VAL Spotlight Series: Practices of Equity & Social Justice – Dr. Romelia Salinas

What does it mean to integrate equity and social justice into our practice and assessment in libraries? Efforts to increase equity, diversity, and inclusion have been a priority of most institutions of higher education for many years now. The ACRL Value of Academic Libraries Committee is charged with helping academic librarians participate in work that is aligned with the mission, vision, and values of their institutions, as well as providing evidence of the value they provide to these institutions.

Through this spotlight series on practices of equity and social justice, the committee is asking librarians from various corners of librarianship to discuss what it means to integrate equity and social justice into our practice and assessment, as well as how they are working toward that goal.

Dr. Romelia Salinas (she/her)
Dean, Library & Learning Resources
Mt. San Antonio College

How do you define equity and social justice?

These terms are core to how I carry out my professional work and live my personal life. I define equity as providing people the resources (tangible and intangible) they need to be able to fully participate and succeed in society. This is different from equality, which is providing everyone the same resources. In my experience, I have observed that in the last few years equity has become a term that has grown in use and popularity. I would go as far as saying that it has become the term of favor. However, I frequently hear equity and equality used interchangeably, which is problematic and needs to be pointed out. It is important that the term “equity” not be misused in order to maintain and reproduce the status quo. Equity is fundamental for change that is essential for challenging the social and institutional structures that continue to perpetuate inequities across race, gender, sexual identities, ethnicities, immigration status, and language. Only through change can we strive for social justice.

I define social justice as the goal of creating a society that is fair and inclusive of all its members. That everyone has equitable access to opportunities, rights, and means to a safe and healthy life. This work is predicated on acknowledging that our society is rooted in a history of racism, slavery, colonialism, where BIPOC and other marginalized groups have been excluded for generations. It is for this reason that equality is not enough, equity needs to be instituted in all segments of our society if we want to truly be a just people. 

How do you integrate equity and social justice into your practice? If possible, please provide some specific examples of what this looks like in action.

Equity and social justice are two of the principles that have guided my work as an academic librarian over my lifetime. As an undergraduate student majoring in Chicano/a Studies and Law & Society I learned that academics and professionalism needed to be tied to community activism and social change. This philosophy set the context for my professional career.

As a library administrator, I integrate equity and social justice in the services and programs we provide our students. I seek to be inclusive of the excluded, to serve those that are difficult to reach, and to fill in the gaps for those who need it. This work is demonstrated in our outreach programs, services, exhibits, campus partnerships, and in our data. For instance, when the pandemic began and we had to transition to online learning I collaborated with other campus units to lend nearly 8000 pieces of technology (laptops and hotspots) to fill the needs of students who didn’t own technology. It is reflective in my commitment to hiring a diverse work force, fostering a workplace supportive of anti-racist practices, and my work on campus committees such as the Basic Needs committee, the Equity-Minded hiring workgroup, and the Library Initiative on Equitable and Affordable Learning.

As an academic librarian, I served as a Chicanx/Latinx Studies and Latin American studies librarian for over seventeen years. During this time, I strived to build digital and print collections that represented excluded and silenced voices. It is important that our BIPOC communities see themselves reflected in library collections in meaningful ways, not as peripheral add-ons. I am also a founding member of the Latino Digital Archive Group (LDAG), which affirms the library’s role in helping communities document and preserve their own history. I am committed to building collections that tell our stories.

As a researcher, I seek to bring attention to information barriers and challenges faced by certain communities that need to be rectified if equity is to be achieved. I have focused my research on library and information services to underserved communities, in particular Latinx communities. My publications centered on topics such as representation of Latinas in web content, the digital divide for the Latinx community, and forming partnerships with nonprofits to meet the digital needs of our local communities. It’s important that research on issues impacting disenfranchised communities be written and published in order to provide the empirical and documented evidence for our activism.

As a professional, I have integrated equity and social justice in two main ways, by mentoring and by my professional association membership. I have mentored many BIPOC librarians by helping them negotiate the application pathways and hurdles to reach their career goals. As someone who received outstanding mentorship I can honestly say that mentorship is essential for BIPOC people not only to become librarians but to stay in the profession. In addition to mentoring, I have participated in various professional associations that strive for social justice and equity for all communities. However, I have to admit that REFORMA (the National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos & the Spanish Speaking) has been the only organization that has been a constant in my professional life. REFORMA’s goals align closely with mine and I am honored to have recently been elected President-Elect/VP for REFORMA National.

What challenges do you face when integrating equity and social justice into your practice? Are these personal, organizational, or institutional? How do you work around these or overcome these when you are faced with them?

Integrating equity and social justice in our daily practice can be challenging. I am grateful that my current place of employment is supportive of this work institutionally. However, this does not mean that everyone is open and interested in equity discussions or work. We work in a White supremacy culture and at times, it is difficult for people to see or acknowledge their own biases and/or privileges. I work around that by focusing on those who are willing to listen and learn. Another challenge is finding the time and resources to feel like I’m making a difference. I am sure I am not unique in saying that at times I have become demoralized about not being listened to or my work not being valued. It is at these times that my support network is crucial. Reaching out to others, reflecting, and choosing my battles is how I have dealt when finding myself in those situations.

Do you partner with others at your institution or beyond to accomplish equity or social justice outcomes or goals? What do you look for in a partner or collaborator?

Partnerships are essential for success in academic libraries. It is important to partner to demonstrate and garner support for the value of the library on campus. In terms of my equity and social justice work I look to partner with units on campus that target or serve marginalized communities such as our Equity Center, EOPS, ACCESS (ADA), Dream Center, Pride Center, ESL, etc. These units already have infrastructures in place to work with targeted students that we can use to embed library and information services. Things that I look for in a partner are a shared commitment to equity, reliability, being student focused, and open to innovation.

Do you have thoughts on measuring success in this area? In other words, how might individual practitioners, organizations, and institutions know if they are making progress in moving toward a more equitable and just culture and climate?

This is a difficult but an important question. As we approach this work we need to keep in mind that there is no quick fix and change will be slow. Hiring an outside consultant to give a day long DEI workshop will not create the institutional change that is required. However, progress or moving the needle needs to be assessed regularly. Oftentimes we focus on quantitative data such as usage statistics, patron records, course success rates, etc., which is useful, but we also need to learn the stories of our users and employees through qualitative methods such as focus groups, interviews, and open-ended surveys. And as we look at this data we need to look at disaggregated data to be able to better understand the experiences of the various populations we serve. Impact assessment should be carried out in a holistic manner and applied to all areas of work such as hiring, staff retention, faculty tenure and promotions, services and programs, teaching, collections, policies, and professional development. Just as important as carrying out the DEI audits and assessments of our work is the need to act on the findings. 

Are there any scholars, practitioners, or thought leaders related to equity and social justice that have made an impact on you personally or inspire you? Can you recommend any important reads (blog posts, articles, books, etc.) for others to explore?

There are so many BIPOC scholars that have influenced my thinking and work that it is difficult to name them. However, I would like to name a few that have had personal impacts on my academic and professional life. Dr. Cheryl Metoyer’s (currently at the iSchool at the University of Washington) research on indigenous systems of knowledge and information gatekeeping in ethnic communities was my introduction to seeing people of color in LIS research. More importantly, without her support I would have never completed my MLIS at UCLA. The work of Dr. Clara Chu on the social construction of library and information use, practices, and systems that impact access and collective memory in multicultural communities has also impacted my vision as a scholar. I am grateful that she served as my dissertation committee chair. Trailblazers and my mentors in the Chicanx/Latinx Studies library and information services realm: Richard Chabran, Lilian Castillo-Speed, and Norma Corral who envisioned and built some of those key reference tools and information sources for Latinx communities, such as controlled vocabularies, indexes, encyclopedias, databases, etc. And of course the great scholars that are also my REFORMA colleagues and friends who contributed to write the stories of the Latinx community.