**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.**
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion has become a very popular phrase in American libraries and while the idea has merit, how many libraries are actually adhering to the concept and how many are just paying lip service to the cool new idea, which isn’t really all that new?
This week’s readings focused on ways in which libraries can assess and evaluate DEIA efforts. This really, really matters because if libraries are creating these programs and hiring these employees but not also creating ways in which to evaluate the entire system, it begins to feel as if they don’t really care about effectiveness so much as they had boxes they needed to tick. In Information services to diverse populations, Nicole Cooke discusses the need for evaluations, saying that:
An organization’s culture consists of the values and norms established by the institution as well as personal attitudes, behaviors, and experiences that employees themselves bring to the job. In order to sustain and maximize the benefits of a diverse workforce, evaluation of the work environment for barriers to access and full participation in the life of the institution must be an integral part of the institution’s overall strategic plan. (69)Cooke, N. A. (2017). In Information services to diverse populations: Developing culturally competent library professionals (pp. 68–71). essay, Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO.
In order for any program or initiative to work, and be meaningful, it has to be evaluated regularly. The program that you initially created may have seemed awesome and absolutely the answer in theory but you won’t know this for a fact if you don’t analyze how it’s actually working in practice. Making the minimal effort and then sailing off to a new project only serves to create tension and mistrust. And we can’t expect BIPOC employees to shoulder the burden of making sure that programs and initiatives are landing with the intended audiences. It’s not their job to be the speaker and figurehead for their respective communities and racial groups. This kind of emotional labor creates undue pressure and can lead to the loss of the few BIPOC librarians that are still currently in the field.
And it’s not just libraries that have this issue, in case it feels as if I’m picking on libraries. This problem has become so inherent in so many places that I wonder sometimes if companies even see the contradictions between their words and their actions. I mean, the CW has spent years packing their shows with BIPOC characters, which looks great from the outside and then you find out that, unsurprisingly, they’re not nearly as diverse and equitable as they want viewers to believe. Vanessa Morgan, a Black actress on Riverdale and a main character for several seasons, was often relegated to acting as the sidekick to her white girlfriend.
Purple-prose laden teen drama aside, my point is that DEIA initiatives have to be evaluated on a regular basis to ensure that they are having a real effect and creating lasting change for BIPOC employees and patrons. In a recent paper for the New Librarianship Symposia Series, Chicago librarian Mariella Colon stated that:
Library leaders must make sure that BIPOC staff are not relegated to permission structures where a seat at a table is offered without voice. BIPOC staff are skilled in practices white populations never needed to learn. They must learn to navigate microaggressions, code switch, and smile when they are asked to speak for every person in their racial group. They must learn to work subversively in a profession that seeks to help people elevate their own state of consciousness, because they themselves have had that experience and see what changes can happen with the right, (or white), words. (3)Colon, M. (2021). Librarians, Outreach and Evaluation: EDIA in a Large Urban Public Library
Hiring and elevating BIPOC staff and not giving them a real voice within the organization serves no purpose, except to give that organization permission to say “Look at how diverse and inclusive we are!” while still ignoring the very real and systemic issues inherent to that organization. American librarianship is overwhelmingly white, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for non-white librarians, especially when they are only given a select few seats at the table.
So, the question becomes, are white librarians willing to take a back seat in meetings, committees, and professional organizations? Are they willing to begin actively and enthusiastically promoting and uplifting the voices of their BIPOC colleagues? And can they make the necessary changes that the library needs, knowing that they may lose their places as the overriding image of American librarianship? Or is that just an impossible idea?
Cooke, N. A. (2017). In Information services to diverse populations: Developing culturally competent library professionals (pp. 68–71). essay, Libraries Unlimited, an imprint of ABC-CLIO.
Gross, M., Mediaville, C., & Walter, V. A. (2016). Chapter 5. In Five steps of outcome-based planning and evaluation for public libraries (pp. 53–72). essay, American Library Association.
Robinson, S., Fisher, K. R., & Strike, R. (2014). Participatory and Inclusive Approaches to Disability Program Evaluation. Australian Social Work, 67(4), 495–508. https://doi.org/10.1080/0312407X.2014.902979
Winton, S., & Evans, M. P. (2016). Consulting, Mediating, Conducting, and Supporting: How Community-Based Organizations Engage With Research to Influence Policy. Leadership & Policy in Schools, 15(1), 4–25. https://doi.org/10.1080/15700763.2015.1052522
Colon, M. (2021). Librarians, Outreach and Evaluation: EDIA in a Large Urban Public Library