NMRT February Online Discussion: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

By Kim Cull

The February discussion focused on a more difficult topic: diversity, equity, and inclusion in our library institutions. When I was thinking about moderating this discussion, I wanted to make it quite clear that I understand how difficult this topic can be for some people and that they do not have to share anything that makes them feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. That is something that I want to reiterate here as well: only share what you are comfortable sharing. Your trauma and experiences are not currency; only you get to own them.

To prompt the discussion, I posed four questions:

  1. How does your library institution support diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts? What areas is your institution excelling in? Where do you think your institution is failing?
  2. What practical steps are you taking to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within your life, community, and institution?
  3. How do you or how can you address colleagues or patrons who are being discriminatory towards a person or group of people?
  4. What resources would you recommend to learn more about diversity, equity, and inclusion?

As with many things, DEI efforts look a little different at each institution. Some libraries appear to be doing a fantastic job and other libraries could do more. It is good to see that our libraries are trying even if it is not done perfectly or as quickly as we would hope. We live in a very wonderful and amazingly diverse country and world, and we should embrace it. We need to strive to make our staff representative of that diversity and our collections fit the needs of our communities. It is also time to re-evaluate our collection descriptions, subject headings, and how we classify materials within our collections. If the words we use are harmful and upsetting to someone in our community, we should make strides to change the language used and do better in the future. Obviously, there are often many challenges and roadblocks, but we should never stop trying.

One thing we discussed last month was that thinking about all the things you can do to bring change or all the things that need to change can be overwhelming and frustrating. It was suggested that we should start with small changes and then slowly build up to big changes. Instead of trying to update 5 outdated terms in the catalog and taking your proposal all the way to the Library of Congress, start with changing one term in house and go from there. Try building a relationship and trust with one underrepresented group in the community and slowly build bridges from there. Start diversifying one area of your collection instead of trying overhaul your entire collection. Small steps and changes can lead to much bigger changes.

Another thing discussed is that when it comes to confronting discriminatory actions done by those around us, how you respond can depend on your relationship with the person or people committing those actions. It helps to know how someone will respond before you step in and say something. Some people feel more comfortable confronting others, and some people would rather avoid that. Hopefully, one day we will live in a world where no one fears that they will not be welcome somewhere based on the color of their skin, their ethnicity, their religion, their gender identity, their disabilities, or anything that makes them a little different.

The final thing discussed were resources that people could use to learn more about DEI topics. One suggestion was to look for free webinars on DEI topics. TED talks were also suggested because of the wide variety of topics available. This talk titled The Political Power of Being a Good Neighbor is quite good. Three books were also suggested: White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo (though there has been more criticism of the book within the last year), Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, and Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum.

Hopefully, this post encourages you to start making small changes to improve DEI efforts at your institution and within your community.

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