Pathfinder Tiffany Bradford-Oldham: Committed to Empowering Others

Pathfinder is a series of blogs about intrepid library staff who are leading interesting programs that you may not yet know about.

Librarian Tiffany Bradford-Oldham has a vision for the world that she has had since she was child.  Due to inequalities that she saw as a child growing up in the South and Midwest, she developed a "passion for justice and fairness."  Tiffany saw law as a possible path for her as a young adult.

Tiffany's parents always emphasized books and education while she was growing up.  One important tenet that Tiffany developed from her parents in regards to her love of books and education:

"NO ONE could ever take from me no matter how I looked or was perceived by the world."

Tiffany wants everyone to understand that education is something that you will take with you no matter where you go and that education will enable people to develop a more diverse and equitable perspective of the world.

Because of circumstances, her path diverged from a path towards law to a path towards librarianship.  Tiffany sees power in both occupations, as they both provide her a way to:

"leave institutions, my community, and people better and more equitable than when I found them."

Tiffany's perspective is built upon her upbringing as a strong black woman. 

Possibilities for the Future

The backbone of the Library is its programs.  Tiffany recognizes that her position as a black librarian is more than providing programs.

Tiffany understands and is proud of her status as a role model for black children in the community.  Her position represents possibilities for the future for black children with backgrounds that are similar to hers.  Tiffany says she is always mindful of her role and responsibility.

Here is her parents' adage that drives all of her work:

"If I walk through a door [then] I hold it open for those who may come behind me. This was not a lesson on manners but on social responsibility."

Tiffany has not reached her role in and of herself.  She says that she reached her goals through the encouragement from individuals both within and outside of her family.  Her community connections led her on the path of being a role model.

Tiffany tells me:

  • "Representation is powerful but it cannot end with adding numbers and checking off boxes."
  • "All of us should be called to advocate for others who are not in the position to do so for themselves."
  • "As a nation of vast resources there is NO excuse for us to not build up and empower those who due to race, religion, ethnicity, culture, or nationality have been oppressed."

She saw an opportunity to make a deeper impact through San Jose Public Library's Racial Equity Team.

San Jose Public Library's Racial Equity Team

Tiffany saw herself as an outsider, which resonates with everyone to some extent.  Tiffany, however, was always looking for ways to empower others and to create equitable change.  She saw an opportunity in San Jose Public Library's Racial Equity Team.

The mission of San Jose Public Library's Racial Equity Team is to:

  • create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive for all individuals
  • brings people together
  • builds community
  • enriches lives

The Racial Equity Team is committed to reversing institutional practices that are racially inequitable by eliminating or revising policies and procedures that restrict or deny access or create barriers. We are invested in diversifying the workforce, supporting staff with ongoing training and development, and treating all individuals respectfully and with kindness.

Libraries have a history of not being inclusive to all customers.

The Racial Equity Team was formed in January 2020 as part of a statewide initiative to create a network of libraries and library staff committed to racial equity and full inclusion. The goal is to share information, deepen conversations and increase racial equity in library service delivery and the communities we serve.

Working with other members of the Racial Equity Team, Tiffany wants to help people in the community find equity.

How to Become Active Community Members

The Library's mission is as follows:

"The Library enriches lives by fostering lifelong learning and by ensuring that every member of the community has access to a vast array of ideas and information."

Ideally, Tiffany would like EVERY member of the community to have access by addressing inequalities.

Here is what Tiffany would like YOU to know:

  • "We seek to embrace differences and offer programs that not only foster cultural literacy but represents the needs of our diverse San Jose population."
  • "If you are a library patron what I have and continue to encourage people to do to learn more about advocacy is to begin to be active in your own community."
  • "Also, if we are not offering programs or opportunities to your individual ethnic or religious background let us know or offer to volunteer to educate us."
  • The library is not just a building but a community of practice that from time-to-time needs our patrons to help us shape the direction of our institution."

Tiffany would like to end with a quote from a community member in relation to a blog post about National Library Week:

"...You guys provide so many resources for underprivileged people as well as easily accessible information about important topics such as racism. The library make(s) educating ourselves so easy and accessible which is something a lot of other cities don't have. It's immensely helpful and your work and effort does not go unnoticed."

Check out this Racial Equity and Social Justice reading list prepared by staff.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment in the comments section below!