A New Librarian’s First Conference: The 4th National JCLC in St. Pete Beach, FL

By: Ima Oduok, TDL Digital Librarian & ACRL Diversity Resident

It’s fitting that my first conference as an ACRL Diversity Resident was the Joint Conference for Librarians of Color (JCLC). Even more fitting that the theme of the conference was about equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) as practice, not just theory.  

Young Black woman wearing sunglasses standing on a beach in front of the water

Ima taking a stroll along St. Pete Beach in between conference sessions

Over four days, a small strip of beachfront resorts was full of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) information professionals from all over the country. As a Resident Librarian, I was able to enjoy an early start, with the residents’ pre-conference event. Aside from getting to know some other new librarians and building a cohort, I learned how to look at job descriptions with a critical eye and the importance of different types of mentorships.  

Networking has always been important in any industry, and librarianship is no different. Coming to the field as my third career, I was a little more confident in talking to new folks, even when getting into a conversation seemed a bit like jumping into Double-Dutch. Every awkward start was accepted with grace and the shared understanding that talking to strangers is hard, but we were all there to support one another. An opening day meet & greet provided an opportunity to get to know new people, who turned into familiar faces over the course of eight concurrent sessions.  

Three young BIPOC women smiling in the foreground. More BIPOC people are talking in groups in the background.

Gathering in community with new friends

The sessions themselves were rich in information and research findings, on topics such as the growth of mixed-race student populations and how libraries can serve them, to the lack of systematic data surrounding leadership development programs designed for BIPOC librarians. Presenters also shared personal experience as one of the few (if not the only) BIPOC professional in leadership at their institutions and ways they try to bring community with them as they rise.  

The elephant in the room pertaining to the location of the conference was addressed in the opening plenary and during casual chats in the resort halls. Some wondered why we were in Florida at all, a state whose government leads attacks on LGBTQIA+ and has recently doubled down on its bigotry by trying to stifle learning by erasing race from its history and civics classes. Conference co-chair Richard E. Ashby, Jr. answered this question during the opening session with the refrain, “We are here.” Not just at St. Pete Beach, not just for a conference, but everywhere and all the time. Even if most of the conference attendees flew in from out of state, we have colleagues and friends who live and work in Florida. Colleagues and friends who need our support more than ever. 

I am glad JCLC was my first conference as a new librarian. Seeing the work of my colleagues has inspired (and sort of intimidated) me as I prepare my own presentation for a future event. And I am even more excited to attend other conferences where I will run into new friends and learn through community.  

Posted in Conferences, diversity