“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”
Stephen Covey (Author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
There may be an initial degree of discomfort in working with teens who have different backgrounds (color, ethnicity, language, socioeconomic, etc.). The discomfort might come from a number of fears or concerns, but there are far more benefits to working with teens with diversity.
What’s the Issue? A Fear of Failure
Though I’ve never felt like I’ve experienced this issue, I might be afraid that I wouldn’t be able to connect with the teen. Good connections allow a comfortable flow of communication and build trust. Likely, if teens are in the library, they will be receptive to my help. I need to keep that in mind if I feel like I’m not going to make a connection with a particular teen.
Gathering a clear understanding of how I might help the teen is important – differences might hinder or slow that initial interaction and connection. Reflecting their need or goal back to them should confirm that we have a common agenda. Part of the fear of failure might be the fear that I won’t be able to help the teen. Clarifying goals should help that.
Far more benefits exist in working with those who are different than me:
Self-awareness – learning and appreciating differences allows me to reflect about my own experiences, sometimes questioning my way of doing things. It never hurts to look at new points of view.
Perspective – the benefit of learning something new about people and their cultures far outweighs fear of the unknown. Experiences and stories can provide a wealth of information about customs and cultures. This will only enrich approaches and perspectives, and help assist others further.
Knowledge – Diversity exposes us to other ideas and information.
Studies show… diversity makes us smarter – But not only because we are exposed to new information and ideas, also because it’s been shown that we prepare more thoroughly for people who are different from us. (Phillips, K.W. 2014)
And while it’s a professional necessity to accept the challenge of working with those with differences, it’s important to convey real respect and care for those differences. If one has biases, they should be confronted and scrutinized.
Your reflections map in some ways to Garza’s advice…do you see any clear connections? About your final comment “If one has biases, they should be confronted and scrutinized”…sometimes we are not aware of our own biases, how can the library as an institutions or librarians help to recognize and overcome those biases?
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Violeta Garza answers to the issues of fear of failure that I have written about. Her advice reminds one that teens are like everyone else, and that there are plenty of common experiences to bring us together. Segmenting the causes of bias into five, manageable approaches, Garza highlights touchstones for positive, productive interaction.
Unconscious bias is difficult to recognize, but awareness is possible through active challenging of behaviors, habits, and avoidances. For example, even book selections can show avoidance bias. Selecting a “white” book for a white teen, and a “black” book for a black teen both show bias. Also, only recommending “white” books, because your identification is white, can reflect bias. Choosing to read books directed at, or about only your own ethnicity or race can also be an indication of unconscious bias. Being aware of the many cues, can help to confront and improve your biases.
The ALA has an Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services that has some materials to help identify and address bias in libraries. Some of the materials are good (and some, not so good), and at the very least, raise awareness. There are many online resources available, with discussions and information about diversity in collection development, creating bias-free services, and more broadly, developing bias-free libraries.