Kaneisha Gaston is an instructor at Livingstone College & MLIS student at North Carolina Central University who attended the 2017 DLF Forum as an HBCU Fellow. The award, which brought 24 fellows to the conference, was part of a collaborative effort with the HBCU Library Alliance, with support from a grant from IMLS.
Finding Mentorship in Steel City
CLT → IAD. IAD→ PIT. Nervous energy and anxiety consumed me as I applied for and later accepted the HBCU Fellow position for the 2017 Digital Libraries Federation Forum. On the other side of my nervousness and anxiety, however, a new route and so many new discoveries awaited me. As my departure date neared, I prepared myself to be open to what I would see, learn, and feel, hurriedly stuffing by “Introduction to Databases” textbook into my worn North Face backpack along with my necessities. This, that book, was my entry point into the world of digital libraries as a novice librarian or, more accurately, a second semester MLIS student. I boarded my 6:30am flight not sure that I could contribute anything meaningful during the HBCU Preconference and the DLF Forum sessions that followed, but deeply consumed with the convictions I held about my future self and my future contributions I’d make as a Digital Librarian.
Stepping into the HBCU Preconference further solidified my resolve to pursue digital librarianship. As soon as I relieved myself of my luggage and awkwardly found my seat in the opening plenary, I was surrounded by senior scholars, junior scholars, library directors, notable staff, innovators, activists, and critical thinkers who, through collective action and thoughtful discussion, wanted to both change the trajectory and protect the values of the library profession. The energy was undeniable. “Wow,” I thought, “if this is what it feels like to wake up each day and enter my domain then I must do everything I can to manifest this dream.” I was in awe but that sense of euphoria quickly waned as I remembered that I had no idea of how to properly and purposefully pursue a career in digital librarianship. Sure, I’d been good at “doing school,” tracking course requirements, and identifying enrichment opportunities, yet there I was, miles away from home, and sitting in front of a flowing fountain without a clue as how I would take an adequate sip of its pristine water. My introverted nature wanted to continue to dominate but the fledgling extrovert inside of me wanted a chance to try her wings.
“Hello, I’m a MLIS student at NCCU. Umm…I noticed that you’re working in digital humanities. [Pause]. Do you mind telling me more about what you do and… how you got there?”
“Here’s my business card.”
“Let’s talk during the break.”
“Call me any time!”
“We would love to work out an internship.”
“Check out these websites and learn these skills.”
To support, to guide, and to nurture were all natural responses to my unrehearsed introduction. I was not prepared for such reception and it was evident the the DLF Forum both fostered and promoted such interactions. I have received wonderful feedback both in person and via email–and my wallet is now home to an array of business cards. I am thankful for the opportunity afforded me and even more thankful for the selflessness of all of the individuals who provided advice and encouragement.