Patricia Overall describes cultural competence as: “a highly developed ability to understand and respect cultural differences and to address issues of disparity among diverse populations competently.” Elsa Ouvard-Prettol, in her current YALS article What Cultural Competence Means for Librarians: How to Cultivate This Important Skills to Positively Impact Our Patrons, notes that the only way anyone can relate to others, is by “being able to confront and accept one’s cultural background.” This is extremely true and a very important part about working in a diverse library.

According to ALA Diversity Count vs. U.S. Census, library staff do not “reflect the ethnic diversity of the American population.” This is somewhat upsetting as the library serves a wide-range of people in the community. Changes will need to made at the top, even starting with a more diverse population of LIS students, which will lead to libraries having  more diverse staff. As of now, Ouvard-Prettol notes that recruiting diverse LIS students has had challenges, and studies are being made as to why this is a current issue. I think that one way staff could work towards recruiting prospective students is by looking into their teen community and offering a career program, or volunteer program. We currently have various teen volunteers in my branch, who started volunteering because they are interested in librarianship. We also have a librarian who started as a teen volunteer and worked his way up to an adult librarian position.

Ouvard-Prettol recognizes that cultural competence are skills that can be learned through the following steps:

  1. “Developing a heightened awareness of one’s own culture and values, and how they drive one’s behaviors.
  2. A renewed focus on our communities.
  3. Focus on creating the foundations for a long-term, positive relationship.”

All three of these steps are very important, and will make you better at working in a library because you will be more accepting. Some great ways to do this are through learning about your own culture, and sharing stories with patrons. This would allow patrons to share their own experiences with you, thus you are learning from each other. Another great way to use these steps at the library is by presenting programs that highlight different cultures, and other differences. This could be through a teen discussion panel, an introduction lesson about cultures, presenting a book list or display highlighting different cultures.

My library branch serves a very diverse community, and by sharing information on different cultures and experiences, teen customers, as well as children and adults, are learning ways to be more culturally competent. As Ouvard-Prettol highlights, “cultural competence ….is also an appreciation of diverse cultural backgrounds through our interactions with others.” Talking to people can really help staff and other customers learn a lot, and it opens the floor for positive discussions and sharing. Many of our teens are open to sharing their personal and cultural stories, and I know I have learned a lot from them and their different background. Talking and sharing stories with the teens has given me a new appreciation for teens and their personal experiences and cultures.

What program have you offered to help customers be more culturally competent?

About Maeve Dodds

Maeve is a Teen Lead Librarian for Charlotte Mecklenburg County, University City Branch, in Charlotte, North Carolina. She has worked in adult and children services, and was previously an elementary school media specialist. She likes reading in her hammock and trying new foods.

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