In Dialogue with Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada and Erin L. Ellis on Community, Diversity, and Self-Care in Librarianship

Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada headshot
Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada

Toward Inclusive Excellence‘s latest podcast episode presents another “In Dialogue” session, which brings together prominent scholars, library leaders, and higher education stakeholders to discuss a timely topic. In time for the end of their tenures, this episode features ALA’s 2022-23 President Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada and ACRL’s 2022-23 President Erin L. Ellis. Lessa and Erin sit down with TIE editor-in-chief Alexia Hudson-Ward to discuss the associations’ challenges and successes of the past year and ongoing issues in librarianship. First, amidst the surge in book bans and attacks on libraries, Lessa and Erin detail the emotional toll of this work and how each organization has addressed this spike in censorship. The guests underscore the strength and power of the library community, highlighting how aid can come in many forms, whether through direct advocacy or behind-the-scenes encouragement.

Erin L. Ellis headshot
Erin L. Ellis

In addition, Lessa and Erin explain the importance of self-care as leaders and library workers. Sharing their favorite books, media, and hobbies, they emphasize the need to step away from the library world to recharge and invest in their lives outside of work. Lessa, Adult Services Assistant Manager at the Palos Verdes Library District in Southern California, and Erin, Associate Dean for Organizational Strategy, Diversity, and Inclusion at Indiana University Bloomington Libraries, stress that their presidency roles are volunteer positions, as they express gratitude toward their colleagues, association members, and families for their administrative and personal support.

Finally, the speakers dig into the continuous lack of compositional diversity in librarianship. Erin explores how recruitment efforts can only act as a first step, and vouches for dispelling toxic workplace culture steeped in both racism and bias. Underpinning the lack of a one-size-fits-all solution, Lessa explains how perfectionism and risk-aversion in the profession prevents addressing these systemic problems. Both guests advocate for active allyship in administrative and leadership roles, in addition to recognizing the intersectionality of library staff. They also share projects both ALA and ACRL have introduced to further enact inclusive excellence with members and in programming.

This enlightening discussion brings together two library leaders to examine the issues affecting libraries today, and the overlap and community found between the academic and public library spaces.

Listen to the full episode below:

TIE Podcast · Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada and Erin Ellis on Community, Diversity, and Self-Care in Libraries

Here’s a quick peek inside the episode:

On the toll of book bans and challenges:

“During my president-elect year we saw [book challenges] happening. We saw the number double, right…but the escalation of it and the organization of it, and the fact that it is a vocal minority. We know that it is not the majority of Americans, of voters, of our citizens who agree with book challenges. And yet our library workers are still facing very real, scary situations every single day by providing access to our patrons. So really, it’s book challenges that are keeping me up at night, because to Erin’s point, we weren’t prepared for this. We knew how to prepare ourselves in theory, to make sure we had policies and procedures as we do for every part of our library work, but to the level that we had to do it, and also to prepare ourselves emotionally for it. You know, so many library workers [have said], ‘I didn’t go to library school to fight for this, to be yelled at, to be harassed.’ Whether it’s someone working in a public library, harassment from patrons unfortunately occurs on a fairly regular basis. But adding this on top of it has just been something that was unforeseen.”

  • Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada

On incorporating self-care as a library leader:

“I have to recharge. I have to think about something, like Lessa, that isn’t libraries, that isn’t work, that isn’t [ACRL]. I have to disconnect and create some space in my brain to have a little bit of nothing going on…I’ll also say that I have had incredible support. And in my workplace, my colleagues, my dean, have been incredibly understanding of the time and space I’ve needed for me to focus on the ACRL work. And again, without that, this would have been unmanageable. I would have been no good to anyone, so that was a huge part of being able to take care of myself, take care of the rest of my life. Libraries are important… [but] it’s not the whole of my being. I love what I do. I love this community, this profession, but I am more than this. So having myself surrounded by people who understand that and respect that has been a huge part of being able to do this.”

  • Erin Ellis

On the lack of compositional diversity in librarianship:

“Our systems and structures are steeped in racism and discrimination and bias, and if that doesn’t change, we cannot bring people of color, marginalized communities into these environments and expect them to thrive. It’s not a retention issue. It’s not a recruitment issue. We can put tons of people in library school of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and they can come out with a credential. They can come out with the qualifications, everything they need. But if we put them somewhere where there is nothing there to help them thrive, we will never meet this diversification of the profession goal.”

  • Erin Ellis

On the toxicity of workplace culture in librarianship:

“…We get stuck in, ‘but it’s not perfect,’ so we never get to move forward, because we’re also a very risk-averse profession, which I think lends itself to the toxicity, because we’re afraid to try new things, whether it’s because we’re afraid of it not being perfect, or we don’t have the funding for it so we don’t want to put money behind something we’re not a hundred percent sure about…I think that perfectionism and risk aversion lend themselves to individuals coming in and trying to make wonderful change, and not being allowed to, or having the idea stolen by individuals who can make that change. And so we just don’t have the language…to talk about it, and the vulnerability.”

  • Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozada

Watch the full video interview here:

Listen to our previous In Dialogue session with Dr. Rasul Mowatt and Dr. Davarian Baldwin on the History and Import of Black Studies.

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Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.