, in compliance with my contract, and always with the guidance of our librarians.
This past year, I found a resurgence in my agency through my work. This was critical since I entered the academic library field dejected and broken from leaving a doctoral program. I thought my professional and academic life were over. CCLI helped me put my experience in perspective. From what I gathered, library staff attending conferences is not the norm in these spaces. I wholeheartedly enjoy disrupting norms that do not benefit those of us in positions without power, so I felt very privileged to not only attend, but to present in this space representing library staff.
This also speaks to the core of the conference keynote speaker’s words. Erika Montenegro and Cynthia Mari Orozco expressed a raw and honest take on their careers as academic librarians at East Los Angeles Community College. They both spoke on authenticity, the harms of academia as a culture, and disrupting notions of professionalism in our field. Despite the challenges, they also touched on the type of work that keeps them going, which is always in the service of students and collaborative work with one another. They encouraged attendees to find their “academic homies” and establish community over shared values. Their words were powerful and exactly what I needed to hear as a person of color pursuing academic librarianship.
Along with the support of my library mentor, the librarians at my institution, my peers (new and old), and my studies over the past two years, I have grown immensely. I do have to admit that my previous program gave me a wealth of insider knowledge that I translate as knowledge privilege. I continue to struggle as a first-generation master’s program student and a POC trying to find my place, often at the fringes of academia, but meeting different folks and listening to diverse experiences at CCLI helped me realize that I am finally on the right track. I am sure I will continue to face different challenges in the future, but at least I know there is an entire community of workers and librarians that share the same values as myself.
*Shout out to my SJSU iSchool Kaleidoscope (2022-2024) peers. See you in Arizona!
Editor’s Note: The SJSU iSchool highly encourages students to attend professional conferences but also realizes that it can be cost prohibitive. Travel grants are available to eligible students to help lessen the financial burden and increase conference participation. iSchool student Blanca Garcia-Barron received one of these travel grants.