A network for new and aspiring library professionals
In this interview we speak to Jen Bayjoo, the founder of Diversity in Libraries of the North (DILON), about setting up a network, plans for the future and her advice for people interested in joining the sector. We’ve also had the pleasure of interviewing Jen on two other separate occasions, where we covered her career path and her view on Chartership.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you first become involved in the library and information profession?
I work as a Research Services Advisor at Leeds Beckett University, where I’ve been since 2015 when I completed my PGDip at MMU. I never set out to be a librarian (my childhood dream was to be a clown or a marine biologist…) but following a masters degree I was looking for a career to grab me and a kindly library worker told me about graduate traineeships. I got a place as a graduate trainee at MMU and loved it so much, I’ve never looked back.
Tell us about your network, who is it aimed at and what is its purpose?
Diversity in Libraries of the North (DILON) is a network for anyone who identifies as an ethnic minority or BAME/BME and works in a library or information role. As the vast majority of the library workforce identifies as white (96.7%), we are often isolated in our workplaces and so DILON facilitates a connection between us. Our secondary role is as an activist group to raise awareness within the profession of racism and inequality, and to advocate for change. Whilst our members are BME, we are a group for everyone and it’s been really encouraging to see so many white library workers get involved.
What prompted you to create/join the network?
I only set up DILON in April 2018, after a long period of feeling disillusioned and isolated for being one of handful of BME people working in libraries. It got to the point where a few lone voices kept being ignored whilst institutions that were aware of the problem continued to do nothing, so I wanted to create a platform where we could be heard. It’s amazing (and scary) how easy it was to set something up – I came up with an acronym and got a twitter account, gmail and wordpress, all for free. Once you have an acronym people suddenly start to listen to you!
What are your proudest achievements as a network?
In the past few months I have seen race and diversity being taken far more seriously; so many conference organisers are now offering sponsored places for BME people and making a concerted effort to diversify their speakers and delegates. When I met the two people who won the BME sponsored places at the Northern Collaboration Conference this year, I was so proud that DILON had had an actual positive effect on two people’s lives and that we were also given a platform at the conference to speak about race in libraries. I’m also so proud of the people that I’ve met through DILON who are spending so much of their time and energy to fight for equity and representation within the sector – it has honestly changed my life to realise that I’m not alone and there are kickass people I can talk to and work alongside.
What do you hope to achieve in the future/what are your plans for the future?
I’ve found that people just can’t even bring themselves to talk about race – they are so uncomfortable and worried about saying the wrong thing, that they are frozen into doing nothing. DILON has been a brilliant tool to raise awareness and provide information and experiences but we need people in senior positions to use their privilege to change for the better rather than putting their own uncomfortableness first.
I want to get different organisations to understand the issues that stem from their own structural racism and to take action. This is so important for recruitment, training and getting people into the profession, as well as being educated on issues of racism. I want us to continue to be a voice for BME people and to provide role models for anyone looking to start their library career, as well as those who want to move into leadership positions.
How has being part of the network helped with your professional development?
It’s been a whirlwind! I joined our race forum at work and now I am the Co-Chair, which means I am on our university Equality and Diversity Committee and work on our Race Equality Chartermark submission. Through this I have met so many amazing people and it has helped me understand how institutions work and how to get things done. Without DILON I never would have thought that I could do this, it felt like only senior people and academics had a voice. I have also had the opportunity to speak at internal and external events (look out for me at the UKSG conference later this year) and to do things like this interview, which is another opportunity for aspiring librarians and potential DILON members to join us, so hi to them!
What advice would you give to a new professionals?
Say no! It can be so easy to see other people going to events, volunteering for committees, doing chartership, that you feel like you have to say yes to everything otherwise you are a failure. Being savvy about what you do and finding a balance that includes your work and your social life and health is so important, and saying no can be a very powerful thing.
To BME library new professionals I’d also say that you should brace yourselves for ignorance, for frustration and for being told you are too emotional or that it’s your responsibility to come up with ideas for change. I’m so sorry that this is what you might go through and I’m glad that there are many of us trying to fight on your behalf and for you to speak to.
Lastly, can you recommend any other networks/groups/sites that might be of interest to new professionals?
NLPN and FLIP are the main ones for new and aspiring professionals – but also for those who are further in their careers who really need to keep in touch with
the next generation. If you work in HE I find the WonkHE weekly digest and podcast really engaging – it has helped me untangle all the different players in the sector so that when someone mentions the TEF or the OFS my first reaction isn’t to stab my hand with my pen as a distraction. Just getting yourself on Twitter can be an absolute lifeline. Twitter has all the jobs, the latest discussions, the free places to events, the newest articles, the reports and the juicy library goss. And DILON of course – BME library people can sign up to our mailing list and anyone can support us on Twitter or email firstname.lastname@example.org