On First ‘Live’ Day of 2020, a Call for Belonging

Diversity, equity and inclusion have become watchwords in executive suites and human resources offices (not to mention corporate legal departments), and lately they have found their way into libraries as well. On the opening day of SLA’s 2020 Annual Conference, however, the focus was on a more familiar and easily understood concept—belonging.

The conference’s opening keynote speaker, Yvette Pegues, positioned belonging as a piece of a larger puzzle that includes the DEI trilogy and its associated training and policy regimen. But she emphasized the personal nature of belonging, telling the hundreds of librarians and information professionals in the audience that although backing from management is needed for a belonging culture to take root, grassroots support is essential to its growth.

“It’s our community that we are creating,” Yvette said. “At the end of the day, this is the same culture and environment that we will be working in. . . It’s everyone’s responsibility, because everyone will benefit from it.”

The presentation by Yvette, co-founder and head of an organization dedicated to empowering, educating and including individuals with disabilities in the workplace, built on a four-hour DEI training workshop presented earlier at SLA2020 by anti-oppression consultant Regan Byrd. The workshop was developed in response to calls from SLA members for more resources on oppression, anti-racism, and allyship.

The most powerful resource, Yvette declared, is human nature. “Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us,” she said. “It definitely should be top down, but do not diminish the power of your influence. Belonging is about who you are.”

Unlike DEI initiatives, which often entail mandatory education sessions delivered by consultants and other third parties, belonging is active rather than passive. The advantage of that approach, Yvette said, is that employees feel more connected to the results.

“Belonging shouldn’t feel like work, but it does help the work culture,” she said. “Belonging should be borderline fun. It’s hopefully not a line item that you have to check; it should be something that is evident, that opens doors and builds bridges. . . It’s something you need to see, something you need to trust, something that should be happening all around you.”

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