Cultural Humility in Librarianship: What is it? (a guest post by Adilene Rogers)
Today we are honored to share this guest post on Cultural Humility in Librarianship by Adilene Rogers.
As a youth services librarian, I find myself interacting with people from all walks of life. People with different interests, needs, and cultures from my own. A fact that can sometimes be a little daunting as I go through my day to day duties. As someone who works with the public, I have found that many of my colleagues look at cultural competency as a huge component of librarianship and, while I agree that cultural competency is needed in our profession, I think that not enough is said about cultural humility and how that can help us deal with some of the shortcomings that come with practicing cultural competence alone.
Some of you may be asking, what is cultural humility and how is it different from cultural competence? Cultural competency according to the National Association of Social Workers is defined as “a congruent set of behaviors, attitudes, and policies that enable a person or group to work effectively in cross-cultural situations; the process by which individuals and systems respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures”. Cultural humility, on the other hand, is a practice of self-reflection on how one’s own background, experiences, and expectations impact a situation or interaction. It is also understanding that everyone is an expert on their own identity and that an individual’s background cannot be assumed.
I work with mostly Spanish speaking communities and the number of times that librarians have told me “facts” about the communities I serve causes me great frustration. I have had teens come and tell me about teachers or librarians who claim to know them based solely on a few characteristics they have read about their culture online. We all know that teens are often unfairly judged for just being teens, now pair that with teens who have a gender identity that some may not understand, or come from a race that isn’t the dominant culture. Hiding behind the veil of just memorizing a few characteristics of cultures is detrimental in our interactions with our communities and I have seen it time and time again within our interactions. I once had an old coworker state that our latino teens are louder than our white teens because “that’s just how they are, it’s in their culture”. I had another librarian when I was teen tell me that they don’t do many teen programs because “teens don’t come. It’s just a fact.” So whether it is based on age, race or any matter of identity, there needs to be a self-awareness at what we bring to the interactions we have with our communities.
Cultural knowledge is not something that can be “mastered” and no matter how many lists or quantitative measures we have about a given culture unless we are from that culture we can never truly understand it. When it comes to cultural competency, we see competency as an endpoint or a formula that can be mastered if we memorize a few characteristics and often time we use those characteristics as a way to fuel our own biases. That is where cultural humility comes in, understanding where we stand with the communities we serve will help us make great strides with them. Self-reflecting has become part of my daily interactions with my teens and anyone else I come in contact with.
BIo: Adilene (Addie) Rogers is a bilingual youth services librarian for the Sacramento Public Library. She is a graduate of SJSU and can usually be found reviewing bilingual picture books or discussing YA books on twitter @latinxlibrarian
Filed under: Professional Development
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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