Richard is Assistant Director for Library Services at West Georgia Regional Library System.
What is your name?
My name is Richard Coleman.
What is your undergrad degree in, and where did you get it from?
I have two undergraduate degrees: a Bachelor of Art from Morris Brown College in General Studies with a concentration in Religion, and a BA in Religion from Saint Leo University.
What is your graduate degree in, and where did you get it from?
I earned my graduate degree from the University of North Texas. It’s in Library Science.
What made you interested in librarianship?
I have worked in libraries in various capacities for many years. I started at an academic library working in public safety. During my time in that role, I was immersed in information daily which inspired me to go to graduate school. I wasn’t directly involved in librarianship, but I was very curious about what it involved. Seeing librarians working with students and helping them find resources and answers to their questions was intriguing. And seeing so many students leave the library with relief and smiles on their faces was appealing to me and made me decide “I want to be a part of that.”
Was librarianship your first career choice? If not, can you tell me a little bit about your journey / decision to pursue librarianship?
No, librarianship wasn’t my first choice as a career. I worked at the Atlanta University Center’s Robert W. Woodruff Library for several years, then left to pursue a career in law enforcement. That particular job didn’t work out for me, so I returned to the library. Since all of the public safety positions were full, I was offered a job as a library assistant in the Periodicals department. I didn’t know it at the time, but that opportunity set me on an unplanned trajectory. A few years later, I did a lateral transfer to the Inter-library loan department with the same title. That’s when my supervisor at the time, Monica Riley, encouraged me to apply for the library science program at the University of North Texas.
Do you have friends or family in librarianship? If so, can you share a little about who they are and what they do/did?
Yes, my sister Dr. DeAnza Williams is a fellow UNT alum. She was manager in the Nashville Public Library System for several years. Then she earned her doctorate in library science from the University of Illinois. She is currently a professor at the University of Wisconsin. Watching her progress and success has been an inspiration for me.
Do you know other black male librarians? How is your relationship with them?
Yes, I know a few black male librarians. Some I know from past working relationships, and others I’ve met at professional networking events like conferences and trainings. I talk to a couple of them every month. We get caught up on a variety of topics. Our conversations aren’t always about libraries or what’s happening at work. We talk about life and family in addition to sharing advice on navigating work and careers.
What do you think can be done to make more black males interested in librarianship?
We have to start early to show the many spaces available for all in librarianship. There’s an opportunity for mentorships and scholarships to help promote the idea that librarianship is for everybody. Unfortunately, the misconception is librarianship isn’t for men of color, but it is. I also think black male librarians can do more to make ourselves more visible to the younger generation. Present more, serve as community mentors, attend career days at schools – anything to show young males that librarianship is a viable and available career.
What are some of the more interesting things you have learned as a librarian?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is there’s always a need for continual learning. There is always something I either have to learn or I want to learn, both personally and professionally. Technology changes. The way we relate to each other changes. How libraries meet the needs of communities change. With all of that, it’s critical to stay up-to-date on trends and best practices. And as a leader, it’s important to help others stay informed. I’m always learning and helping others learn.
Have you faced challenges as a librarian? If so, please share a little bit about them?
The challenges I have faced vary, but the constant piece is people, especially in management or administration. Whether they are colleagues or the general public, it can be difficult working with people with different backgrounds, life experiences, ideas, and opinions. Many times, I wonder and try to figure out “how do I help this person get what they need and reach a mutually beneficial resolution without sacrificing my own wants and needs… or violating policy?” As I have worked in this industry, I have always tried my best to never mistreat people, but make sure they are given everything they need to succeed.
What do you think about the future of libraries?
I think it’s bright because of the various services and learning spaces that the library is providing. Tutoring, small business development, community partnerships which provide any community with a variety of resources, opportunities to explore technology, laptops and wifi hotspots to help people get work done on their terms – it’s all at the library. Public libraries are quickly evolving and I’m excited to be a part of the movement.
Anything else you’d like to share about your experiences as a black male in librarianship?
I think life is about rooms. We enter rooms our entire life and come out of them with various experiences. How we are judged at the end of those experiences matters little. What matters is that we enjoyed the experience of walking through that room and adding to that experience as we continue on to walk through other rooms.