WOC + lib

Mallary Rawls: My Experience as a Diversity Resident at a PWI

By Mallary Rawls

Mallary Rawls is a Diversity Resident and Interdisciplinary Subject Librarian at Florida State University. She uses she/her pronouns.

My experience with librarianship has not been a straight path. I started out as a graduate assistant while in library school at Florida State University and worked as an archives assistant at The Claude Pepper Library in Special Collections at FSU libraries. I thought special collections/archives would be my path, but I was reminded by the powers that be that I had no power in that position.

I left FSU and for two years worked as a children’s librarian at a public library in Tallahassee and really enjoyed my time there. I enjoyed learning and participating in helping to diversify the children’s nonfiction section and it was the first time I experienced having power in a job and seeing firsthand the impact of representation. Near the end of 2017, I saw a job posting at FSU libraries for a humanities librarian position covering the subject areas of History, Religion, and Philosophy. I thought, “I should apply” for that job, but didn’t apply for various reasons including lack of time, self-esteem, and imposter syndrome. A couple of months later, FSU libraries posted the diversity residency jobs and I thought, “This is something I can do.” Though I had been a professional librarian for two years and adored my job as a children’s librarian, I felt like I needed more. In June 2018, I became part of FSU libraries first cohort of Diversity Residency Librarians. I’ve been working as a resident for almost one year and the reality of this unique position has differed greatly from my original expectations.

My expectations were to learn about different areas in academic librarianship through a rotation schedule and learn how these areas function. The reality was that our rotations were not planned in advance, so there was little substantive work for us to do. There have also been some uncomfortable moments about “what diversity residents do,” why we’re here, and how “we’re doing more than what we were hired for.”

Since November 2018 I’ve been working as the Interdisciplinary Subject Librarian in the social sciences and humanities. I’ve been fortunate that I have wonderful colleagues who treat me with respect and I’m a part of the team. I know this isn’t always the case with library residency programs, especially with residents from underrepresented groups. I’ve had a mostly positive experience as a diversity resident at a PWI, but I’ve come to a crossroads with my residency and library residencies in general. I’ve learned a lot during my time here, including collection development for an academic library and departmental outreach.

These are skills that I did not possess prior to my residency and I’m thankful to have the opportunity to grow these skills which will help me secure a permanent job. Although the field of librarianship is full of white professionals who were trained after being hired, I don’t possess that privilege as a black woman in librarianship. There has also been some unforeseen complexity in navigating my current role. I’m very nervous about the precarity of my job as a resident and the issues of academia relying on contingent labor. I think this is an issue with residencies and it’s something that needs to be addressed. One of the ways to address this issue is for more residents to speak about their experience, how being a resident has made them feel as a librarian, and how we can change the narrative about contingent labor (i.e., please give us permanent jobs, thanks!).

I was inspired by both LaQuanda and Lorin for their work and for giving me the space to write this piece for WOC+Lib. I was also inspired by April Hathcock’s post, Why Don’t They Want to Keep Us. That article provoked a lot of questions and issues that I have about contingent labor, especially labor from underrepresented groups in libraries.

I’ve got two years left before my residency ends and my goal is to keep doing what I’ve been doing: working as an academic subject librarian. I do hope that this blog will inspire others to share their experiences and we can continue this conversation.