“I didn’t want to listen to a white lady speak about reconciliation"
We’re in very interesting times in libraries; where we know that we need to change, but we’re not sure how. I began working in public libraries in Saskatoon as a library assistant. When I decided to pursue a career in libraries further I went to the University of Toronto for graduate school. I was shocked to find that in one of the most diverse cities in the world; the Faculty of Information, which included the Library and Information Science (LIS) program was as homogenous as it was.
While I had been an avid library user for a long time; the idea for me to actually work in one only came about after I had volunteered at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) National Event in Saskatoon in 2012. A manager at the library was speaking about all of the programming and outreach that was being done in terms of reconciliation. I didn’t want to listen to a white lady speak about reconciliation at what I thought was supposed to be an event that centered survivor voices. I stayed and listened to all the initiatives being undertaken by the library; and that got me to consider working in a library for the first time.
I started library school with experience of how public libraries can partner with Indigenous communities; but my experiences since then have not always felt that way. Shortly after finishing my masters, I was presenting at the Toronto Ryerson York (TRY) Library conference about the efforts being made at the University of Toronto Libraries towards supporting reconciliation efforts. We went around the room to get a sense of who was in the audience; and what the previous experiences people were bringing with them. It was shocking to me that so many of the people who were there had little to no experience with the TRC or reconciliation as a concept; let alone with Indigenous communities. While I do recognize that everyone’s learning needs to start from somewhere, I’m not always sure that the burden of beginning the learning process for other people is an emotional burden that needs to fall on the library staff that happen to be Indigenous.
One of the most important mandates that the public library has is to offer supplemental materials and to expand upon the learning that begins within the school system. We have the ability to create lifelong learners by engaging with the people that choose to come to the library. But are we forcing our Indigenous staff to become lifelong teachers; simply because we haven’t taken it upon ourselves to engage with other communities in meaningful ways? I have often found myself being the Indigenous person on the Indigenous project; and if we aren’t more fully supporting our staff to expand their skills to include a well-rounded skill-set, then we are burning out our colleagues unnecessarily. If we can take it upon ourselves to do the education work that is needed for diversity and inclusion; then we create the spaces that are needed for our Indigenous staff to further their skills and careers; rather than carrying a heavier emotional toll.
About the Author: Sheila has always been interested in many different areas of learning; and is always expanding her skill-set. She has been a librarian in academic, special and public libraries across the country; and is also a certified Project Management Professional (PMP). Sheila also happens to be Métis, and considers the work that she does for and within her community to be highly rewarding.