Diversity is key to strong teams and organizations.
“Diversity in organizations promotes innovation and creativity,” said Tyler Walters, dean of the University Libraries at Virginia Tech. “People with different backgrounds think of things differently, see things from different angles, and solve challenges in a variety of ways. This is invaluable.”
For these reasons, Walters built a partnership with colleagues from American University Library, The University of Iowa Libraries, and West Virginia University Libraries to create The Diversity Alliance for Academic Librarianship residency program.
“The research librarianship profession is about four percent diverse. We are trying to change that by providing a nurturing environment for those in underrepresented groups who may be interested in learning the ropes under the guidance of mentors,” said Walters.
In 2015, the three-year residency program began small and only housed at the original four alliance universities. Now, the program includes 36 participating university libraries across the nation.
“We are clearly beginning to make a national impact. We have begun and encouraged the conversation about diversity issues in libraries and the research library profession,” said Walters.
Community collections archivist Anthony Wright de Hernandez was a member of the program’s first residency cohort and its first resident at Virginia Tech. Wright de Hernandez found librarianship through many of life’s twists and turns.
“It took me 11 years to earn my bachelor’s degree in community studies. I went to school for three-and-a-half years, changed majors five times, and then completed my degree through a degree completion program in Boston,” said Wright de Hernandez. “While in school, I realized the importance of libraries and their services for communities.”
He later earned his master of library and information science degree and was searching for career direction. At an American Library Association conference in Chicago, he learned about the The Diversity Alliance for Academic Librarianship residency program and applied for placement at Virginia Tech.
“I chose Virginia Tech’s program because it’s structured broadly, ” said Wright de Hernandez. “I could see the opportunity to explore many areas of the profession. However, I chose to concentrate on three areas of the University Libraries — collections and technical services, special collections, and data services.” He found his niche in special collections.
“I think it’s the stories. I was never one to like history because of the dates, names, and the memorization of them — but it’s the stories that need to be told. We are preserving the history that enables those stories to be told,” said Wright de Hernandez.
Special collections faculty Kira Dietz and Sam Winn were his mentors through the program. “Kira is an expert in technical aspects of special collections,” said Wright de Hernandez, “and Sam has an amazing professional network and passion around social justice issues and diversity.”
“This is the first time in my life that I am able to combine what I wanted to do and what I get paid to do. I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community and bring a lot of experience and perspective regarding what it’s like to be a part of a traditionally marginalized community,” said Wright de Hernandez. “That gives me a different perspective on collection development. I empathize with traditionally under- represented groups and strive to authentically reflect their experiences through our collections.”
After his three-year residency, Wright de Hernandez will continue his important work as a full-time community collections archivist at Virginia Tech. “Now, my focus is growing what I began in my residency and improving how our archives and special collections serve traditionally marginalized communities,” added Wright de Hernandez.
Recently, Walters participated in a panel discussion at the Association of Research Libraries and the Association of College and Research Libraries Symposium for Strategic Leadership in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to promote awareness and participation in the residency program.
“Back in 2015, there were just four of us creating this out of our back pocket. Our vision is for this program to continue to expand and become even more impactful,” said Walters.