A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Ensuring Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion

by on March 2, 2021

Librarians have an opportunity to play a crucial role within our larger organizations in the area of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Whether you are part of a city, county, or some other model, we can lead within our organizations in these subject areas. Diversity. Inclusion. Equity. These are all fundamental aspects of librarianship, coded in our professional organizations and informing all of our actions from collection development to services to programming. We are uniquely positioned given these professional ethics to contribute at a higher level.

We also have a responsibility to keep the momentum going. For example, the Black Lives Matter movement has made great strides in bringing injustices to light and inspiring change. When horrific events like the George Floyd killing make news broadcasts, there is often a passionate response within organizations and society to confront these issues. As time passes, too often these efforts fade until something once again sparks our attention. Let us work to maintain the momentum for fundamental change in relation to systemic racism and use it as a lever to employ sustained action in the associated areas of diversity and inclusion. Libraries can be the lever within our organizations.

At the Pflugerville Public Library (PPL), our director initiated equity, diversity, and inclusion discussions as a portion of our weekly staff meetings. These discussions give all staff members an opportunity to share their experiences and thoughts and listen to their colleagues. We talk about biases, assumptions, micro-aggressions, privilege, how to interact with difficult library guests, how to support one another, and related topics. Between the weekly meetings staff members have time to reflect and often bring new ideas spurred from the previous week’s discussion. Having a safe place to explore, share, learn, and listen strengthens our organization and offers staff a chance to develop personally and professionally.  

Library staff also reviewed our policies with an eye toward inclusion, focusing on the wordage used and how that language may be perceived by others. We removed our professional blinders to think about how our library users might see the document. We thought about whether our language could alienate individuals. By involving the entire staff in this process and narrowing our focus to inclusiveness, we were able to address things that had previously slipped beyond our perception. This process is something that can, and should, be extended to the city as a whole.

In addition, the PPL library director was tapped by city administration to facilitate and serve as staff liaison for the city council-appointed Equity Commission. The commission was created to make recommendations specific to Pflugerville, related to equity and empowerment issues. Our director is helping to guide the initial efforts of the commission. The experience highlights the professional ideals within librarianship that situate us well to perform such crucial roles.

Within our own city government structure, we often find that work related to these subjects is divided up between various departments. In Pflugerville, we have one contact for ADA compliance, and our human resource department has their own related initiatives; city administration introduced relevant staff trainings and our city council launched the Equity Commission. Many organizations follow a similar, somewhat disjointed structure. While this might create frustration, it also provides an opportunity for leadership. Begin by asking, given the nature of our profession, what role can we play within our parent organizations in creating a long-lasting, committed effort to ensure equity, diversity, and inclusion are foundational elements defining our service to our communities?

These examples demonstrate possible actions and initiatives any librarian could bring to their own organizations. The specific situation in each of our libraries is unique. Some are part of large city governments that have staff and departments dedicated to equity and inclusion. Others of us work for libraries within smaller city governments that may only offer  training occasionally, or various departments initiating efforts at different times. Still others are organized in other ways and may not have much guidance at all. With this wide array of arrangements, not all ideas are realistic or effective for the given situation. However, since these subjects are professional pillars of librarianship, we all have a role to play within our parent organizations. We have the ability to encourage these conversations within our own staff. Start there and see where it leads. As the Pflugerville director implored in one of our recent staff meetings, “Don’t shy away from difficult topics.” Let us take that message beyond the library.