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Belonging is the invitation to be your full self, however that looks. It is the opportunity – no matter who you are – to learn, live, and love, to be honored, encouraged, and allowed to develop as you and as part of the groups that develop and celebrate your identities, needs, and contributions.”

– Susan Wise, Design for Belonging

Belonging is linked to our understanding of identity and the power relationships we experience as we navigate and connect to the world. 

As individuals, there are several ways we can begin to explore our identity, the power that accompanies it, and our relationship to it:

  • Personal Agency: How we claim and acknowledge our power matters. We can understand our sense of belonging through self-exploration, education, and resilience. Belonging requires authenticity, honesty, repairing relationships, compassion for ourselves and others, and embracing dissent.
  • Structure & Systems: As we recognize the external forces at play and our environment’s impact on power and our sense of belonging, we work to understand the systems that shape our world, find ways to participate in decision-making, and invite others to join us.
  • Change Agents: Embracing belonging requires shifting a paradigm of how we relate to others. We can model how to invite people to reflect on and challenge existing power dynamics and model behavior that encourages belonging by redefining roles and expectations.

Why it Matters

When we belong, we are comfortable participating and contributing to a shared purpose. We can be our whole, authentic selves, share our talents, expertise, and knowledge generously, and encourage others to do the same. When we belong, we can be vulnerable and curious while remaining confident in our connections to others. When we belong, we feel seen. When we acknowledge the humanity of others, we extend the embrace of belonging and create community.

As library workers, our actions impact our community. The decisions we make and the actions we take affect our patrons, co-workers, community members, and ourselves. Our choices and interactions, whether passive or active, help shape our environment and directly impact our well-being.


Use a journal to track your learning journey or download the Pathways Tracking Document.

Begin by freewriting responses to the reflection prompts below. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes, and write a response with everything you’re thinking about one prompt. This isn’t being graded or shared – this is just for you. If other thoughts enter your mind, write them down as well.

When the time is up, read what you wrote. What’s valuable? What may be discarded? How does the prompt reflect your learning?

Reflection Prompts:

  • Share a personal experience where you felt a strong sense of belonging. Where were you? Who was there? What did it feel like?
  • Describe an environment where you felt you belonged. How is that different from other spaces?
  • What connection do you see between belonging and power?
  • How does your identity impact your understanding of belonging, and its relationship to power?
  • Explore how different aspects of your identity (race, gender, sexuality, etc.) intersect to shape your sense of belonging. How can organizations and communities better address intersectionality to create a sense of belonging?
  • What challenges have you faced in feeling as if you belonged? What strategies did you use to address those challenges?
  • As you’ve had a chance to learn and understand the power you hold, and how that influences your idea of belonging, how can you apply that to your life?
  • Are there any places in your life where you would like to correct a power imbalance? Where, and what would that look like?
  • If you had an opportunity to create an ideal community where everyone belonged, what would it look like? What services would you offer? Who would be involved?
  • Envision a future where belonging is a universal experience. What does it feel like? What are some small steps we can take to begin our journey?

In Practice


At the 2024 PLA Conference, we asked: What does it mean to belong?

Here's what people said:

Sticky notes about belonging from PLA 2024 conference participants.
More contributions from the PLA 2024 conference.

Sticky notes about belonging from PLA 2024 conference participants.
Contributions from the PLA 2024 conference.

  • To be comfortable
  • It means you can be yourself, free of judgment
  • You are able to be part of something bigger
  • Security & safety
  • Having your needs and feelings considered
  • Emotional safety
  • To be seen, known, heard, respected & celebrated
  • No pretense
  • Feeling included
  • To feel wanted
  • A place where people know my name
  • To not be othered
  • Accepted
  • Representation
  • Being vulnerable safely
  • Your opinion matters
  • Language access/justice
  • To feel at home
  • Positive interaction
  • To be a part "of"
  • Connection to people & place, with opportunities at both
  • Full confidence to take up space
  • Welcomed & comfortable to contribute
  • To be a part of something without fear of judgment or ostracization
  • Feeling valued & included
  • To be given allyship
  • See commonalities with your peers
  • To have other humans "get" you
  • To feel understood