As a teen in West Philly, I escaped my porch during the summer holidays to ‘the Free Library of Philadelphia’ to languish among the stacks of the ‘Black Literature’ section. I devoured stories from writers from the Harlem Renaissance through the Black Power movement. Langston Hughes. Richard Wright. James Baldwin. Zora Neale Hurston. Lorraine Hansberry. Angela Davis.
It was The Big Sea by Langston Hughes that dared me to dream of escaping the gang and drug problems of my inner city ‘hood’ to travel the world. In the book, Hughes recounts the adventures of his travels as a merchant seaman to Africa and hanging out in the nightclubs of Europe. I wanted that freedom!
My opportunity came when I worked at a multinational computer company. A visit to the UK division of the company led to an opportunity to live and work in London! In the spirit of Langston, I hung out with poets and performers in London, traveled around Europe and eventually lived and worked in Central and West Africa. Whilst teaching in Africa, I ran a small library at a university, sowing the seed for what would become a future career. It seems that I had come full circle. The library led me to stories that spurred me to see the world and the world led me back to the library!
After returning from Africa, I married, settled in East London, and had my son. About 20 years ago, I worked part-time at the Docklands Library, assisting students like me and my peers in West Philly with finding resources to support their studies. The part-time role enabled me to spend time with my young son while developing my management skills running the library services. As my son got older, I left University of East London to gain experience at other institutions around London then returned two years ago to take on the role of Director of Library, Archives and Learning Services. When I started the role, I was the only BAME director of an academic library in the UK; I am now one of two BAME directors with Masud Khokhar, Director of Library and Archives at University of York.
There is low representation of BAME staff in the library and information profession. This is problematic in the higher education sector, specifically, as students need and want to see people who look like them in the academic and professional services. I am working with professional societies to develop and support more BAME people into the library and information profession. Modern libraries are about more than ‘stamping books’. Roles include teaching information and digital literacy, advising academics and students, managing databases, analysing data, writing and developing online content, procuring resources, managing suppliers, organising and hosting events, leading and managing teams, managing digital and physical collections, managing physical buildings and more. More importantly, libraries are about enabling access to knowledge and information that can dare a child to dream and maybe change the world.
Regina Everitt is the Director of Library, Archives, and Learning Services at University of East London.