The University Library’s partnership with the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Library Alliance was recently awarded a $100,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to establish the program “Stronger Together, Leading Through Community.” The initiative will prepare a cohort of librarians to implement community-driven leadership within their work, according to a University press release.
For a small class of six librarians and archivists, the pilot year of the program will include the implementation of a socially-conscious curriculum, individual mentoring in specific interest areas, virtual conversations with colleagues from different institutions within the partnership and in-person site visits to other libraries. The program will be co-directed by Sandra Phoenix, executive director of the HBCU Library Alliance, and Amanda Strauss, associate librarian for special collections at the University.
The University became the first non-HBCU institution in the HBCU Library Alliance in November 2020. According to Strauss, this grant serves as the “first publicly tangible piece of our partnership.”
“It’s designed to be a true partnership and a true place where there will be reciprocal learning between both Brown University Library (and) the HBCU Library Alliance,” said Kenvi Phillips, director of library diversity, equity and inclusion.
“We’re keeping it small at the beginning, so we can provide a deeply experiential and relational (program),” Strauss said. “I think about this grant almost in terms of fellowship because you learn from somebody” at a more relaxed pace.
“Collaborating with Brown University to support leadership development and to continue our mission to strengthen HBCU libraries and their staff sets the stage to advance our work together,” said Phoenix in the press release.
After receiving the grant in July, the team in charge of the initiative, led by Phoenix and Strauss, began a six month period of working through logistics — preparing the curriculum, formulating the steering committee and recruiting the first class of librarians, according to Strauss. After the first cohort participates in the year-long program, the team will spend four to six months assessing and preparing for the future of the program. Strauss hopes that this thoroughness will maximize the impact of the program.
“I really, truly believe in the potential of this program, and I want to see it become a permanent fixture in the library leadership landscape,” Strauss said.
Phillips emphasized that this program strengthens the “true partnership” between Brown and the HBCU Library Alliance by valuing each partner’s unique contributions.
As a Howard University alum, Phillips believes that it’s critical for institutions to learn from “the values, the lessons and the practices” of HBCUs. She said she thinks that the University’s partnership with the HBCU Library Alliance will encourage other institutions to form cross-institutional partnerships with HBCUs.
“It’s very important to me that we are doing this work in earnest and honestly to help support the work of HBCUs as well as to improve ourselves as an institution,” Phillips said. “I’m pleased to be part of a project that can connect me quite directly back to HBCUs and the work that they’re doing.”
Members of the team agree that this program will benefit University librarians, faculty and students by prompting the Library to critically reflect and improve upon internal practices.
“Building up our professional skills and knowledge through the partnership with our HBCU colleagues will have an impact on students’ experience of the library in various ways and help us advance the kinds of student opportunities and projects that we’ve been working to expand,” said Joseph Meisel, Joukowsky family university librarian.
Strauss believes that this program is necessary in a time of “great friction and civil unrest,” citing libraries as a critical “part of the academic infrastructure.”
“Libraries and collection-based institutions are places where access to information and knowledge are selected and stewarded,” Strauss said. “It’s not a neutral process. We have to have library leaders who are steeped in these principles, and that directly influences the student experience and faculty research.”
Those facilitating the program anticipate a positive impact that will only grow as the program develops.
“We are bringing together two gigantic networks: the networks we’re connected to here at Brown University and the networks and resources of (HBCUs) and the HBCU Library Alliance,” Strauss said. “We haven’t combined those in this way before. We don’t quite know where it’s going to lead, but I know it’ll be somewhere amazing.”