PLLIP Diversity Summit 2021: Using Personalized Experiences to Apply DE&I Initiatives in Your Library

By: Ana Ramirez Toft-Nielsen, Research Attorney; Jill L. Kilgore, Research Librarian; and Autumn Collier, Assistant Librarian II, at Littler Mendelson, P.C.

Our experience attending the virtual 2021 Diversity Summit was unexpected and invaluable. Each of us left with surprise takeaways, including some that hit close to home. In particular, the panel and breakout sessions provided us with more than one perspective or dialogue on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We agreed that these personalized sessions made this a reflective experience. The personal stories were affecting—whether allowing us to relate to someone else’s experience, or by showing us a glimpse of what marginalized groups experience regularly. Being aware is a priority, but what’s next? As individuals, we should evaluate how to apply our experiences from the 2021 PLLIP Diversity Summit. What actionable steps is your workplace taking? What actionable steps are you taking? Let this be one phase in your progress toward change.

Leading where you are

We can lead in this work from where we are by identifying the initiatives and commitments made to DE&I at our institutions. We all work at Littler, where leadership supports Diversity, Inclusion and Equity opportunities for our library department. Examples of opportunities include attending conferences such as this Diversity Summit, internal initiatives, and organizational involvement. For this Summit, our director provided the team with the program’s information, supported the registration costs, and provided us with coverage for our daily work, enabling us to focus solely on the conference. When a call to write was sent out, we were urged to write about our experience. With other conferences, such as the AALL Leadership Management Institute, we were encouraged to attend, and offered guidance and assistance with alternative ways to reimburse our costs or help in applying for grants. This encouragement and financial support made us feel empowered to learn and grow. We have the latitude to reflect on these experiences and bring back what we learn to our team.

Within the “walls” of our library, opportunities for open dialogue and professional development abound. We can subscribe to newsletters, including a Littler library-curated weekly newsletter with a DE&I section. We have round-table discussions on a rotation of topics in our book club; this month we are taking time to discuss our experience at the Summit and share with our colleagues.

Our leadership wants us to take an active role to further Littler’s overall Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion goals. Many of our team members are involved in special interest or other professional organizations. Given the uniqueness of our library department, we have the option to attend development opportunities offered not only by AALL, but also by the American Library Association, local chapters, the International Legal Technology Association, and many other professional organizations. These experiences allow us to bring back new knowledge to team members who might not make that step. We can increase awareness and open discussions in our team meetings, book clubs, and newsletters. The work is ongoing. We will continue to explore DE&I initiatives and continue the conversation that brought us to the Diversity Summit.

Additionally, firm initiatives such as Littler’s Volunteerism Program provide a means for employees to voluntarily participate in social justice opportunities. Employees donate their time, and in exchange, Littler will make a monetary donation to an organization of the employee’s choice. Messages of support flow from the Managing Director and are always accompanied with personal growth and learning opportunities.

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Leader Profile of Kim Nayyer: Building Bridges and Amplifying Voices

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 Kim Nayyer, Edward Cornell Law Librarian, Associate Dean for Library Services, and Professor of the Practice at Cornell Law School. Previously, she was Associate University Librarian, Director of the Law Library, and Adjunct Associate Professor at University of Victoria in Canada. Before joining academia, Kim worked for many years as a research lawyer and information specialist at an appellate court and in small and large private law firms in Edmonton, Calgary, and Toronto, Canada.

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

What is your role at your institution?

I oversee the Cornell Law School library and serve on the administration team of the Law School. My law library is one of few in the US law school landscape to be administered by a university library system in conjunction with its law school. I see my role as a bridge-builder and an advocate, ensuring responsible administration of law library spaces, resources, services, and staff, and upholding of my ABA accountabilities in our legal education program. As a Professor of the Practice, I also teach credit-bearing courses in the Cornell Law School JD, LLM, and MSLS programs.

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

Since I began either legal practice or legal information practice, I’ve seen many changes, several of them pretty big and influential. The single biggest one I can identify, though, is one that we’re in the midst of right now. This is the immense amount of data—legal data, practice and operational data, user-generated data. Information professionals have understood for some time that we can extract value from data to make better operational decisions, to support our colleagues and organizations, and to make better predictive legal analyses in support of our clients. The significant influence of data we’re still wrestling with, is the impact of the vast amounts of real-world data and how they influence the innumerable machine-manipulated tools and resources we use daily. The influences are difficult for our users and communities to see, for information professionals to discern, and—increasingly—for even developers to know and address.

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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.

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PLLIP Inaugural Diversity Summit: Keynote Explores Challenges and Steps to Achieving Genuine Equity and Inclusion

By Douglas Southard, Research and Reference Services Manager at WilmerHale

The Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Special Interest Section of AALL held their inaugural Diversity Summit on Friday, February 26th.  The below post summarizes and reflects upon the keynote address, and we’ll follow up with more coverage of this insightful and thought-provoking program.  Many thanks to the Summit Committee for planning this well-received event.

Michelle Silverthorn kicked off the AALL Diversity Summit for 2021 with a powerful keynote speech, exploring the challenges we face in achieving equity and inclusion in the workplace. Silverthorn is the Founder and CEO of Inclusion Nation, a diversity consulting firm based in Chicago. Silverthorn spoke for 60 minutes on the prevalence of unconscious bias and how it blocks us from achieving equity in our society. 

Michelle opened her talk by identifying the obstacles to racial equity in the workplace and in society. She argued persuasively that racism and unconscious bias continue to be prevalent in our society, resulting in the numerous microaggressions that people of color encounter in their daily lives. Unconscious biases are rooted in the ways we think; we look at the world through two systems of thought: Stage One thinking and Stage Two thinking.  Stage One thinking is automatic and unconscious, while Stage Two is slower and more rational. We spend most of our time in Stage One thinking, which is when our unconscious biases take over, and we are at risk of accepting stereotypes at face value. 

The speaker demonstrated the power and prevalence of bias using powerful personal stories and thought-provoking exercises, though I did find the exercises difficult to complete in the Zoom environment. She related her life history, coming to the US from the Caribbean. Her effective storytelling really held the audience’s interest. She spoke, for example, about the countless times that she has taken her children to playgrounds on Chicago’s North Side and been mistaken for a nanny by white mothers at the playground. She drove home how painful and exhausting it is to face these microaggressions on a daily basis. This section of the talk really resonated with participants, judging from the comments in the chat window.

Silverthorn explained why diversity matters, showing a slide with detailed statistics on how the country has changed demographically. The Depression and WWII-era generation, who she refers to as “traditionalists,” was 80% white. Each succeeding generation has been more racially diverse; The Baby Boomer cohort was 72% white, Generation X was 61% white, and Generation Z (which includes those born in the 21st century) is only 44% white. For children growing up right now, the US has already become a white-minority country. She also emphasized other ways the country has become more diverse, for example the increasing number of people identifying as nonbinary. This is the world of our clients, and we need to embrace it if we are to serve them effectively.

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Voices Across the Spectrum, Tough Conversations About Race: Let the Book Start the Discussion

Reposted with permission from AALL Spectrum, Volume 25, Number 3 (January/February 2021), pgs. 39-41.

By Cynthia Bassett, Collection Management and Electronic Services Librarian at University of Missouri School of Law and Kara Phillips, Law Library Director at Seattle University School of Law Library

Below are excerpts from the article, including a section highlighting how private law librarians have participated in diversity initiatives.

Talking about racism is tough. Not talking about it is not an option when people are dying. Across our country, people are having difficult conversations about the racism they see in their communities and the effects that systemic racism—racism that is built into the very structures of our society—have on people of color.

The University of Missouri School of Law has been having intentional conversations about the many ways that people in our country are treated as “other” for many years, but the need to talk about it in a new way surfaced after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, in the fall of 2014. Some of the University of Missouri Law School students called Ferguson home, and his death hit them hard. Others in the school simply could not see why people were protesting and blocking highways, which seemed to be counterproductive to their cause. Tensions rose and the school needed to find a way to talk about and understand how different members of our society experience the world.

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