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.
Jacalyn Kremer (she/her/hers), Dean of the Library
Lori Steckervetz (she/they), Outreach Librarian for Student Success
Connie Strittmatter (she/her/hers), Strategic Projects Librarian
Fitchburg State University
How do you define equity and social justice?
Here at the Amelia V. Gallucci-Cirio Library, we embrace our university’s commitment to “education justice” as reflected in the university’s strategic plan. Education justice is a commitment to equity. It is a belief that access to a quality education is a vehicle for providing students with equity of opportunity. This means a commitment to ensuring that all the resources associated with the educational process are available not only to all students, but especially to those students that have been historically denied equitable access. It is also a commitment to an education that is transformational for the individual and society as a whole, since it is committed to empowering students to overcome economic, social and cultural inequities.
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.
Our library is a smallish academic library consisting of 8 professional librarians, 6 paraprofessionals and 6 part-time staff. We believe DEI and anti-racism work is the responsibility of every staff member, and we embrace the “it takes a village” approach to this work. We also believe our collective efforts over the past year have provided a meaningful impact in creating a more inclusive and equitable environment. Actions we have taken over the past year include:
1. At the request of the library dean, a Library Anti-Racism team was formed with librarians and paraprofessionals as members. Their first accomplishment was the creation of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan which focuses on 5 areas:
- Staff Professional Development,
- Collections & Systems,
- Programming & Outreach,
- Policies & Procedures, and
- Library User Data Gathering & Assessment.
2. We undertook an interesting Children’s Literature collection development project using the Diverse Book Finder tool to identify and fill gaps in the existing collection for diverse representation in the children’s picture book collection in both topics and authors. This work has resulted in the purchase and inclusion of over 198 new titles to increase diverse representation within the collection.
3. Recognizing that all staff need and will benefit from intercultural competency training, the library is developing a more robust library staff professional development program focused on DEI related topics. As a first step, we began a film discussion series in which we explored the racial issues presented in I Am Not Your Negro, and the Asian class and gender stereotypes presented in Slaying the Dragon.
4. Strong partnerships across our university have resulted in the library being seen as a locus to bring together multiple university diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives, and support them with curated resources using the LibGuides platform. For example, our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion guide connects university partners, including Leading for Change (the university’s campus-wide DEI committee), Student Affairs, and the Academic Deans, with anti-racism learning resources, guidance on understanding land and labor acknowledgements, university strategic plan definitions language, and library resources to support the DEI initiatives. This guide includes a centrally shared repository of resources, available on and off campus.
5. The Library’s DEI work also includes a librarian and faculty research collaborative project: Underrepresented Student Use of the Library. This research project explores underrepresented students’ perceptions and use of libraries. Nineteen interviews were conducted over the course of the academic year, which are currently in the data analysis stage of their research.
6. The Library received funding from the Dean’s Anti-racism Fund to sponsor a university-wide anti-racism film series, which included a special collaboration with the Fitchburg Public School system centered on the film Teach Us All: Segregation for a New Generation.
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?
Our University has made a commitment to DEI by dedicating funds for DEI initiatives and creating a university-level position, Director for Student Diversity, Equity, and Belonging Programs. Even though the university and library administration are supportive, we struggle to carve out time in order to prioritize the work. We look to the library DEI plan to guide us and find ways to build DEI into our everyday work instead of having DEI initiatives be a side project. We still have a ways to go to create this shift in mindset. Another challenge is recognizing what we know and don’t know. The library staff is undergoing a lot of learning, experimenting and learning by doing. We realize that we are going to make mistakes along the way, but hope to learn from them and become a more inclusive organization.
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?
As mentioned above, we have developed robust relationships with campus partners. We are also working to strengthen our relationships with various offices across campus, such as the Center for Diversity & Inclusiveness, as well as improving outreach efforts to heritage-focused student organizations, such as our Black Student Union, Latin American Student Organization, and the Gay-Straight Alliance. These efforts are directly tied to our university’s new strategic plan and in support of our campus commitment to educational justice. These shared values make it easier to find campus partners as we are all working toward common goals. While intentional DEI work and its partnerships are new to the library, we were able to draw upon our current collaborative relationships as a starting point. We are fortunate to be able to rely on the reputation of the library as a productive, caring organization dedicated to supporting student success in order to open new collaborative doors.
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?
We are a data-driven library. We are evaluating the check-outs of our new DEI children’s print books, number of times our anti-racism guides were accessed, attendance at films screenings, etc. But we recognize this is just counting things on a superficial level and not getting at the deeper impact of the work. The big question is how has our work moved the needle, if at all, on our students, faculty and staff’s understanding of systematic racism?
One attempt to “move the needle” is the research mentioned previously conducted by a librarian and a faculty member in Education. During AY 2020-2021, they conducted a series of interviews with Black, Asian, and Latinx students about their pre-college library use, their current use of the university library, and any racism or microaggressions they may have experienced while in the library. From the data, we hope to gain a better understanding and make changes that will make the library a comforting, welcoming, and inclusive space that can potentially increase underrepresented students’ feelings of belonging and academic achievement.
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?
Currently at the intersection of social justice, equity and librarianship, we find that Black scholar-practitioners like Fobazi Ettarh and April Hathcock are important critical voices and leaders to follow. Here are a few films and readings we recommend:
- Lowman, S. (Director). (2017). Teach Us All: Segregation and Education in the United States [Film]. Video Project.
- Peck, R. (Director). (2016). I Am Not Your Negro [Film]. Kino Lorber.
- Brown McNair, T., Albertine, S., Cooper, M. A., Nicole McDonald, N., & Major, Jr., T. (2016). Becoming a Student-Ready College : A New Culture of Leadership for Student Success. Jossey-Bass.
- Danielle Allen, & Rob Reich. (2013). Education, Justice, and Democracy. University of Chicago Press.
- Ettarh, F. (2018, Jan. 10). “Vocational awe and librarianship: The lies we tell ourselves“. In The Library with the Lead Pipe.
- Gibson, Amelia N.; Chancellor, Renate L.; Cooke, Nicole A.; Dahlen, Sarah Park; Lee, Shari A.; and Shorish, Yasmeen, “Libraries on the Frontlines: Neutrality and Social Justice” (2017). Libraries. 99.