Welcome to a new week and a new interview! We are pleased to present Ray Lockman, librarian, teacher, and inclusion consultant. Enjoy! -Maggie
1. Please introduce yourself! Tell us your name, title, and how you got to your current position.
I’m Ray Lockman. They/them/their pronouns, please! Currently I’m a librarian at the Minneapolis Central branch of Hennepin County Library. I started as a substitute librarian at HCL soon after graduating from library school in 2011. It took me a few years of mostly jigsawing part-time gigs together before landing at HCL permanently as a Patron Experience Supervisor (HCL’s version of a branch manager) in 2017. After a year, I decided I missed patrons too much and was able to transfer to Central. I also teach graduate and continuing education courses for University of Wisconsin-Madison’s iSchool and consult on inclusion in libraries.
We have so much to learn from people who aren’t patrons, from those who don’t use the library or understand what we do. Leaving our buildings to engage folks helps us do that.
2. Tell us a bit about your approach to community engagement.
I think community engagement requires leaving the building sometimes. We as libraries need to ask questions–what do folks need and want from the library?–and truly let those answers steer our environments, online and in person. We have so much to learn from people who aren’t patrons, from those who don’t use the library or understand what we do. Leaving our buildings to engage folks helps us do that. But patrons are not libraries’ only community requiring engagement. I think the work we do within our staffs or between organizations, agencies, and municipalities is also engagement work.
3. How does that philosophy play out in your day-to-day work?
I do a good bit of more traditional community engagement as coordinator of Central’s New American Center. Right now, we’re reenvisioning programming and collections, so I partnered with the Minnesota Literacy Council to do a comprehensive environmental scan: We surveyed patrons, tabled in the lobby, visited other programs, and met with knowledgeable leaders within HCL and from interested community organizations. So a lot of it is being willing to get outside the building and ask folks what they need.
I do maybe even more work engaging the staff community around issues of diversity and inclusion, especially trans inclusion. I am co-chair of a countywide employee resource group and we work on a lot of policy projects stemming from employees’ reported experiences in the workplace.
That work, conveniently, dovetails with HCL’s Transfabulous series of art workshops and exhibits centering trans and gender nonconforming folks. We instituted a new model this year: Three library project managers and three community curators. The library PMs’ job is to give logistical support to the community curators’ vision. It’s going well–they know what they want and need better than we ever could, and then we get to lend our resources to give artists exposure and paid work.
Basically, my weeks are full of meetings to nurture relationships and incubate ideas and check in with teams and partners.
4. How has the transition from an internal focus to an external one unfolded at your library?
There are some staff who have felt empowered to engage for a while, but the newish explicit expectation for librarians, especially, to do so has honestly created a decent amount of tension. Community engagement work is my passion, but it’s not everybody’s. I think libraries would do well to allow their staff to specialize. Yes, every library should be doing community engagement, but it’s okay for some staff to focus on collections or other areas if that’s their strength. If only we had a big enough staff to allow us to wear fewer hats!
We will continue to cause harm and hold unintentionally offensive programs and commit micro and macroaggressions until we truly transform who we are as a profession.
5. What’s a challenge or speed bump you’ve encountered in this work?
I see two major challenges: One is impatience. Relationships take a long time to develop. When we focus on a narrow definition of productivity, library staff can be pressured to roll out programs that aren’t well developed, or even harmful. If we had the staffing and philosophy that truly values coffee with the immigration lawyer next door as work–even if it takes 5 coffee dates to think of a program–we could be doing such more meaningful work. So maybe by impatience I truly mean funding. We need to have the funding to have the luxury of patience!
The other is the whiteness of librarianship. We are not mirrors of our community, so we can never gain true trust and integration with the people we say we want to serve. And we will continue to cause harm and hold unintentionally offensive programs and commit micro and macroaggressions until we truly transform who we are as a profession.
6. What do you think makes librarians in particular suited to this work?
I don’t know that it’s all librarians, and I don’t think librarians alone are suited–some of our best community engagement staff don’t have the MLIS. What they do have–the good ones–is real care for people and an unapologetic eye to social justice.
7. Who else is doing interesting work in this area (not necessarily in libraries)? Can be an individual or an institution.
St. Paul Public Library is doing awesome work with their Wash and Learn program in laundromats–and it’s catching on!
A whole team at Hennepin County Library is doing community-embedded librarianship in the Latinx, Indigenous, and Somali communities. I’m excited to see how that continues to develop.
To learn more about Ray’s Transfabulous program, read Southwest Journal’s write-up of the Beyond the Binary exhibit.