Member Profile of Catherine Deane: A Servant-Leader, Focused on Facilitating Change and Empowering Others

We are continuing our coverage of the Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals (PLLIP) inaugural Diversity Summit, hosted in conjunction with the Black Law Librarians (BLL) Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL). The Summit’s theme was “From Difficult Conversations to Collaborative Action”, and the session, “Diversity Shares: Listen to Learn”, featured three members of the law library community as panellists, Ramon Barajas, Catherine Deane and Kim Nayyer.

This profile is on Catherine Deane, who goes by Deane, and uses the pronouns they/them. Deane has been a law librarian for over 10 years. Most of their career has been in major cities in California. They also spent 4 years working at Vanderbilt Law Library in Nashville, TN. They have experience in both the academic law library and a law firm library environment and they are currently available for management or senior positions at law libraries in California. They have recently become a facilitator for Come Abide Here LLC, a provider of racial intelligence coaching to White members of diversity, equity, and inclusion committees, strategic planning committees, and other organizational leadership groups that seek to achieve true effectiveness and transformation around diversity, equity, and inclusion within their organizations.

Answers compiled by Megan Moltrup, Librarian at Baker & McKenzie LLP in Washington, DC.

What is your role at your dream job?

My dream job at the moment would be a management position. I would love the opportunity to create a culture of respect for human dignity at work. I would like to foster a workplace where you can bring your whole self to work and where I play a servant-leader role, ensuring that everyone has the support and autonomy they need to do their best work.

How has your role as a facilitator impacted you?

On the weekly podcast that I do with Bathabile Mthombeni of Come Abide Here, we strive to be welcoming and accessible. We are in service to the White community of individuals who choose to do the tough inner work necessary to effectuate lasting and impactful change.

I feel grateful for this opportunity to be the change that I want to see in the world. There have always been White people fighting alongside other races for racial equality. It is a gift to get to support them in their evolution and to empower them to shift paradigms. We offer a dinner conversation where they can express in a safe container their feelings about race based on their personal experiences. They may arrive at the dinner believing that they are allies in our fight. My only goal is to provide guidance so that they can move towards a paradigm where they see that the same systems that oppress marginalized communities, also oppress them. So this is just as much their fight as ours.

What has been the biggest single change you have seen in the industry? And what changes do you see ahead?

The biggest change is the current focus on diversity, inclusion and equity. These are buzz words right now and there are many professional development opportunities that reference these terms.

The next generation of law librarians is coming. They are not going to put up with being devalued, because they are the side-hustle generation and they will just move on. We will need to make law librarian positions more desirable or we will not find people to fill them.

Equity is more important than ever, especially if we want to have diverse library teams. A salary for a law librarian position should not be based on what the market can bear but rather based on what would allow the most marginalized librarians, to live a middle class life  in a nearby community regardless of access to familial wealth. If you go with “what the market can bear”, then people who have more support will take these jobs. You should not need to have a wealthy partner; live with three housemates or live with or near able-bodied parents who provide support or housing in order to live off the salary of a professional law librarian job. Law librarian jobs, especially at prestigious institutions, should not be merely reserved for the law librarian hobbyist who is living off of familial wealth. We cannot eat prestige.

Paying salaries according to what the market can bear appears to be fair on the surface, but in fact, this eliminates many potentially excellent candidates who do not have sufficient privileges. Even worse, it creates a situation where they can only take these positions if they compromise in ways that impact their long-term mental health and overall well-being. For instance, they have to live further away and commute for longer each day, so they have less time available to take care of themselves and their affairs. They have to spend more time looking for professional clothes that fit because they can’t afford to buy them new from a shop that has the same outfit in multiple sizes, so they have to spend more time going from one thrift shop to the next, looking for gently used clothes in their size. When you have a lot of free time, thrifting can be a fun pastime, but for those who have to do it as their only financial option, it can be time consuming and frustrating.

If you want diverse people in your library then the salary needs to reflect that you respect that a single, immigrant librarian might need a salary that takes into consideration their need to live in a one bedroom apartment within a short commute from the workplace; save for retirement; eat healthy food; have a gym membership; have an occasional vacation; and maintain a professional hairstyle and wardrobe. It should also take into consideration their need to handle all of their household chores with no assistance. The salary should not doom people to a life of misery and burnout if they don’t have certain privileges. People are less effective on your team if they are not treated with respect and if the salary does not allow them to get their basic needs met. While this may disproportionately impact Black women as they are statistically more likely to be single or to have a less educated partner, addressing the issue also creates a larger and more diverse pool of applicants.

If you want a diverse team, you need to cultivate an environment that respects the dignity of all library staff and that mentors diverse individuals for management positions either there, or somewhere else, even if this means that more turnover because there are not enough management positions. An excellent example of this is Columbia Law School Library where librarians are trained for management positions and rotate through the management position. This is true egalitarianism and shows that they understand that a management role is one that any librarian with sufficient experience is prepared for and that management positions are rare, as is the opportunity for structured on-the-job management training and there is no logical reason why such a position must be permanently occupied by the first person to get it.

Diversity needs to also be reflected in the management team. As people retire, I hope to see more diversity in library management. I hope to see more library directors leading with emotional intelligence and more associate directors fostering a culture within the library that prioritizes diversity, inclusion and equity in the law librarian workplace. I hope to see the diversity of the country reflected in the diversity of the profession at all levels, not merely at the law librarian entry-level or at the level of dead-end law librarian positions with no upward mobility.

Name one thing that you think should be done this year to meet the challenges ahead.

This year, library management teams should be analyzing the way they run their libraries through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion. All library management personnel should know what these terms mean and should be critically evaluating their libraries to see how they can do better for their employees as well as their patrons.

What job would you have if you had not become a law librarian?

If I had not become a law librarian, I would be a life coach and an herbalist. I like to help people and empower people to pursue their own paths of self-improvement. I currently do this work for my friends and family.

Any advice for new librarians who are just starting out?

Figure out what you need to do to climb the ladder as fast as you can to get to where you want to be. Don’t accept low paying jobs in expensive cities. Find a mentor and talk with them often. Take leadership opportunities that are meaningful to you and are in alignment with your long term career goals. Push back and speak up about things that are unfair or tone deaf. Speak truth to power even if there are short term consequences. You will survive and you will make the world a better place. Know your privilege and use it to amplify the voices of marginalized librarians and library patrons. Don’t let anger at systemic inequality turn into resentment, instead, find ways to transmute it into action. If you have to take a low paying job, keep looking for a better one and don’t bother to wait “two years” before taking it. If your supervisor does not mentor you, look for a different mentor. If you don’t have professional development funding, apply for grants and take on the service positions that are of interest to you anyway. Most AALL SIS and committee work can be done even if you don’t get to attend AALL.

What would you name your autobiography?

I am Trinidadian and it’s part of our national character that we are honest to a fault. So my autobiography would be called: The Truth About Everything, From the Beginning.

If you could be any fictional character, who would you choose and why?

I would be Steven Universe, because they are relaxed, good-natured, and they care deeply about people having lives of dignity and connection. They are a good friend, and they have a magical pink lion consort. Moreover, they live at the beach, they get to connect deeply with their best friend through dance, and they sing and play music. They are living my best life.

What’s the last photo you took on your phone?

A photo of Robert Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve in the Berkeley Hills. My housemates and I took a walk there recently and the view was beautiful.

Final thoughts?

None of us are free until all of us are free. Let’s keep fighting to change the systems of oppression in this country. Start by dismantling systems in our heads.  Let’s decolonize our minds and root out implicit bias, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, xenophobia, and sexism in our thoughts and behaviors.

I implore library managers, when they see offerings for diversity, inclusion and equity training, please prioritize attending. Don’t rest on your laurels thinking that since you’re not overtly racist that those trainings are not for you. You don’t know what you don’t know. These trainings will help you to see where you can make positive changes.

At the very least, learn what the terms mean. History will judge you based on how well you learn to apply those principles to create a workplace that is welcoming and supportive to diverse employees.

Moreover, studies have shown that diverse teams are better at creative problem-solving than homogeneous teams with the same background. Logically, you need to have people on your team who can see into your blind spots. This includes neurodivergent people, older people, younger people, differently abled people, people from different countries and cultures. It is not enough just to hire marginalized people, you need to gain their trust and loyalty by treating them well. At the very least, this means you need to trust them and give them autonomy. Then, when they finally feel safe enough to tell you what they can see in your blind spots, you need to listen to them. We are the canary in the coal mine. If it’s impacting us now, then if you continue to move in that direction, it will eventually impact you as well and by then it will be much harder to turn things around.

Check out Deane’s LinkedIn profile here.

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