Alternative Voices – Nichelle Hayes

The Alternative Voices Feature is meant to give a platform to librarians’ voices 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. The feature will showcase one interview each quarter. This is on a volunteer basis.

Name – Nichelle M. Hayes 
Contact Information –
City & State – Indianapolis, IN 
Position Title – Director of the Center for Black Literature & Culture
Length of time in the library field – 9 Years

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 received my Library Degree from Indiana University – Indianapolis. I have two Masters – Masters of Public Administration & MLS as well as a Bachelors’ both from Valdosta State University. I think my entire life has prepared me for my current position, which includes my love of literature and sharing knowledge in addition to genealogy and family history. The core of my identity is being a Black Woman. I’ve been advocating the advancement of our people for most of my adult life.

My current position – I’m the Founding Director of the Center for Black Literature & Culture (CBLC) ~ Indianapolis Public Library. The CBLC is a fixed and permanent space in a large urban area with a collection and programming focused on the African Diaspora. The CBLC is Black 365 days a year. We are both windows and mirrors for people who are a part of the African Diaspora and those that are not. I am responsible for programming, shaping the collection and promotion of the space. It’s been exciting, rewarding, and challenging! My dream job that I never imagined I would have.

Definition of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity – The librarian profession should reflect the patrons that they serve.

Equity – Black people of color started the race three laps behind and were hobbled. Policies have to be instituted to bring us to the same level as white people in the profession. We have increased needs because of systemic racism and white supremacy for the last 400 years and counting.

Inclusion – Black people should be represented in every area of librarianship, Library School, Management, Librarians, Directors, etc.
DEI should be intentional and sustained. These repairs will not happen overnight.

Before you became a librarian, what were you thinking about doing professionally or academically?

Librarianship is a second career for me. I was previously a Human Resource Professional. I worked as a Generalist and in Recruitment and Selection.

What are some of your hobbies, and are you still finding time for these activities with your busy schedule?

I have a few hobbies. Gardening is something that I’ve picked up during the quarantine. I’m growing flowers and vegetables at my home. I’m enjoying the process of planting, nurturing, and watching things grow. Nature is beautiful and fascinating. I’ve jokingly said that this summer, I’m traveling from my front yard to my backyard. My flowers are primarily in the front with the veggies in the back. I also enjoy genealogy. Although honestly, it’s more than a hobby. As an African American descendant living in America, it’s important to know my history so that I have a firm foundation. I make time for my hobbies because it helps to nurture and restore me. I use it to refill my pitcher. I always try to remember that you can’t draw from an empty pitcher.

What can prospective librarians be doing right now to prepare themselves for a career in this field?

Consider the work you would enjoy doing. Try not to limit yourself to positions with Librarian in the title. Look more at using your skills in different positions. Research organizations that have a culture that meshes with yours. Be a lifelong learner. There’s always a new program or software that needs to be utilized.

Is there anything more that you would like to see NMRT or ALA as a whole do as a method to ensure the promotion of diversity and alternative voices?

I think that ALA should look internally as an organization to see who is in leadership as well as on staff. Does leadership reflect our community? I’m excited that Tracie D. Hall has become Executive Director in addition to Wanda K. Brown as President and Julius Jefferson incoming President. It’s important to have diverse voices in leadership and other positions. ALA needs to take a hard look at diversity, equity, and inclusion in libraries and library schools (students and staff). After taking that hard look, determine why diversity is lacking. I will say that it’s not about getting more Black and Brown students in Library School. It is about having an experience and professors and curriculum that nurture those students. And that also goes for libraries. If you have Black and Brown staff members leaving in droves or not advancing, there is a problem with YOUR institution, not the individual.

When you were growing up, did you feel that the libraries accurately reflected the community you lived in?

Growing up in the Midwest, I was blessed that my neighborhood branch did reflect me. The first Librarian that I can remember was Mrs. Ruby Anderson. Mrs. Anderson was a kind, soft-spoken woman who always seemed to be in the library when I visited. She worked with me to find books and to listen to my book reports for summer reading. Her care and attention were critical to me. It helped to cement my love of libraries.

How do you think the field will change most dramatically in the next several years?

This is an exciting and compelling question. My hope is that the use of technology will allow us to reach more people. I think that it’s important for us to understand that the “digital divide” is real. How do we bridge that divide? Lending more computers, tablets, and or hotspots. Do we make technology as accessible as water or air conditioning? Is that too radical a statement? I hope it won’t be in the future.

If you had to attribute your success to one skill or trait, what would it be?

I would say the primary trait that I attribute to my success is my ability and desire to continue to learn, soak up information, and apply and or share it.

What is your favorite genre?

Mystery & Detective! Love them. One of my favorite authors is Barbara Neely and Walter Mosely. I also really enjoy the late Sue Grafton.

Do you have a blog/website?

Yes, I do I talk about genealogy and keeping families together across space and time.

Is there anything else you might have wanted to mention or something I should have asked? Write it down and answer it!

I am active in BCALA. I’ve found it to be a wonderful organization. I’m excited to start serving as Vice-President at the end of the month. I encourage everyone to join a professional organization for development and support. Also seeking out a mentor and offering to mentor someone else. Mentorship is important.

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