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Public Library Association Call to Action for Public Library Workers to Address Racism

by on July 13, 2020

PLA Statement Condemning Systemic Racism and Violence Against BIPOC People

The Public Library Association (PLA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), calls on public library workers to commit to structural change and to taking action to end systemic racism and injustice. PLA thanks members of its Task Force on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice for their guidance and leadership in development of this statement and call to action. The statement recognizes and supports ALA’s statement condemning violence against BIPOC, protesters and journalists, and ALA’s statement acknowledging ALA’s role in perpetuating structural racism. PLA applauds the creation of a working group to create recommendations on restorative justice practices and the use/presence of police in libraries (ALA CD #45).

The Public Library Association shares the nation’s anger, sadness, and frustration over the epidemic of violent acts perpetrated against Black people. We demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others, and for their families and communities. We stand in solidarity with Black people engaging in collective action against systemic racism, oppression, and injustice. Across the country, the pattern of police violence in response to protests — coupled with a pandemic that is disproportionately impacting communities of color — further reveals our country’s disgraceful legacy of state-sanctioned violence against Black people. We join the chorus of voices demanding an end to this violence and insisting that Black Lives Matter.

Because we believe that #LibrariesTransform, we also commit to honest reflection and structural change. We acknowledge that public libraries have been — and still are — complicit in systems that oppress, exclude, and harm Black people, indigenous people, and people of color (BIPOC). The library profession remains overwhelmingly white, despite decades of emphasis on diversity and inclusion. We see incredible examples of self-determination and resilience by BIPOC librarians and educators, yet the profession has largely failed to improve conditions and ensure pathways for advancement among library workers of color. We commit to dismantling white supremacy in libraries and librarianship. We recognize the urgency of this collective work, and commit to hold ourselves, our colleagues, and our institutions accountable when we fall short.

Call to Action for Public Library Workers

We call on public library workers to join us in taking the following action steps:

  • Study, amplify, and align with the policy demands of the Movement for Black Lives. Ask yourself: What can the movement’s call to divest from punishment and policing — while investing in long-term safety strategies such as schools, libraries, employment, health, and housing — mean for your library and your community?
  • Change library policies that punish and criminalize patron behavior. Invest in alternatives to policing and security guards within library spaces. See, It’s not enough to say Black Lives Matter.
  • Evaluate the messages about police and policing libraries promote to children and families in programs and collections. See, Policing Doesn’t Protect Us, and Evaluating Children’s Books about Police.
  • Create a Plan of Action for addressing racism and working toward collective liberation. Start where you are, engage others, and make a long-term commitment to listening, action, and reflection.
  • Address structural racism. Work with BIPOC communities to identify and implement structural changes that must occur within libraries. Build staff investment at every level, while shifting resources to support racial equity initiatives in libraries and staff-led action teams. Evaluate policies and procedures using racial equity tools and develop racial equity action plans to sustain this work.
  • Develop and fund programs, services, and collections that center the voices and experiences of people of color and shift power to communities for co-curation and co-creation.
  • Materially support organizations that provide resources and build community for BIPOC working in libraries, including We Here, the Spectrum Scholarship ProgramBCALA, and JCLC.

PLA and the PLA Task Force on Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Social Justice commit to do the following:

  • Convene meaningful conversations about EDISJ in public libraries. In the next few months, we will be hosting a series of Twitter chats. The next chat will be on Creating Inclusive Communities on August 5 at 12:00 p.m. Central.
  • Identify the action step(s) above that we are collectively best positioned to address during our next year of work and develop concrete recommendations for PLA to advance racial equity and organizational change in libraries;
  • Evaluate the structure of the Task Force with the aim of creating a more diverse and representative entity with the capacity to move this transformative work forward; and
  • Embrace discomfort as we navigate challenging and emotional subjects. To uproot racism and white supremacy within ourselves and our institutions will require immense courage, compassion, and the honest desire for accountability.

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