So you want to be an ally?

Everyone has been in this position at some point in their lives.  You know you want to do something, but yet not sure how to go about it.

We at DILON have been getting quite a few people and organisations contacting us asking this question (or questions in a similar vein) recently.  So I decided to address this in a very structured librarian way: with a list.  Please be aware that I am not an expert, this is not an exhaustive list, nor is it the *best* list available, but it should be a helpful starting point for you to do more research on being an effective ally.

I have referred to mostly online non-academic resources to promote the ease that one can research this topic.  As with most things, I am deeply indebted to all those who have broached this topic before me, and I have included them in the bibliography at the end.

I have used the term ‘People of Colour’ or ‘POC’ in this post as per this qualification by Loretta Ross about the Origin of the phrase “Women of Color”.


  1. Listen

Listening is one of the most important things you can do.  It validates the importance of the other person’s experiences.  Become comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Take an active listening approach by asking questions to clarify things you don’t understand and be open to the response.  The active in ‘active listening’ does not mean launching into ‘that time it happened to you’.  “Being a good ally often means not being included in the conversation, because the conversation isn’t about you.” This conversation is about the other person.  However, remember to be respectful of what a person is not comfortable discussing.


  1. Don’t ask – do

Stop asking what you can do – start researching what you can do.  By asking people of colour how to be a better ally then you are implying that someone else should do all the emotional labour for you.  This work isn’t our responsibility; it’s yours.  Do not go into a discussion about privilege passively expecting someone else to make all of the recommendations for you.  This process is an active one, not a passive one and this approach demonstrates your commitment to the process.  Go into it with some ideas, use it as an opportunity to collaborate, research and learn something.  Take this as an opportunity to deconstruct your own unconscious biases – we all have them.


  1. Amplify

Mention the excellent work done by voices who do not have your privilege and repeat it.  This term originated as an echoing strategy within the workplace where if ideas from a marginalised group weren’t acknowledged, another person would repeat it and give their colleague credit for suggesting it.  This term has expanded to include both online (i.e. retweets and Facebook sharing) and real-world situations.  Amplifying the opinions and ideas of other people is a way to participate without taking up space.


  1. Speak Up

It is exhausting being the only person who says something.  The burden of representation means that there is an expectation that the only person of colour in the room will take up the mantle to re-dress all racist wrongs.  This situation is where you can step in.  If you spot discrimination at work or hear derogatory comments, say something, or talk to HR.  If you work in a large organisation, there will be processes in place to deal with situations like this.  This strategy is about creating a safe environment for everyone.


  1. It’s a verb, not a noun

Being an ally is an active not passive role.  The number of POC friends you have doesn’t make you an ally, nor does it make you more knowledgeable on the topic (better known as ‘whitesplaining’).  See #1 on this list.  You also do not get credit for past acts of solidarity (also known as ‘virtue signalling’) without regard for current behaviour.  What makes an ally is the active role you take, now, in the present, and in the future.  Racism is so deeply embedded in our culture that although there have been significant achievements, discrimination still exists in our society.  This means there is no end date to being an ally.  Here are some suggestions of things you can do: Look at your own internal biases (again, we all have them).  Look externally at ways to change oppressive systems.  Donate.  Volunteer.  Show support for groups that address these issues.  Amplify.


  1. Mistakes

You will make mistakes.  Let me repeat that.  You will make mistakes.  And you will continue to make mistakes.  No one gets it right the first time.  Your mistakes do not define you, but how you handle them does.  Be graceful, courteous and apologise (and mean it).  Accept feedback that your actions are doing more harm than good.  Do not get defensive and try to explain that ‘You are a nice person’ or ‘I am an ally, so it’s ok’.  You may be a nice person or an ally, but your privilege has blinded you to who is actually the victim.


Here’s a brilliant guide on how to handle mistakes of privilege:


“In reality, most of us naturally know the right way to react when we step on someone’s toes, and we can use that to help us learn how to react when we commit microaggressions.


Center the impacted: “Are you okay?”

Listen to their response and learn.

Apologize for the impact, even though you didn’t intend it: “I’m sorry!”

Stop the instance: move your foot

Stop the pattern: be careful where you step in the future. (When it comes to oppression, we want to actually change the “footwear” to get rid of privilege and oppression (sneakers for all!), but metaphors can only stretch so far!)”


  1. Represent

This section is for organisations.  Representation matters.  Why?  It shows the organisation’s commitment to a diverse workforce and demonstrates that diversity isn’t just a tick box exercise.  It also reflects an understanding of the benefits of a diverse workplace.  Please don’t keep asking the one POC in the organisation to be in the brochure.  Hire more people from different backgrounds.  The responses that ‘they don’t apply’ or ‘we can’t find any’ are excuses.  Look at your hiring practices, are there ‘bias interrupters’ during the hiring process to combat unconscious bias?  Does your organisation use blind hiring?  Are you advertising in the right place?  This type of change won’t be natural and takes effort, but is necessary to create opportunities for everyone, not just the privileged few.




Natalia Gordon

Information Services Librarian, Leeds Beckett University



Adesina, Z. and Marocico, O. (2017). Is it easier to get a job if you’re Adam or Mohamed? [online] BBC News. Available at: [Accessed 22 May 2018]

Black, A.N. @ashleyn1cole (2018). Next time someone tells you they want to have a more diverse writers room but they can’t find any women and POC, tell them Beyonce found TEN black women who play violin. [Twitter]. 15 April [Online]. Available at:  [22 May 2018]

Chignell, B. (2018). Five reasons why diversity and inclusion at work matters. [online] CIPHR. Available at: [Accessed 11 Jun. 2018].

Eilperin, J. (2016). How a White House women’s office strategy went viral. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 21 May 2018]

Feldmann, J. (2018). The Benefits and Shortcomings of Blind Hiring in the Recruitment Process. [online] Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2018]

Garcia-Vargas, A. (2014). Managing Privilege. [online] Avaliable at: [Accessed 21 May 2018]

Lamont, A. (n.d.). Guide to Allyship. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 21 May 2018].

McKenzie, M. (2013). No More “Allies”. [online] Charter for Compassion. Available at:  [Accessed 20 May 2018]

Nigatu, H. and Clayton, T. (2015). How To Be A Better Ally: An Open Letter To White Folks. [online] Buzzfeed News. Available at: [Accessed 20 May 2018)

Ross, L. (2011). The Origin of the phrase “Women of Color”. [online] YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 20 May 2018]

Teaching Tolerance. (2018). Test Yourself for Hidden Bias. [online] Available at:  [Accessed 11 Jun. 2018].

Utt, J. (2013). So You Call Yourself and Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know. [online] Everyday Feminism. Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2018]

Williams, J.C. (2014). Hacking Tech’s Diversity Problem. [online]. Harvard Business Review. Available at: [Accessed 22 May 2018]


What’s my beef?

I was manning our library Twitter account whilst the 2018 LILAC conference was happening and saw this thread It took me by surprise how strongly it resonated with me. The discussion about the importance, yet lack of, diversity at library conferences definitely rang true. I remember attending the UKSG Forum whilst a LIS student a couple of years ago where I needed to meet up with another student. I was worried we wouldn’t find each other but luckily we were the only two non-white faces in the room, so that made things simpler, if a bit depressing.

Moreover, as a mixed-race woman, the feelings people shared on the thread about sitting uncomfortably within the BME label also resonated with me. That sense of being the white-side of diverse yet still experiencing the otherness symbolised, for me, by the endless question: ‘Yeah, but where are you really from?’ – I want to check my privilege but actually I don’t feel that privileged. I’ve worked in a couple of university libraries in Leeds, which is obviously a diverse city. Despite them being large employers with good, well paying jobs there are painfully few non-white people. I even left a job in one of them because of bad treatment and only realised afterwards that the only other people being treated like this were also the three other non-white people. I honestly don’t know if that was pure coincidence but it’s certainly not going to help encourage diversity is it?

I think many LIS managers do genuinely want to encourage diversity but don’t really know how. Putting in a bland statement at the very end of a job advert like: “We welcome applications from all individuals and particularly from black and minority ethnic candidates…” is not good enough. It’s an afterthought, a box ticking exercise. I’m supremely optimistic that we as a sector can change things, although not naïve of the challenge ahead!


Raise the visibility of librarianship (and call it something else)

Librarians are the ultimate problem-solvers so I reckon (together) we can tackle the lack of diversity in libraries and find solutions. Already, one month in, DILON has made really positive progress with conference organisers and this should embolden us to speak up and speak out. Here’s one idea I’ve had –

In my anecdotal experience, most library workers just fall into library work. They’re students, artists or musicians and libraries are simply a pleasant way to earn a stable income amongst like-minded people. I spent a significant amount of my childhood in the local library. I studied English and creative writing at university and yet it never crossed my mind to become a Librarian. I just fell into it whilst studying again later on, but now it feels like the most obvious thing for me to be. Perhaps this is because librarians still suffer from the stereotypes of being stern old women stacking dusty shelves. (In fact, after writing this paragraph, I came across DILON creator Jen’s career history echoing the same points). But we know those stereotypes aren’t true! If we (I’m using the royal We here) went into schools and spoke to kids about all the great things about librarianship (and maybe call ourselves something more modern like Information Professionals), I reckon in time we would end up with a more diverse workforce.

This might also start to address the elephant in the (book) room – Class. DILON isn’t about class per se but it certainly intersects.  It’s all very well for middle-class kids to fall into library work whilst at university or shortly after but let’s make it an interesting and visible option for other kids too. A stumbling block could be the insistence on CILIP accredited qualifications in order to get a professional job (yes, I know, all sorts of debates here). However, it might help if people found librarianship as a career option before doing something else, particularly if they’re not from a privileged background. AND if kids know they’ll need to do a degree at some point to be a librarian, it might affect what they do at school and college. Basically, lets raise the profile of the profession so that children of all colours and backgrounds see it as a career option, like being a lawyer or a nurse. Then they’ll have the opportunity to take the necessary steps towards achieving this interesting and rewarding career. And everyone will benefit from a more diverse workforce.

Amy Campbell

Information Services Librarian, Leeds Beckett University


DILON visits CILIP Yorkshire and Humberside

We had our first official event yesterday (21st May 2018) when we attended a committee meeting of the CILIP regional member network for Yorkshire and Humberside, where we introduced DILON and had an interesting discussion about diversity in the profession…


  • Each regional member network has an Equality and Inclusion Officer (the YH Officer could not attend this meeting) and the committee wondered if there could be more support for this role with some targets set and advice from central CILIP HQ.


  • We did notice that we were the only non-white faces in the room and this was acknowledged round the table as an issue with recruitment to the committee. At the recent CILIP Member Network Forum, regional groups were told they will soon have access to some data about their members and this should aid them in recruiting more diversely, not just in terms of race but also sector, region and across other minority groups.


  • We spoke about the reception we have had from central CILIP and our disappointment in their lack of action in recent years.


  • Some recent CILIP initiatives were mentioned such as the Diversity Review of the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals – you can complete a survey about this here. Although we are pleased to see this (yay diverse books 😊) these types of actions perhaps make CILIP seem like they are dedicated to improving diversity but no true action is taken to make structural changes to the workforce. Bit of a quick win IMHO…


  • The oft-mentioned new BAME Special Interest Group was mentioned and it was clarified that CILIP members no longer need to pay to join these groups, so no BAME people would be unfairly penalised for joining. Phew!


  • We asked committee members to not just consider diversity as part of their CILIP role, but also in their workplaces and urged them to raise it as an issue where appropriate. Some great discussions came out of this, with someone mentioning a library visit to their university Faith Centre and our general agreement that where there is diversity, those people are often found in lower graded roles.


  • Finally, we raised the issue of being an ally and that even though we are part of DILON, we are not experts. Rather, it is the responsibility of everyone to push for a more inclusive workforce and before asking us what can be done, librarians should ask themselves.


The committee were incredibly welcoming and keen to listen to us, and we look forward to working with them in the future. A big special thank you to David for inviting us for to Owen for contacting us about events. Thanks CILIP YH!


Here at DILON we are happy to speak at meetings and events if we are able (but please remember we are not able to magically improve diversity in your area 🤷‍♀️) – please email Jen at


Jen Bayjoo @epicbayj

The unbearable whiteness of conferences

Dear library conferences, you need to diversify your speakers, your delegates and your committee. That’s a lot I know, but it’s necessary…

As we come to the end of conference silly season, the wonderful Ka Ming and others have raised the issue of the diversity of conference delegates and speakers. DILON asked CILIP about their policy for the recent CILIP Careers Day and received this response, although no details or acknowledgement that the event was actually diverse were received. You can look at the speakers here and decide for yourself.


This is a big issue for us here at DILON and whilst I don’t think I can magically change the landscape with a blog post, the temptation of writing a list and complaining (two of my favourite things) is too much to bear.

So here are some suggestions and honestly, conference committees and organisers, if I can sit here and come up with some suggestions in my pjs then you can do it with some minor effort, kay?

Race is not a bad thing to talk about, it’s a guaranteed part of life so just be open about it! 

You can discuss how white you are you know, and you can be open about why this is wrong and that you are looking to rectify the situation – plus a real apology for your past lack of diversity and a commitment to making a change would go such a long way (as I write this, I can’t believe I haven’t seen anyone openly do it).

Be open and transparent about your applicants and speakers, let us know what efforts you have made to diversify and again, hold your hands up if it doesn’t work out the first time. I for one am not going to bitch about a conference that makes a real effort.

Don’t ask your one POC member…

This is a big problem that people of colour face every time they question the whitewashed status quo – well, what do YOU suggest we do?

I genuinely would not want to join a committee that was looking for a non white member because they wanted to diversify their conference – that sucks. And I know this because I was asked this very thing this week (I declined)! It’s lazy, insulting and passes the buck to someone else. If you are the chair of the committee, make it clear this is everyone’s responsibility and follow through by devoting time and resources to sorting out the problem. It’s great if you are trying to diversify your committee because it’s the right thing to do but not if it is to get an ‘expert.’*

Don’t have old man white speakers as your keynotes and panels!

One more time for those at the back.

It’s the first thing I notice and it makes me so tired and sad – these are leaders, idols, gods. What does that say to me as a young brown woman? When you plan a conference you are deciding whose voice to silence and whose to amplify so put some thought into it and don’t be afraid to say no to these people. They have taken up enough of our stage.

Again, will it take more effort to find a more diverse range of speakers? Possibly yes. But if you are going to tell me that it’s not worth it then you’re really dismissing my entire existence as not worth the bother. Even if you have POC in the lightening talks, you are are still creating a hierarchy that says hey, this is where you belong and this is where they belong. You have a responsibility here and so far you have failed.

Don’t have one or two POC and pat yourself on the back.

This is a long term commitment to structural change. So many times I have pointed our the lack of diversity in a group/conference/workplace etc. and the impression is that if I am there, it can’t be lacking in diversity.

People of colour are themselves incredibly diverse** ; I am so sick of being typecast as Scary Spice when all the other girls had four different types of white women to choose from. Take it from me, however diverse you think you are, it’s probably not enough.

Think about your bursaries and call for papers.

I don’t know how many times white librarians have thrown their hands in the air and said well nobody of colour applied so it’s not my fault. We spend our whole lives being told by society that we are not good enough and seriously, if I don’t see non white speakers and leaders and keynotes and committees, why would I think it was a space where I was welcome, why would I put effort in to apply when it looks like I wouldn’t be good enough.

Why not have a BME/POC bursary? If you are afraid that this will discriminate against white people then can I suggest you stop reading here and go and do some research to better educate yourself. If you are afraid that others will accuse you of discrimination so you do nothing, then you are failing us.

Create a formal policy or framework or action plan or whatever bollocks you want to call it.

Ask for help on this, do some research and share resources with each other. Use it to determine how you select speakers (you must already have a set of criteria?) and make it publicly available so we can see if we would like to apply. Review this after the conference and use it to plan for next time. Isn’t this what we do in libraries, I honestly feel like I shouldn’t have to say these obvious things.

If you ask POC to be your keynotes or on your panels and they say no (which is what the LILAC committee said yesterday) build something into your plan to address this – they didn’t turn down your invitation for nothing. Apologise, don’t make excuses.


One of the main reasons I set up DILON was because I was sick of hearing people talk about the white male panel but still planning conferences with these panels and amplifying their voices even louder. My hope for the network is that we can call out conferences who do not make a concerted effort with their diversity and bring these issues into our workplaces, social media and meetings, because I have been on an otherwise all white planning committee before now and I know that if the person of colour doesn’t raise the issue, nobody else will even think of it.

This isn’t to say that nobody has done anything! If you do have resources, ideas, examples, cfps, vacancies or apologies, please share and contact/tweet us.

I would also like to add to this blog a list of BME/POC people from all sectors and at all stages of their career who would be interested in speaking at conferences. So if you are out there, let me know, you don’t have to be a DILON member or based in the North! I can’t have a list with just my name, that would just look sad 😉

And lastly but importantly, the above applies to other minorities, protected classes and disadvantaged people.

Jen Bayjoo

* please excuse me as I throw up

**hope you are excited about a forthcoming blogpost on this and why POC is a shit term…

Hi from DILON

Guys, I am angry. Angry like Bruce Banner is always angry, although I suspect it may be for different reasons…

You may already be aware, but our library and information workforce is 96.7% white.* Who am I kidding, you’ll already be aware from looking around at your colleagues, conference delegates and speakers, interview panels and regional and national bodies. I have found this to be isolating, lonely and frustrating. And deeply, volcanically enraging.

Why is nobody doing anything concrete – and if they are, why isn’t it working? I have read many policies, posts and action plans, and chatted to colleagues across the country but nobody is actually doing anything to change the status quo. Indeed, I often hear that the problem is too big to solve, that the issue is the same across HE anyway, that it’s the responsibility of HR, of CILIP**, of library schools and regular schools and y’know, society.

I’ll save the lecture on institutional and structural racism for another day – a systemic and deeply rooted problem that a few badass librarians cannot hope to solve. But that doesn’t mean we have to stay quiet and accept our lot as always being on the back foot.

Yes, I am angry that the labour always falls to the POC/BME people to speak up and to even acknowledge that we have a big problem. I am angry that I am patronised almost daily with no recourse to fight back. It saddens me that we have to take matters into our own hands but here we are…

This is where Diversity in Libraries of the North (DILON) comes in, yay!

This has been brewing for a while but after some support from my lovely colleagues, I decided to form a network to bring us together. DILON will offer support and friendship to each other (yes, let’s be friends and send each other memes), to provide a platform and a voice to our experiences and our work, and to hold institutions, workplaces, national bodies and conferences to account.

I hope that sounds reasonable and exciting to some of you?

Our membership page outlines our criteria for members and supporters but I hope you can appreciate that because DILON is currently being run by me, sitting on my bed eating fizzy sweets*** in Leeds, we are starting small and concentrating our efforts in the north of England.

No matter how you identify (white or non-white) or where you are based, please read and circulate our blog and call for members, follow and engage with us on Twitter, continue to educate yourself about race issues (this is a good place to start), and hold your workplaces, your national bodies, your groups, your conferences and your colleagues accountable.

We hope to do this in an informal and friendly environment, with no pressure to discuss theory or impenetrable research- there is no need to be an expert on race or libraries, just an open mind and respectful attitude. At the moment it’s just me and a couple of friends so come hang out with us 🙂

Join us 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽

*Based on CILIP’s Mapping the Workforce project. However, this data is limited; it is from 2014-15, the single mention of diversity is in the executive summary, there is no breakdown by sector or region, and the full results are yet to be released. There is also a disclaimer saying the contents of the fact sheets are strictly confidential and cannot be disclosed (they are openly available to me, a non-member, online) but the number 96.7% is in the non-strictly-confidential-executive-summary, just so we’re clear xoxo

**Ahh CILIP, I am honestly going to try and not complain about you all the time cos I like a bit of variety to my whinging.

***Aldi rainbow belts are my current delicacy ✌🏽

By Jen Bayjoo @epicbayj