Five ethnic affiliates of the American Library Association (ALA) have joined together to form the Joint Council of Librarians of Color, Inc. (JCLC), a nonprofit organization that will work for the common needs of its members. JCLC is comprised of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA), the Chinese American Librarians Association (CALA), the American Indian Library Association (AILA), the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA,) and REFORMA: The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking. While each of the affiliates will continue as separate entities, advocating for library and literacy issues within their individual constituencies, JCLC will “promote librarianship within communities of color, support literacy and the preservation of history and cultural heritage, collaborate on common issues, and…host the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color,” according to a statement issued June 8.
The new organization takes its name from this conference, which brought the constituent groups together in 2006 and again 2012. The first event, said JCLC president Jerome Offord Jr., was met with great enthusiasm by members of all the affiliates. Offord, who serves as dean of library services and university archives, head of the department of library science, and assistant professor at Lincoln University of Missouri, noted, “We did it a second time and we found that the professional community really loved the conference, and was already asking questions about the third conference. We figured that this was going to be something long-term that the affiliates were going to want to work together on. So the best way to do that…would be for the JCLC to be a separate entity, to host the conference and work collaboratively with the five ethnic affiliates.”
BEGINNING THE WORK
The next Joint Conference, to be held in 2018, is already in the planning stages. JCLC will announce the dates and location, issuing calls for participation and the development of a conference theme, at ALA’s Midwinter Conference in 2016. A JCLC logo design competition is in the works, with the winner to receive free registration to the Joint Conference, and a website is in progress as well. After the Midwinter announcement, added Offord, “Each ethnic affiliate will appoint two representatives to the conference steering committee, and then members at large from any of the affiliates or ALA in general can be on the subcommittees.
“We’ve had tons of questions,” Offord told LJ. “Everybody wants to know what this is going to look like, what we are going to do.” The main mission, he explained, is collective advocacy beyond what the affiliates already undertake in their individual communities: “How do we put our voices together? Because with all five ethnic affiliates we have close to 3,000 members—our collective voice speaks volumes. This body will be that collective voice when we need to advocate on behalf of…issues in the profession that impact communities of color.”
Andrew Jackson, executive director at Queens Library’s Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center and BCALA executive board member, echoed the sentiment. “There is so much that…the Caucuses have in common among our celebrated differences and [can] learn from each other. The JCLC organization illustrates the seriousness of such a venture, and the commitment to continue to work together and not wait for conference to do it jointly. I look for great things to come from this alliance.”
TAKING ON THE ISSUES
There are a number of issues JCLC hopes to tackle, said Offord. Information literacy, for example, is critical in all the organization’s constituent communities. “When you look at high school completion, college readiness, as the country moves forward with the college completion agenda where they’re… directing students to community colleges—that’s going to greatly impact communities of color and students of lower economic status, who may not be as prepared as others.”
JCLC has also discussed issues of library students and staff in communities of color, and at ALA had a lengthy conversation, said Offord, about “how to incorporate MLS students as well as…the transitioning of paraprofessional staff to MLS or professional staff. How do we recruit those groups? Because what we’ve found is that the two groups of people who shared the most impactful testimonies from the Joint Conference were paraprofessional staff who have now decided to go to library school, and library science students who hadn’t had access to a joint conference dealing with issues that impact communities of color [before]. We’re very attuned to both of those populations.”
The organization will leverage its multifaceted membership to work across the board with other ALA groups as well. Candice (Wing-Yee) Mack, president of ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) and a former board member of APALA, said in a statement, “YALSA congratulates the Joint Council of Librarians of Color, Inc. on their formal establishment. We are excited about their mission and look forward to working with them, especially in relation to my YALSA Presidential Initiative, 3-2-1 IMPACT! Inclusive and Impactful Teen Services.”
In addition, Offord emphasized, all members of the library community are welcome to work side by side with JCLC. “We can’t do anything without our allies,” he told LJ. “I want folks to know that…we have tons of allies who work and advocate in our communities every day, and we want them at the table as well.”