Courtney Young: Penn State Faculty Profiles in Diversity and Inclusion

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s Courtney Young draws on her diverse background and passion for teaching and learning to encourage those around her to foster an environment that is welcoming of diversity, change and collaboration.

Young brings this passion to her work as head librarian at the J. Clarence Kelly Library at Penn State Greater Allegheny and as professor of women’s studies. She has served at three Penn State campuses —  University Park, Beaver and Greater Allegheny — since 2002. Her work includes library outreach, developing the University Libraries’ diversity collections, overseeing library operations and advising undergraduate students, among other things.

Her research focuses on promoting diversity, especially in librarianship, and encouraging students to grow through leadership and professional mentoring. Her role as an academic adviser and her assistance in the coordination of honors programs and scholarship distribution committees have allowed her to thoroughly understand the resources that students need to succeed — a skill she has implemented in her approach to her work.

Young is a strong advocate for diversity, leadership, community engagement and professional development in libraries and higher education. She helps others understand the various roles librarians can and do take on in higher education and in their communities, and provides students from diverse backgrounds the chance to learn about — and possibly pursue — this career path in an effort to further diversify the profession. She also encourages her staff to support diversity through the selection of their work-study students.

In the classroom, she promotes student success and the development of information-literacy skills for academic and professional development. Successful students learn to integrate knowledge and skills gained in the classroom, the library, around campus, and beyond the University, according to Young.

“It is a holistic approach and a key component of my interdisciplinary approach to student success, allowing me to interact and collaborate with a diverse student population,” she said.

Growing up as a “military kid” (her father was an officer in the U.S. Army), Young’s family moved around a lot, and by the age of 10 she had lived in four U.S. states and overseas in South Korea. She also spent her seventh-grade year in Ankara, Turkey, with her mother, a Fulbright scholar. Young immersed in the culture, attending a Turkish school and taking all the classes taught in English. She became fluent in Turkish, to the point where she was able to translate for her mother.

“My peers taught me Turkish and I shared my American experience,” she said. In addition, this was the first time she was culturally misidentified: “Turks would often ask us [me and my mother] if we were Pakistani.”

Her various experiences have given Young a point of view that has served her well in her life and her career.

“My race, gender, generational status, upbringing — they've all shaped my experience, and I bring that to everything I do,” she said.

She received a bachelor’s degree in English with minors in Black studies and Women’s studies from the College of Wooster, and a master of science in library science from Simmons College. She joined Penn State as a social sciences librarian in 2002, after jobs at The Ohio State University and Michigan State University.

A member of the American Library Association (ALA) since 2002, Young considers her 2014-15 tenure as president of the oldest and largest library association in the world as a high point in her career. She is only the fifth African-American to serve as ALA president and the youngest woman president in the organization’s history, and her determination and accomplishments so early in her career have helped her to stand out.

While members of the ALA have advocated since the 1960s for diversity in the field, as president Young helped pushed these efforts further. According to an ALA Diversity Counts study of gender, race and age in the library profession, last updated in 2012, librarianship is dominated by white women. Young said she hopes her term as ALA president and her visibility in the library and information sciences field have encouraged other people from diverse backgrounds to join and stay in the profession. 

“There is growing recognition that more than one perspective is important in today's world — which also means tomorrow's world,” said Young.

Because students from all walks of life use the library at some point or another, Young said, and librarians have the knowledge to direct these students toward the resources that will be most useful to them, it is an opportunity to provide other viewpoints and have discourse about different perspectives.

Although she had never before thought of herself as a role model, she now realizes the influence that she has had on students and others who have seen her success. Her career success and experiences have made her a better communicator and have equipped her with the tools to help students be successful, in turn.

“Students come to recognize the library and those who work there as trusted teachers and partners in the research process as well as the college experience,” she said.

Young has been recognized several times for her profound impact in her profession.

Most recently, she received the 2018 Larry Romans Mentorship Award from the ALA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender and Government Documents Round Tables, which recognizes librarians who “have demonstrated excellence in the area of mentoring, who have successfully encouraged others to serve as mentors, and who have impacted the lives and careers of others through tirelessly devoting time, energy and talent toward helping others succeed in the profession.”

In 2016, she received an Alumni Achievement Award from the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College, presented to graduates who have demonstrated significant achievement in their professions and have exceeded the boundaries of their current positions, achieving influence as outstanding role models in their professions. And in 2011 she was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker – Change Agent in 2011 for her work in highlighting issues of diversity in libraries and academia.

About the Faculty Profiles in Diversity and Inclusion

In partnership with the Office of Strategic Communications, the Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity at Penn State is introducing an ongoing series titled Penn State Faculty Profiles in Diversity and Inclusion. Profiles will be distributed periodically on Penn State News and will explore the teaching and research accomplishments of featured individuals. The series will cast a specific light on the ways each individual’s background informs his or her work as a faculty member and more broadly as a member of the University community.