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Cultural diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Welcome to culture@work, brought to you by the OLA Cultural Diversity and Inclusion Committee. This column showcases diversity in library work in Ontario by introducing Open Shelf readers to library staff from around the province. By highlighting the experiences of library workers, we hope readers will get to know more of their OLA colleagues and perhaps be inspired by, if not more informed about, issues of diversity in librarianship in Ontario, and perhaps beyond.

Name: Ling Lam
Title: Assistant department head

1. Where do you work?
I work for the Toronto Public Library. I started my career as a Youth Services Librarian in Scarborough; currently, I’m an Assistant Department Head at the Toronto Reference Library. 

2. Tell me a little about yourself. Why have you chosen to work in libraries? How did you end up working in libraries?
I was a latchkey kid who found solace in libraries throughout my childhood. I would hide in the school library reading Junie B Jones between classes and hang out with friends at the public library after school. Volunteering in my school library eventually led to a part time job at the public library as a teenager. 

I was incredibly fortunate to work in a library full of caring adults that saw my potential to be a librarian and encouraged me to apply for my Master of Information as I was finishing my undergraduate degree. I’m still a new-ish librarian, but it’s been a rewarding 4.5 years so far.   

3. Tell us about cultural diversity and inclusion. What do you think libraries can do to be more inclusive? Have you faced any barriers? Why do you think diversity is important for our library communities?
I started my formal learning about diversity and inclusion as a teenager and I do my best to approach life and work with an equity lens. As a woman of colour, I hold these values close to me because they’ve informed the way that I’ve moved through the world. In the library system, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find mentorship and opportunities that have allowed me to continue working towards the goal of fostering a safe, inclusive space.

Cultural diversity is prominent in a city as incredibly diverse as Toronto. Inclusion is a driving force for ensuring that cultural diversity can be sustained and celebrated. As libraries continue to be a relevant resource, it’s essential that the work we do is informed by the diversity that surrounds us. To be inclusive, libraries need to understand and stay aware of all the different groups that we’re trying to include. Libraries are poised to fill gaps and offer opportunities for customers that meet their needs.

4. What continues to inspire you on the job/in your career?
I’m inspired by the amazing work that my colleagues across the City of Toronto do to connect with the communities they serve. In my previous position, I had the opportunity to work with youth from Scarborough and seeing their growth will always be inspiring to me. The relationships that are fostered through programming and providing resources to community members highlight the real impact that libraries can have. My inspiration continues to come from listening to the lived experiences of our customers and how our work fits into their lives. It also comes from listening to my colleagues tell stories about times when they truly felt they were doing meaningful work and making a difference.

5. What piece of advice would you give to diverse librarians beginning their career as well as to those librarians in their mid-career?
Surround yourself with folks who hold the same core values as you and who are ready and willing to support, mentor and challenge you. There is strength and comfort in building networks of folks that are working towards the same goals and that are guided by the same principles of equity and inclusion. These connections can be made through workplaces, conferences, programs, training sessions, or even by meeting friends of friends. 

It’s important to advocate for yourself – ask questions when you have them, seek out mentors and mentorship, continue to learn/unlearn lessons and practice self care! The beauty in building support networks is that we are always in a position to pay forward the support we receive from others.

6. What work do you think librarians in Ontario need to do to work towards positive social change?
Librarians have an important role in ensuring that libraries continue to be safe and inclusive spaces for the diverse communities we serve. It’s important that we stay up to date on the needs and demographics of our communities because they are constantly evolving. A key strategy for this is connecting with our colleagues and our customers to listen and learn about their experiences. 

Positive social change stems from ensuring that diverse voices are listened to and valued when we make decisions about what services and resources to offer. I think librarians in Ontario are lucky to have the opportunity to learn from each other; I feel lucky to be part of a profession that continues to work towards equity and inclusion while celebrating our diversity.

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