This essay is a part of our “Crosstalk” series featuring stories from graduate students of color. Read more in our special issue, “Crosstalk: Graduate Students of Color Reflect on Lessons Lived and Learned in the Academy,” now available in hardcopy and on Project MUSE and JSTOR.
Kimberly Y. Franklin, a black woman raised in South Los Angeles, is an Education Librarian at California State University, Los Angeles.
Over the past year, I have been researching and writing about the socialization experiences of black doctoral students in U.S. higher education. Much of the literature focuses on their lived experiences with recruitment and retention; race, racism, and racial identity; mentoring; and social and academic integration in predominantly white institutions (Gay 2004; Twale, Weidman, and Bethea 2016).[i] The literature indicates that although black graduate students succeed in attaining graduate degrees, they encounter barriers in the academy, such as difficulty finding mentors, and especially mentors of color, primarily because of the dearth of faculty of color (Brunsma, Embrick, and Shin 2017, 8).
Much of the contemporary literature about black doctoral students has been published since 2000, the same period during which I earned a doctorate in education while working full-time as an academic librarian. My research prompts me to reflect on my own experiences as a black woman who earned graduate degrees in library and information science (LIS) and education, and who is in year three of a tenure-track librarian position at a comprehensive public university in southern California. Many disciplines are represented in the literature about the experiences of black graduate students; however, as Cooke (2014) noted, the experiences of minority students in LIS are not well represented.
In this essay I reflect on how I became a librarian and doctorate recipient in the academy, and on my interdisciplinary research and scholarly communication experiences as a black graduate student and faculty member. I reflect on sources of support that have sustained me throughout my graduate student and professional career which spans over 20 years. Based on my experiences and research about black graduate students, I offer recommendations for how institutions can best serve them.
Librarianship was not my original career goal. My intention as an urban studies major in college was to start working in urban planning or development after graduating in the early 1990s. However, job opportunities were scarce amid the economic downturn. After a few years of searching and working in the meantime as an administrative assistant in a university admissions office in southern California, I decided to find another career path.I reflected on what I enjoy, such as teaching, writing, reading, and doing research in the library. I thought I was good at navigating the library after seeking help at the reference desk, and that I would enjoy helping others to find information in the library. I researched librarianship in career sources in the public library, and I learned that most professional librarian positions require a master’s degree in library science. I am the first person in my family to earn a college degree. In college, I had not discussed graduate school options with advisors or instructors, and frankly, I did not know how or what to ask. Helpful librarians and career resources in the library were invaluable to my search for information about graduate education.
I applied for and received scholarships for minority library science students and chose to attend the library science program at a public research university in California. I left my administrative assistant job and enrolled as a full-time student in order to graduate in two years. While completing course work, I applied for and was hired for two assistantships on campus, one in the biomedical library, and the other in the undergraduate library. I enjoyed working in these academic libraries and decided that I would specialize in reference, research services, and information literacy instruction in the academy after graduating. These were not traditional TA positions but opportunities for library school students to gain experience in the profession. They were essential preprofessional opportunities for me because, before graduate school, I had no experience working in a library. Also, I was able to work with some of the few women librarians of color on campus.
Librarianship historically is predominantly white and currently over 80 percent white (Rosa and Henke 2017). There were few faculty members of color in my department, and I was one of a handful of black students. Fortunately, a professional association of black librarians in California with strong ties to library school programs in the state reached out to me and to other black graduate students. They supported several of us, including me, with a scholarship, and offered mentoring to all. They also taught us about pioneering black women librarians like Betty Blackman, who in 1986 became the first black library dean in the California State University system (Wilkin 2006, 19). Writing about the racial socialization of black graduate students, Larry Rowley (2014) asserts the importance of providing students with examples of trailblazing black doctorate recipients, such as Edward Bouchet, the first black person to earn a doctorate in the United States.[ii] Knowing the history of black librarianship, including the racial biases that impeded progress in the profession (Wilkin 2006, 233-234), affirmed that I could have a career as a librarian, even if it might test my persistence. Indeed, at points in my career I have experienced microaggressions such as having my qualifications or achievements questioned or minimized. In those moments, I remind myself that I have earned my position and that I belong.
Pursuing the PhD
After graduating with honors from library school, I began a full-time career as a social sciences librarian, specializing in education, Africana studies, Chican@ studies, and cultural studies at a predominately white liberal arts institution in southern California. I did not plan to pursue further graduate education. However, after working as a higher education professional for several years, I became intrigued by and had questions about the postsecondary environment in which academic libraries and librarians operate, particularly regarding diversity, governance, teaching, and learning. I wanted to learn how to produce scholarship and research to address those interests. Also, I attended the minority graduate student research conference on campus and witnessed many students of color in education and in other disciplines presenting their doctoral research. These role models demonstrated that I could do the same.
The prevalence among academic librarians of holding a doctorate in a subject other than library and information science has varied over time (Gilman and Lindquist 2010); having a subject master’s degree in addition to the master’s in library science is a more likely occurrence. However, I had already proven that I could succeed at the master’s level, and I knew that another master’s degree would not provide the training that I would need for advanced research in the higher education field of study. A doctorate was the next step.
My institution offered graduate programs in education, including a higher education and student affairs concentration. I applied for admission and enrolled as a PhD student, completing up to two courses per semester, including summers. The program catered to working professionals and I attended classes after work. Unlike library school, this time, it was not possible to leave my job to attend school full-time. I now had many more financial obligations, and I was progressing well in my career. A program that accommodated working professionals was best for me.
Work and Graduate School
Working full-time as an academic librarian—which included almost six years in middle management—while earning a doctorate was challenging. I wrote papers and studied after work, during lunch, on weekends, and sometimes during holidays or vacation days. After completing course work, qualifying exams, the dissertation proposal, and dissertation, I received the PhD in 2013. Due to periods of slow progress and fatigue between the course work and dissertation stages, it took twice as long as the five or six years I had planned to finish the degree.[iii] Encouragement from family, faculty, and colleagues contributed to my persistence.
As a full-time working professional, it was difficult to have time for participation in immersive social and academic integration experiences, such as collaborating with faculty on writing and research projects, when demands at work took precedence. Academic, social, and professional socialization experiences are particularly important for students who aspire to a career in academe (Weidman and Stein 2003). Those who teach in and administer graduate programs can support working graduate students by inviting them into research projects or co-authorship. They can also host faculty/student group discussions for support and guidance on balancing work, scholarship, and family, which should include addressing academic, alt-ac (alternative academic), and scholar-practitioner models of work in the academy.
Working doctoral students can advocate for themselves by asking questions of faculty and peers, and by following up on opportunities for academic and professional development. I sometimes missed cues about opportunities to be involved in these activities. Yet, I was invited and agreed to serve as a graduate student associate to the faculty in the higher education program, and also received academic excellence awards. Joining writing groups during the dissertation stage with black women and other students of color in my program was an important source of social and academic support. A colleague and I shared the same advisor who suggested that we write together when our progress had stalled. Everyone in our writing circle gave mutual support and encouragement until all graduated.
Attending the annual disciplinary scholarly conference with program faculty and student peers was extremely valuable. There, I met scholars of color in the higher education field of study whose work I was reading in my courses. This helped me to better understand their research and the different disciplines they drew upon in their scholarship. This was reassuring because of my own interdisciplinary background and research interests.
Interdisciplinarity and Scholarly Communication
Working across disciplines in library and information science and in the higher education field of study was a challenge in graduate school. Library science is rife with jargon or idiosyncrasies that can render it opaque to those outside the field. Nevertheless, my academic and professional background in library science was welcomed in my doctoral program, and I was able to integrate it into my program of study and the dissertation, which was grounded in the literature on collaboration in higher education, information literacy, and interprofessionality in the health sciences. The interdisciplinarity was well-received by my committee, and the experience was great preparation for my current research interests which consider the intersections of information behavior theory, the experiences of black doctoral students, and scholarly communication. Moreover, my experience as a teaching librarian with planning and management experience, combined with a doctorate in higher education, proved valuable in making a brief professional transition into academic planning and accreditation before returning to librarianship and attaining my current tenure-track position. The academic and professional flexibility to work across disciplines is a privilege, but it has come with challenges, particularly with writing about black doctoral students for LIS venues.
It has not been easy to place my work about black graduate student experiences, scholarly communication, and information literacy into mainstream library science publications or conferences. Perhaps the work is too specialized or is subject to the inequities that people of color experience in scholarly communication and publishing (Hathcock 2018; Roh 2018). Nevertheless, I am not deterred, and my work has been welcomed into venues that center black or other marginalized voices in library science and/or interdisciplinary scholarship. As Padilla (1994, 25) noted, it is critical that scholars of color find publications that welcome their work. My approach to finding spaces to disseminate pieces related to diversity and/or race is to read author and submission guidelines, scope statements of scholarly journals and conferences, and the tables of content of journals that I am considering. Talking with other writers has also been helpful. I also look for the scholarship interests of those on editorial boards or conference planning committees. Roh’s (2018) insights on how editors, publishers, and reviewers can work more ardently toward eradicating bias in scholarly communication is also instructive for women writers of color seeking a home for their work. In addition, I choose open access publishing options when possible so that readers will have unfettered access to content without paywalls. This especially includes family members who read my work and encourage me to continue to write.
Ways to Best Serve Black Graduate Students
Based on my own experiences in graduate school and my research about the experiences of black graduate students, I believe that the higher education community can best serve these students in the following ways:
- Maintain close ties to black professional and academic associations to identify talent and support graduate students from recruitment and matriculation to graduation.
- Provide full funding to eliminate the need for students to use their own resources for graduate school. This can substantially enhance black graduate students’ engagement. It is especially pertinent for black graduate students in education who are likely to rely on their own financial resources and have higher educational debt than other racial and ethnic minority groups in the field (Falkenheim 2018).
- Develop integration experiences for black graduate students that are informed by the research and scholarship on their lived experiences (see Twale, Weidman, and Bethea 2016).
- Do not assume that black students are uninterested in or unqualified for graduate school, or that they know how to access graduate education. They simply may not know what to ask.
- Cultivate the interests, ambitions, and talents of black college students early and often. In doing so, involve their families.
- Offer information about graduate education and career options to black undergraduate students so that they can make an informed decision. They should not have to ask. This is especially important for students who are the first in their family to attend college or earn a college degree.
- Integrate information about pioneering black graduate degree recipients into the curriculum in graduate programs. These exemplars are important for all students, and for black graduate students in particular.
- Integrate knowledge about diversity and social justice in publishing into graduate programs and university scholarly communication programming (see Roh 2018).
- Recruit, hire, and retain culturally competent faculty who can mentor graduate students of color.
- Recognize that students who are fully employed while pursuing doctoral education may struggle with prioritizing work and school. Engaging them socially and academically might take extra effort from faculty, administrators, and student peers.
My pathway into and through graduate school was not always clear. Nevertheless, support and encouragement from my family, graduate school peers and faculty, professional colleagues, and the exemplars of black women librarians who came before me made all the difference.However,greater transparency and clarity about the graduate school process, and stronger institutional support for working professionals would have made the journey less taxing and mysterious.
Being on the tenure track now after recent job changes presents new challenges, such as managing teaching, research, writing, and service responsibilities in a new campus culture. The tenure process is arduous for many and can be complicated by structural barriers and uncertainty particularly for faculty of color (Matthew 2016). However, my experiences in the academy have helped me to manage transitions and sharpened my insights about asking for what I need in order to be and do well in the academy.
[i]. Cited in Kimberly Y. Franklin, “Re-examining the Socialization of Black Doctoral Students through the Lens of Information Theory,” in “Chatman Revisited: Re-examining and Resituating Social Theories of Identity, Access, and Marginalization in LIS,” ed. Nicole A. Cooke and Amelia N. Gibson, special issue, Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 3 (2020): 3,14, https://journals.litwinbooks.com/index.php/jclis/article/view/146/77.
[ii]. Franklin, “Re-examining,” 15.
[iii]. Although time-to-degree has declined in all fields, education has a years-longer time-to-degree (i.e., from graduate school entry to doctorate attainment) than all other fields. See Falkenheim 2018, 7.
Brunsma, David L., David G. Embrick, and Jean H. Shin. “Graduate Students of Color: Race, Racism, and Mentoring in the White Waters of Academia.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 3, no. 1 (2017): 1-13.
Cooke, Nicole A. “The Spectrum Doctoral Fellowship Program: Enhancing the LIS Professoriate.” InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies 10, no. 1 (2014), accessed November 16, 2019, https://escholarship.org/uc/item/7vb7v4p8
Falkenheim, Jaquelina. Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities, 2017. Report, and Tables 35, 40. Alexandria, VA: National Science Foundation, 2018, accessed July 28, 2020, https://ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf19301
Franklin, Kimberly Y. “Re-examining the Socialization of Black Doctoral Students through the Lens of Information Theory.” In “Chatman Revisited: Re-examining and Resituating Social Theories of Identity, Access, and Marginalization in LIS,” edited by Nicole A. Cooke and Amelia N. Gibson. Special issue, Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 3 (2020): 1-34, accessed November 1, 2020, https://journals.litwinbooks.com/index.php/jclis/article/view/146/77.
Gay, Geneva. “Navigating Marginality en Route to the Professoriate: Graduate Students of Color Learning and Living in Academia.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 17, no. 2 (2004): 265-88.
Gilman, Todd, and Thea Lindquist. “Academic/Research Librarians with Subject Doctorates: Experiences and Perceptions, 1965-2006.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 10, no. 4 (2010): 399-12.
Hathcock, April. “Racing to the Crossroads of Scholarly Communication and Democracy: But Who Are We Leaving Behind?” In the Library with the Lead Pipe,August 22, 2018, accessed November 23, 2019, http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2018/racing-to-the-crossroads-of-scholarly-communication-and-democracy-but-who-are-we-leaving-behind
Matthew, Patricia A., ed. Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.
Padilla, Amado M. “Ethnic Minority Scholars, Research, and Mentoring: Current and Future Issues.” Educational Researcher 23, no. 4 (1994): 24-27.
Roh, Charlotte. “Reflections on the Intersection of Publishing and Librarianship: The Experiences of Women of Color.” In Pushing the Margins: Women of Color and Intersectionality in LIS, edited by Rose L. Chou and Annie Pho, 427-46. Sacramento: Litwin Books/Library Juice Press, 2018.
Rosa, Kathy, and Kelsey Henke. 2017 ALA Demographic Study. Chicago: American Library Association, 2017, accessed November 8, 2019, http://www.ala.org/tools/sites/ala.org.tools/files/content/Draft%20of%20Member%20Demographics%20Survey%2001-11-2017.pdf
Rowley, Larry L. “The Socialization of African American PhD Students: Race, Sociology of Knowledge, and Historical Concepts for Contemporary Contexts.” In Supporting Graduate Students in the 21st Century: Implications for Policy and Practice, edited by Pamela P. Felder and Edward P. St. John, 151-75. New York: AMS Press, 2014.
Twale, Darla J., John C. Weidman, and Kathryn Bethea. “Conceptualizing Socialization of Graduate Students of Color: Revisiting the Weidman-Twale-Stein Framework.” Western Journal of Black Studies 40, no. 2 (2016): 80-94.
Weidman, John C., and Elizabeth L. Stein. “Socialization of Doctoral Students to Academic Norms.” Research in Higher Education 44, no. 6 (2003): 641-56.
Wilkin, Binnie Tate, ed. African American Librarians in the Far West: Pioneers and Trailblazers. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2006.