The Alternative Voices Feature is brought to you by the NMRT’s Membership, Diversity, Promotion, and Recruitment committee. It is meant to give a platform to the voices of librarians from underrepresented communities in the library field. The format of the feature is a journalistic question and answer format. It provides information that the librarian wants people to know about them, plus their thoughts on the current state of the field of librarianship.
Name – Jamia Williams
Contact Information – Ph: 315-464-7196
City & State – Syracuse, NY
Position Title – Librarian and Diversity Fellow
Length of time in the library field – 7 months
Tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you attend college? What degrees do you have? What programs (undergraduate or graduate) prepared you for your current position? Tell us about your position and what you do? What is your definition of diversity, or equity or inclusion?
I was born and raised in Rochester, New York. Therefore, I was a product of the Urban Suburban program so this urban girl started attending school in one of Rochester’s suburbs Wheatland-Chili from 5th grade to the 12th grade. This experience was interesting and unique. One day I have to put this experience in my autobiography. I am a graduate of the State University of New York at Brockport. During my time at SUNY Brockport, I majored in history where I received a Bachelor of Science degree. I graduated with a Master of Library Science from North Carolina Central University; my concentration was in academic librarianship. Getting my degree from NCCU improved my presentation skills and sharpened my leadership abilities so that I can be a better colleague. Currently, I am employed at Upstate Medical University’s Health Sciences Library. I am the librarian and diversity fellow.
I love the analogy that I heard about diversity and inclusion. Diversity is asking someone to attend a party but inclusion is asking that person to dance at the party. Therefore, I would say that equity is assessing whether or not the person can get to the party and not just assuming that a person has a way to get to the party. Then whatever actions need to take place to get the person to the party needs to happen. Lastly, an assessment of their dancing experience needs to occur so they can truly be a part of the dance.
What drew you to a career as a librarian and what is your current role?
My current role is librarian and diversity fellow. My journey started in 2005 when I was in the senior year of my undergraduate program. The first career idea that came to my mind that I wanted to pursue once I was done with school was librarianship. So I began looking for job opportunities then I realized to my surprise that librarians needed their Master’s degree. Unfortunately, I was fearful of taking the GRE and I knew that I needed to take this exam to get into a graduate program. As a result of this fear, it robbed me of many years of pursuing my dream career. The other career option that I wanted to pursue was social work or case management so I began working in the human services field then after gaining years of experience I became a case manager. Even though I loved working in this field, I kept having this nagging feeling that I could and should be a librarian. I am proud to say that I gathered the money and the courage to take the GRE and I applied to two graduate programs. The first program that I applied to did not accept me which fed into my fear of failure. But I did not lose all hope and I waited for my response from NCCU and I was glad to receive my acceptance email from the institution. I am being vulnerable in telling my story so that others can be encouraged. Furthermore, I want my colleagues to understand that my path to librarianship is not a traditional route.
This is my dream come true and I am glad to finally be apart of a profession that has so many dynamic people in it. My draw to this profession was the ability to help others on various levels. I get to assist my colleagues, students, and faculty on a daily basis. The feeling that I get from being apart of someone’s success is pure joy.
Before you became a librarian, what were you thinking about doing professionally or academically?
Before, I became a librarian I was torn between being a social worker or being a lawyer. Both of these professions I felt were advocacy roles. I love advocating for underserved and marginalized people in our society. So, I am happy to know that even in librarianship there is a social justice piece involved. I love that I am gaining momentum on advocacy and social justice work in librarianship. One day I do want to obtain a law degree.
How are you becoming or staying in involved with the wider profession?
Currently, I am involved statewide and nationwide in the profession. I am a member of the New York Library Association; I serve on the board as one of the directors on the Academic and Special Libraries Section of NYLA. Being a part of this section is a wonderful opportunity because I get to be involved with librarians from different types of libraries statewide. Also, I am a member of the programs and proposals team of the Association of College and Research Libraries Residency Interest Group (RIG). Being a part of RIG is a great connection because I get to meet residents and fellows throughout the country that are working in similar career positions like myself.
Lastly, I am trying to build my network of medical librarians since I would like to work at a health sciences library once I finish my fellowship. I watch at least one webinar weekly that sharpens my skills and educates me on a topic that I am not knowledgeable about. Additionally, I attend local workshops and conferences. I attended my first national conference, which was ALA Mid-Winter 2019. Being a part of Twitter was a wise decision on my part, #librarytwitter is informative and motivating. Moreover, various types of librarians throughout the USA and Canada inspire me.
What advice would you give to new librarians from underrepresented groups?
Try to join as many interest groups as possible, your voice is needed. You deserve a seat at the table. Furthermore, there are so many librarians in our profession that enjoy sharing their stories and information on how to survive in this field. Finally, listen and ask questions as much as possible.
When you were growing up, did you feel that the libraries accurately reflected the community you lived in?
I think the libraries in my community growing up did reflect my community well. The programming catered to our needs. Plus, I noticed that the hours of some of our public libraries began to change once it was realized how many of us did not have computers at home. This awareness was key to me and other children school survival.
How do you think the field will change most dramatically in the next several years?
I think the field will change most dramatically in the next several years due to the speed of changing technology. It is as if once we master a concept something else comes along so we have to be open and accepting of change. Also, the individuals that I met at the 2018 University of Greensboro’s Diversity Institute are world changers who do not mind collaborating to get things done in our profession. So watch out library world, we are here!
What’s been your most valuable experience at your employer so far, and why?
The most valuable experience at my employer has been meeting Twanna Hodge. She inspires me daily and is a great force of nature. The connections that I have made due to Twanna nudging me along has been priceless. I am wiser about our profession because of her being in my life.
Do you have a blog/website?
Yes, I have a blog. My website address is https://diversityfellow.wordpress.com/. Please read my blog entries and tell me what you think.