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From Inside Out: Promoting Diversity Awareness in Ourselves and Our Library Users
Julie Biando Edwards, Audra Loyal, Megan Stark, and Kate Zoellner
The authors are librarians at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library The University of Montana-Missoula. Julie Biando Edwards is Ethnic Studies Librarian and Multicultural Coordinator. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Audra Loyal is Adjunct Librarian and Conservation/Preservation Technician. She can be reached at: email@example.com. Megan Stark is Undergraduate Services Librarian. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Kate Zoellner is Education and Psychology Librarian, Assessment Coordinator. She can be reached at: email@example.com.
Establishing a Diversity Committee at your library is a great way to promote diversity both among library employees and the community that you and your colleagues serve. The experiences of other libraries provide guidance on the development of such a committee and the formation of a Diversity Committee at the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library of The University of Montana-Missoula is one such example. The discussion and guidance that follow come out of the knowledge of committee members as we participated on the committee at different stages of its formation, establishment, and continued success. It is our hope that the idea of a diversity committee and the lessons we learned on our committee – including the programming and outreach we’ve developed for our employees and community – excite and guide the development of a diversity committee at your library.
In thinking about creating a diversity committee at your library, you must first consider how you view and define diversity. It is important to remember when talking about diversity that the meaning of “diversity” often depends on the context in which it is used and on an individual’s personal experiences. “Workplace diversity” may lead us to think about the variance of individual communication styles and cultures within the workplace. “Diversity training” may bring to mind human resources workshops aimed at educating people about diversity. “Increasing diversity” may conjure up a quantifiable demographic and Equal Employment Opportunity legislation. The Oxford English Dictionary Online (2009) provides the following definitions of diverse and diversity:
1. Different in character or quality; not of the same kind; not alike in nature or qualities.
2. Differing from itself under different circumstances at different times, or in different parts; multiform, varied, diversified.
1a. The condition or quality of being diverse, different, or varied; difference, unlikeness.
1b. with a and pl. An instance of this condition or quality; a point of unlikeness; a difference, distinction; a different kind, a variety.
1c. Divers (sic) manners or sorts: a variety. Obs.
For the Mansfield Library Diversity Committee, “promoting diversity” means that we support, encourage, and raise our attention – and the attention of others – to issues of diversity. Promoting diversity thus involves discussing and encouraging an understanding that people have distinct qualities, that the expression of those qualities may differ by circumstance, and that the uniqueness of personal qualities is a strength.
Valuing Ourselves and Our Library Users
We choose to promote diversity within our library for two main reasons. First, we value the distinct qualities individuals possess. Second, certain differences, especially cultural differences, have been historically stigmatized and individuals identified with those differences systematically discriminated against. Due to this discrimination, individual and group differences need to be acknowledged and celebrated for what they contribute to personal interactions and community dialogue. By promoting diversity among library employees and library users we aim to:
Diversity in Our Ecosystems
Before you begin formally building your committee, think critically about the role diversity plays in your institution or community. Libraries exist within larger systems: cultural, educational, geographic, and political. Diversity is not one-size-fits-all, and the diversity of the larger environment in which your library exists impacts the definition and value of diversity within your library and its community. In determining what diversity means for your library it is important to consider the ecosystem in which you exist and, by doing so, to come to agreement on your definition of diversity.
Campus dialogue is often stymied by attempts to define who "diversity" includes. Recognizing the importance of multiple differences, [the Association of American Colleges and Universities] defines diversity to include the range of dimensions that individuals and groups bring to the educational experience. Thus diversity includes individual differences (personality, learning styles, and life experiences) and group/social differences (race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, and ability, as well as cultural, political, religious, or other affiliations) that can be engaged in the service of learning…”
Clayton-Pedersen’s (2009) example above, published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, acknowledges that determining a definition can stall movement on diversity. The example both defines diversity and makes the connection between individual qualities and education, providing a guide for colleges and universities and, by association, academic libraries. Of course, in addition to looking to higher education generally, our campus – and your campus, school, community, etc. – is a great resource for determining a definition of diversity and tying that definition to the mission of your library.
The University of Montana (2009) offers the following diversity statement:
“The University of Montana respects, welcomes, encourages, and celebrates the differences among us. In recognition of this commitment, we value all members of the campus community, not in spite of, but because of their differences. The resultant value ambience influences the way our students perceive the world. These experiences enrich us with a greater understanding of the human condition and the challenges all people must confront in a rapidly changing, increasingly globalized, and ever more interdependent world society.”
Additionally, the University has a Diversity Advisory Council whose charge is: “To encourage, advocate, and facilitate communication, education, and relations among persons of various races, physical conditions, religions, national origins, citizenship, genders, ages, socio-economic backgrounds, and sexual orientation at The University of Montana.”
Exploring our ecosystem was our philosophical starting point; consider making it yours as well. First, determine the meaning of diversity for your library by considering the role and definition of diversity within your ecosystem. Then, commit to build a diversity committee at your library upon this foundation.
Mansfield Library’s Experience
In 2004 the Mansfield Library formed an Ad-Hoc Committee on Diversity. The committee was tasked with “reviewing and making recommendations on developing strategies for the Library to support campus goals to enhance diversity.” (2004) This temporary committee built the framework for a standing committee by developing guidelines for membership and governance and drafting recommendations for their focus. The standing committee, under the leadership of the Ethnic Studies Librarian and Multicultural Coordinator, has been active since 2005.
Putting Together the Pieces: Building a Permanent Committee
Reconciling the temporary Ad-Hoc charge with permanent Standing Committee work required recognition of the roles the committee would play within the dynamic of the library. Addressing the roles specifically included consideration and identification of the areas in the library outside committee oversight such as collection development and personnel recruitment. Identifying similar potential points of intersection within your library will help you to delineate the role of the committee from the work others may be performing and ensures that collaborative work occurs in tandem along clearly communicated expectations. We built a permanent committee by responding to a number of considerations:
Membership. Invite members from every personnel level to build collaboration and engagement across the entire library. Depending upon your institution and your service groups, this may include:
Committee management and bylaws. Address membership nomination, selection, and term of service, governance of the committee, the need for a budgetary allocation, and the position of the committee within the organizational structure. Look to your library’s existing committees for direction on these points, as there may already be an outline in existence.
Forming a Charge and Mission
Crafting a meaningful and engaging mission for the committee is a critical step toward drafting a charge that is an effective vehicle for planning and implementing the committee’s goals and programming. Focus on using language that ensures the committee is strategically poised to take action on diversity initiatives both internally and externally. As noted earlier, exploring your ecosystem and then asking questions about the role of diversity in the effort of both the committee and the larger organization will help you articulate the connection between the two and define the specific responsibilities of your committee.
Answering the conceptual and structural questions listed above provided a starting point from which we began building a mission and a charge that resonates with our library. Adopting a similar model at your library can help you move from exploring your ecosystem to creating a committee that is ready to work!
After you have crafted a charge that resonates with the library, your committee will need to establish the ways in which it will work to promote diversity both within and outside of the library. The Mansfield Library Diversity Committee focuses on internal diversity, in which we create programs and workshops for the benefit of library personnel, and external diversity, in which we create programs and displays for the larger campus community. Both of these approaches take considerable time and effort and, if your diversity committee is large enough, you might consider establishing subcommittees that take on the responsibilities of either internal or external outreach. However, if your committee is small – as ours is – there are a few things to keep in mind as you work towards establishing a holistic environment of diversity awareness.
The first step towards promoting diversity within your library involves working closely with your administration to create clear and common direction for the committee and to establish processes for committee programming. At the Mansfield Library, the Diversity Committee reports to the Dean of Libraries and we meet and consult with the Dean on an ongoing basis. We continually work with the Dean to develop ways to promote diversity, share our programming ideas and vision, and revise the committee charge as needed.
Work with your library administration to keep communication flowing and to identify parameters for committee work. Consider the following questions:
Regular communication is key and will help all parties involved in library diversity keep track of the work of the diversity committee. One idea to keep communication open is to begin each year by sharing the committee’s goals and project ideas with administration and then meeting together – the committee and administration – to discuss the plans and gather feedback. Working together in this way will help your committee find – and refine – its focus. Consider communicating diversity committee work with library administration, colleagues, and/or partners via quarterly email updates, annual reports, or newsletters. Be sure to revisit your committee’s charge at least every other year. The committee and administration should consider the mission of the committee and how it intersects with the mission of the library and the mission of the larger institution in which the library exists, all of which are continually evolving.
To determine the best direction for your committee you need to know the role of the committee within your library’s organizational structure; your committee, in consultation with administration, will best be able to get a sense of the larger ecosystem. The most important thing to remember when working to set the direction of the committee is that all parties be flexible and open to new ideas. This will create a strong committee and responsive library atmosphere based on a foundation of the value of diversity.
Determining the Needs of Your Library
Once you have set the direction of your committee, it is time for the committee members to determine the needs of the library relating to diversity and to consider how these needs might best be met. Looking at the needs of your library will be the first step in planning relevant and applicable workshops, programming, and displays. Diversity is, as we have mentioned, a delicate and tricky subject and it is important to promote it in a way that is responsive to the needs of the library while remaining sensitive to the fact that diversity issues can make people uncomfortable and can be difficult to talk about.
The best way to begin determining the needs of the library is to simply have the committee look around. Consider the places that need improvement. Are there recurring issues or concerns that library personnel might have? Are there any obvious issues that could be addressed? Likewise, consider the questions and concerns of library personnel. Talk with your colleagues to determine if they have specific topics they would like addressed. Consider ways in which you could gather information from your colleagues and community to act upon. For example, distribute a diversity poll that asks library personnel to rank their most pressing diversity interests or questions and use the responses to develop programs, and/or share the responses with your administration for their consideration. Talk openly with administration and with library personnel about how diversity fits into the mission of the library and the mission of the larger community in which the library exists. Those larger missions, combined with an on-the-ground understanding of library operations and personnel concerns and questions, will help the committee determine the needs of the organization.
Finally, take stock of the communities you serve. Does your library work with a specific patron base? Maybe there is a cultural, linguistic, or ethnic minority population in your community that you can better serve by educating staff and making the library more welcoming for patrons of that population. For example, if you work in a library that serves a large number of Native patrons, consider working with your library’s personnel to determine ways you can recognize and welcome Native culture and peoples. For example, create a display or program that highlights the unique local traditions or customs that the community wants to share with the library. (In planning any display focused on a particular culture of group of people it is critical to work with members of the group to make sure that all materials and information are welcoming, correct, and respectful.) Another idea is to translate library signs into the local Native language. Something as simple as this creates a visible welcoming atmosphere that reaches into the library and outward to the community at the same time: library personnel and patrons are reminded of the culture that surrounds them and have a visual reminder that the library recognizes the unique language of the local population.
Outside: External Work
Reaching Out with Programming
Once you have determined the needs of your library you can begin to create relevant programming. Programming can be directed internally, aimed at educating library personnel or addressing issues within the library, or it can be external, aimed at connecting the library to the larger community and establishing the library as a place that is interested in and responsive to issues of diversity.
When shaping programming for library personnel, there are a few things to consider. It is important to get as much buy in as you can, right from the start. We all know that library personnel are busy and sometimes it might seem impossible to ask them to make room in their schedules for one more meeting or one more workshop. But getting people excited about diversity will go a long way towards garnering support and creating enthusiasm for the goals of the committee. Create a buzz around diversity that permeates the whole building. Work to communicate your ideas up and down the library – have the administration promote your program and have managers promote it with their staff. Be sure to make your programming relevant to the work that goes on in the library. A workshop on general cultural differences might be interesting, but it might be hard for people to connect it to the many other things that demand their attention. A workshop on how cultural differences might affect interactions at the reference desk, however, clearly connects issues of diversity with library services and needed staff expertise.
Once your colleagues are excited about your committee’s programming, work with your administration and building managers to release staff for programs and workshops. Be sure to schedule programming during work hours so that you and your colleagues don’t have to take lunch hours or be in the building beyond workday hours. At all programs, solicit feedback and make sure that you review and take into account that information when you plan your next program. And, as we mentioned, be sure to be sensitive about your approach to diversity – take into account the diversity of your staff as you plan.
Programming shouldn’t be limited to workshops for library personnel, however. Reaching out to the community through displays and programming is a great way to promote diversity and to establish the library as a place that is open to everyone. Highlighting the diversity in your community or collections is a wonderful way to position the library in the center of the community, raise awareness, and establish it as a welcoming place. Later on in this article we will discuss some of the displays and programs that the Mansfield Library Diversity Committee organized for the campus community, but for now we will talk about ways to reach outside of the library to create connections that will help you as you plan and organize programming.
Tips for Community Building
Oftentimes it may seem that your committee is operating alone – the one voice promoting diversity in your organization. But if you look around you may discover that there are people and organizations that share your commitment to diversity and who would make great partners for your committee or library. Building bridges with likeminded organizations or individuals means that you can stay plugged into the world of diversity programming and may provide you with great ideas or resources for your own planning.
Assign a member of your committee to research, contact, and reach out to other individuals or organizations that care about diversity. This person can help you get a sense of the community environment and ethics, and where you might fit in. Your committee should always be thinking about potential partners and ways to collaborate. Sharing resources and ideas means that your committee knows who is planning what, when, and where, and gives you contacts who can promote or advertise your programs. It also means that you develop partners for future planning, so that promoting diversity becomes shared work. Combining ideas and resources ensures that you aren’t wasting time duplicating the efforts of others and allows you to learn from the successes and failures of others working to promote diversity in your community.
In addition to the above suggestions, look to other libraries that have diversity committees and see what they are doing to build community. Librarians are generally happy to share ideas and strategies and often a phone call or an email to a more established diversity committee can help you avoid growing pains. Of course, libraries aren’t the only organizations interested in or committed to diversity in your ecosystem. Check out the business world and look at how companies promote diversity in their corporations. There may be some valuable ideas from the for-profit world that you can apply to your library. Finally, when partnering with another organization, or when just planning a project for your library, be spontaneous and say yes as often as possible. Some of the best ideas come from agreeing to do something and then figuring out the details later! Remember, saying yes and then creatively following through helps your library be seen as – and be – a place that makes things happen!
Consider the following potential partners:
If you’re an academic library
If you’re a public library
It is important to remember that library diversity committees, when managed well and organized effectively, achieve critical goals. The programming your committee sponsors can aid the library in its unique role as a community hub where everyone can gather and exchange ideas. Diversity programming helps construct a welcoming environment, as well as connect and create community. Once community is gathered, your committee can foster understanding and discussion as well as promote awareness.
The types of programming that can >be promoted by your committee will, of course, depend upon the local needs of your institution. Some examples include displays (posters, maps and works of art), events (book groups, discussion panels, film screenings, concerts & performances), services (targeted tours, brochures and informational booklets, children’s programming), and in-service education (trainings and workshops, specialized lectures). Promoting a range of diversity programming helps ensure that everyone has an opportunity to learn and apply new knowledge to his or her circumstances.
Mansfield Library Examples
Below are some examples of the various kinds of programming the Diversity Committee has hosted at the Mansfield Library.
Students representing various groups across the campus spoke about their perceptions of the library, including collections and services, and made recommendations for making the library a more inclusive place. The forum was moderated by the student member of the Diversity Committee.
Full color display including a word cloud created with key terms from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and featuring a related collection of images from a campus human rights scholar.
Display of a large international doll collection on loan from a campus employee in the Foreign Student and Scholar Services program.
Presentation to all library personnel by a consultant to the Montana Office of Public Instruction about the intersections between culture and educational experiences of American Indian students
Day-long workshop led by American Libraries Association staff.
In-house publication featuring a favorite heirloom recipe of every employee. Each employee received a copy and one is included in the circulating collection.
Handouts accompanying a Pow Wow display to help explain the tradition, etiquette, and competition at the annual pow wow hosted by the university.
Targeted information for international students including basic information regarding library policies and services.
To be effective, your committee must solicit and welcome additional feedback from administration, in-house personnel, and external partners. Your committee must also be mindful of the resources necessary to complete a program, as there are inevitable costs (in the form of both time and dollars).
Universal Declaration of Human Rights Video
To acknowledge the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the committee investigated the creation of a video showcasing campus members reading Articles from the Declaration. Upon analysis of the time and resources involved, a new plan was formulated and the committee instead focused on creating a large-scale display that drew in viewers in a compelling, powerful way.
Multilingual Library Guides and Signs
Because there are a number of students from many countries attending our university, the committee thought it would be helpful to translate key library signs and brochures into multiple languages. After consulting with the campus International Student Association, we discovered that the need would be more appropriately met with a simplified English version. The resulting brochure benefits not only international students but incoming first-year students as well since it includes basic library information.
Strategies for Success
In order for your committee to have successful programming, it is important to remember a few key strategies:
Establishing a diversity committee at your library is a tangible way to support, encourage, and focus attention on issues of diversity at your library and in your community. By encouraging discussion and acknowledgement of the strength of individual’s distinct qualities you can foster a welcoming work environment, serve the needs of all your library users, and engage in your local and global communities. It is our hope that the idea of a diversity committee and the lessons we shared will guide the development of a diversity committee at your library.
Exemplary examples from other library’s diversity committee web sites include:
Clayton-Pedersen, A. (2009). Rethinking educational practices to make excellence inclusive. Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures, 12(2), 1-3. Retrieved from http://www.diversityweb.org/DiversityDemocracy/vol12no2/index.cfm
Dennison, G. (2009). Diversity statement. Retrieved from The University of Montana web site: http://connect.umt.edu/diversity/
Mansfield Library Diversity Committee (2004). Ad hoc committee on diversity. Unpublished document, The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, The University of Montana at Missoula.
Mansfield Library Diversity Committee (2007). Committee on diversity. Unpublished document, The Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, The University of Montana at Missoula.
Diverse (2009). In Oxford English dictionary online (2nd ed.). Cary, NC: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://dictionary.oed.com.weblib.lib.umt.edu
Diversity (2009). In Oxford English dictionary online (2nd ed.). Cary, NC: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from http://dictionary.oed.com.weblib.lib.umt.edu
The University of Montana (2009). Diversity advisory council charge. Retrieved from Diversity Advisory Council web site: http://www.umt.edu/committees/diversity.aspx