Access and Equity In Theory… and In Practice

**Disclaimer-While I have my MLS, I am not currently a librarian. I’m a PhD student in Rhetoric and I’m a graduate research assistant in the TWU library, where I’ve worked for 5 years. I also happen to be taking a library school class as an elective. These posts are part of a weekly reading response. I am not speaking as a library expert. I’m speaking as a student and observer.**

The American Library Association looms large for just about every librarian in America. Even if you’re not a member, you know who they are. They set the tone when it comes to library best-practices. Their Core Competencies and Core Values are reiterated over and over again in library school. At my library school we didn’t write a thesis. We did a final portfolio with a works product review where we had to take 3 major assignments from our program, review them, and connect each one to at least 2 of the ALAs Core Competencies. The ALA is in the water we drink and the air we breathe, is what I’m saying. And they really, really want people to believe that the ALA is THE voice for diversity and inclusion when it comes to the library world but…

This week’s readings focused on ongoing issues with diversity, inclusion, and social justice in libraries and library schools. I’ll post the list of readings at the end but there is one that I want to focus on: Alana Kumbier and Julia Starkey’s discussion of the concept of disability and access in libraries. Specifically, the authors focus on the ALA’s Core Values when it comes to access for all. This value, which is the first on the list, states that:

All information resources that are provided directly or indirectly by the library, regardless of technology, format, or methods of delivery, should be readily, equally, and equitably accessible to all library users. 

ALA Core Values of Librarianship

The ALA’s Core Values were conceived of by a “task force,” however, the task force itself may be part of the problem. As Kumbier and Starkey see it:

Although these creators were no doubt well-intentioned and likely understood their function on the task force as representative (of the interests and beliefs of other librarians and of the profession), it is important to remember that the values emerged out of conversations among a group of librarians living and working in a particular cultural, political, historical moment.

Kumbier & Starky 2019

The essential problem here, as they describe it, is that these kinds of statements were drawn up by members of a group who could not only afford the dues but also afford to travel to and stay at the conference–which their employers may even pay for–and they had the ability to take time off from their jobs to do so. As such, the individuals who wrote these values may not necessarily be representative of American librarians as a whole but they are ostensibly speaking for all of them.

This is an ongoing issue with the ALA. They do not speak for all librarians and in truth, they don’t always allow all librarians to speak. Even now, when the internet and ZOOM have created a  bit of a more-level playing field, the people that need to be heard are often the ones that are being silenced the most. Really, we only have to look at the treatment of April Hathcock, an African-American librarian, at the ALA midwinter a few years ago to see this. Have we allowed the ALA to have too much power and influence when it comes to American librarianism? Because more and more, it seems that this is the case. They are vocal, though sometimes only when forced to be, they are old, and their ability to change and evolve has proven to be almost non-existent and this is a problem.

This week’s assigned readings:

Cooke, N. A. (2017). Introduction to Diversity, Inclusion, and Information Services. In Information services to diverse populations: Developing culturally competent library professionals (pp. 1–10). essay, Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Cooke, N. A. (2017). Managing Diversity. In Information services to diverse populations: Developing culturally competent library professionals (pp. 79–112). essay, Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC.

Cooke, N. A. (2020, September 11). Turning antiracist knowledge and education into action. Retrieved September 21, 2021, from

Gorham, U., Taylor, N. G., & Jaeger, P. T. (2016). Volume Editors’ Introduction: “Libraries as Institutions of Human Rights and Social Justice.” In Perspectives on libraries as institutions of human rights and social justice (pp. 1–12). essay, Emerald.

Gorham, U., Taylor, N. G., Jaeger, P. T., & Jardine, F. (2016). The Role of Students in Diversity and Inclusion in Library and Information Science. In Perspectives on libraries as institutions of human rights and social justice (pp. 399–416). essay, Emerald.

Honma, T. (2005). Trippin’ over the color line: The invisibility of race in library and information studies. InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, 1(2).

Kumbier, A., & Starkey, J. (2016). Access is not problem solving: Disability justice and libraries. Library Trends, 64(3), 468–491. 

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