This is the second part of a three-part blog series, following my presentation at the 9th New Librarians’ Symposium ‘Deviating with Diversity, innovating with inclusion: a call for radical activism in libraries’. Firstly, I want to say thanks to everyone who engaged in the first post of this series ’10 accessibility tips.’ Thanks for sharing my accessibility tips, messaging me kind words and suggesting other blog ideas – all of which I will do in the near future. However, in this second post I’m going to focus on 10 ways to diversify our library services, programs, collections and profession.
When someone walks into a library and can’t see a part of themselves in their environment, whether through our collections, artwork, marketing material or services, we have failed them. Likewise, if someone walks into a library and only sees themselves in our environment, we have also failed them. Diversity is critical in generating feelings of belonging and inclusion. Here are 10 ways we can diversify our libraries.
1. Diversify your collection
In my NLS9 presentation, I shared the data in the image below, along with the following quote:
“When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in a society of which they are a part.” (Sims Bishop, 1990)
This is why libraries play such an important role in promoting marginalised voices. Let’s undertake diversity audits to ensure our collections contain diverse resources, by diverse authors, as well as resources in different languages and formats too (e.g. braille). This can be done by combing through the data in our online catalogue and by analysing the books themselves individually. TeenLibrarianToollBox (@TLT16) breaks down how to do a collection audit into three parts.
Although it’s a lot of work, collection audits highlight our biases – what voices we promote and what voices we marginalise. Collection management data helps us be more evidence-based and holds us accountable in ensuring our collections are diverse.
2. Diversify your spaces
Does your library have a mixture of quiet spaces and collaborative spaces? And what about sensory safe spaces with muted lights and colours? If you don’t have sensory safe spaces, could you find alternative options like providing sensory safe bags equipped with noise cancelling headphones and fidgets? Or perhaps you could turn the library into a sensory safe space between certain times of the day?
Also, does your library have diverse furniture? Different types of chairs for short people and tall people? Or even better, does your library better provide flexible furniture such as sit-stand desks? Also, do you have gender neutral bathrooms and assistive technology rooms for clients to use?
Designing for inclusion is deeply rooted in empathy, and a recognition that what is satisfactory for us might be an anxiety inducing barrier for someone else. We need to be more intentional about asking others what they need when designing or rearranging our spaces in order to ensure our stakeholders feel included. Please also remember there’s a big difference between designing for accessibility standards and designing for inclusion. Let’s design for inclusion.
3. Diversify your services, programs and events
Find out what is important to your community and target your services to those needs. When we create services or programs, we need to design them with various levels of interests in mind, as well as different levels of capabilities. Here are some programs happening around Australia for your inspiration:
- The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) has released a report on services for migrants and refugees
- Sacha Fawkes has recorded what is currently being done in the Australian GLAM sector for Indigenous programs. Check our her curated list.
- Services for seniors such as the Tech Savvy Seniors Program and Dementia Friendly Libraries
- Drag Queen storytime
- Bibliotherapy programs, and other types of therapy services. For example, Murdoch University Library provides Library Therapy Pets
- The Human Library. Griffith University Library has hosted a number of Human Library events, which you can see short overviews of on YouTube.
We need to create initiatives that celebrates diversity in a safe way – where we can remind our clients and ourselves that each one of us is the same by the simple fact that we are different – and there’s so much celebratory beauty in that.
4. Diversify your relationships
As seen above, library services are evolving to meet the changing needs of their community. The diversification of library services means that libraries need to diversify their relationships. Although libraries can host diverse services, librarians cannot be everything to everyone. Instead, we need to diversify our relationships and create collaborative community partnerships to offer quality services that are diverse and inclusive. For example, let’s say you serve a community of people who don’t speak English very well, why not consider partnering with translators onsite or working with them to provide translated versions of written documents?
Resident social workers and mental health practitioners are other popular partnerships that have gained media attention in the library world this year. If your library needs social workers or mental health practitioners it should employ some instead of expecting librarians to deliver services they are not fully equipped or trained to handle.
5. Diversify your library marketing
Diversity marketing or inclusive marketing is used to reach clients of different social groups by acknowledging that people rarely respond to the same message in the same way. Diversity marketing is particularly important for libraries, who cater for diverse communities. You can diversify your library marketing by:
- Recognising different values, experiences, expectations and ways of interacting with your community, and using your understanding of your community to make informed decisions about your library’s marketing strategy
- Putting all kinds of faces on your marketing material, and communicating the value of your library through the diverse stories and experiences of your clients
- Diversifying your artwork and library displays, and not just for particular days of the year. People must be represented through familiar cultural symbols in public spaces.
- Communicating your Employee Value Proposition (EVP) through the honest experiences of those who work in your libraries to attract diverse talent into your organisation
- Engaging in diversity and inclusion events, and sponsoring and supporting diverse community initiatives
- Being aware of times of holidays and celebrations in different cultures
- Thinking about the myriad of ways people receive and perceive information. Everyone receives information different and people rarely respond to the same message in the same way. So, diversify how you deliver your messages whether it’s through anecdotes, personal stories, or data. Also, diversify the communication channels you are using to cater for people’s preferences and to increase your outreach.
These tips might sound a little simplistic, and possibly like a check-the-box activity. However, please don’t fall into the trap of communicating diverse marketing photos and stories just for ‘diversity’s sake.’ Diversify your library marketing with authenticity, sincerity, respect and curiosity for the stories and experiences of others. Caring for the relationship with our community is part of the job of libraries, and sincere diversity marketing shows the world we do care.
6. Diversify your languages
My mother is a migrant. Her second language is English, and my grandparents don’t read English at all. My family’s native language isn’t heavily represented in Australia, and my regional libraries don’t have much diversity when it comes to bilingual collections and multicultural adult literacy. My family is one of millions, and I often wonder, how do you get hold of books you know and cherish when you live in a country where your language is not widely spoken? How do you remain connected to your identity and history without your language? My grandparents get so excited when they find a book they haven’t read in their native language, and even my Mum is happy when she sees signage of her native language in a public space. I’d love to see more diverse languages represented in our libraries, including:
- More diverse collections in different languages, including picture books
- Signage in different languages (depending on community needs)
- Sign language interpreters at events. I love this key word sign video on Alpacs with Maracas for this year’s National Simultaneous Storytime.
- Recognition and revitalisation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. The State Library of Queensland has done a lot of fantastic work on showcasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, including sharing a word of the week.
- Bilingual storytime
7. Diversify your food selection
If you’re hosting an event at your library, make sure you provide diverse catering such as vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options, as well as types of food valued by different cultures. The refectory at my workplace provides many dishes from different cultures and they are distinguished by a sticker of the country’s flag on the container’s lid. I think this is a small act of inclusion that has had a profound impact on creating a sense of belonging, especially for our international students.
8. Diversify your practice
Demolish the box you have made for yourself by diversifying your practice and learning new ways of doing things from others. Spend time with people who have different life experiences or worldviews from you. Purposefully seeking to understand others allows us to appreciate diversity at a greater level. With this understanding, you can diversify your own practice as a library and information professional. For example, for the past two years I’ve been tutoring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and mentoring them through research projects. I’ve had to move away from the westernised research methods I was accustomed with. Instead, I learned about Indigenous research methodologies and different ways of knowing and being from my students. This was a huge turning point for me on my own cultural competence journey and allowed me to see routine things in my professional life through a different worldview. Tutoring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students has been one of the most valuable and rewarding experience of my career so far. I have learned so much from my students that has shaped my role as a librarian, and influenced the way I teach, and understand privilege in society. Without diversifying my practice, I would never understood the experiences of others, improved my cultural competency, and developed a passion for developing culturally sensitive and culturally safe environments.
9. Diversify your workforce
Staff diversity is arguably just as important as diversifying our collections and services. Because how can we harness the true power of diversity if we don’t recruit and retain the very people we claim we want to include? Although diversity and equity is a core value of our profession (Australian Library and Information Association, 2018), we are lacking diversity in many demographics, with some literature stating that ‘we are paralysed by whiteness,’ (Galvan 2015; Vinopal, 2016; Larsen, 2017; Swanson et al 2015; Poole, 2019). In addition, research shows that even when we manage to recruit diverse talent, staff from underrepresented groups are leaving the profession at even higher rates than others (Vinopal, 2016). As such, we need to:
- Examine our unconscious bias. The Harvard Implicit Association Test is a great place to start in exploring your biases.
- Acknowledge that the term ‘cultural fit’ may be problematic in the hiring process and encourages recruiters to look for their ‘mini-mes.’
- Remove barriers, such as the existence of unpaid internships in library and information science education
- Create more opportunities for everyone (e.g. mentoring, coaching). Assist your employees and colleagues in becoming the best versions of themselves.
You also need to ask yourself:
- Do your library’s personnel reflect the community it serves? ALIA has released it’s 2019 Workforce Diversity Trend Report, and you can compare your library’s statistics against industry and national job averages with ALIA’s Workforce Diversity Calculator.
- Have your library personnel been prepared to work with patrons and colleagues of diverse backgrounds? Does your library offer staff development opportunities that promote diversity and inclusion? And has a concerted effort made been made to inform and education library personnel about diversity and inclusion issues? (Jones, 2019).
Above all, I want you to ask yourself: what effect will working in this library for any given time have on an individual psychologically, physiologically and emotionally? And what steps can I take to ensure my employees and colleagues feel safe on all these three levels?
10. Diversify your professional development
Investing in and diversifying your own professional development is essential if you are to remain current, agile and innovative in the profession, and continue creating positive impacts for the communities you serve.
- Spend time everyday learning something, and learning from others, especially those who have different skills and experiences than you
- Spend time applying what you’ve learned. It’s not enough to learn new things in a complete vacuum – you need to apply what you’ve learned
- Don’t just stick to library related professional development opportunities. All kinds of professional development will be relevant and will strengthened your ability as a library professional.
- Share your learnings with others to broaden their knowledge and perspectives, and to start a learning culture of diverse interests and conversations in your workplace
- Diversify your professional networks
Diversity and inclusion is a learning journey. We need space to practice, to try, make mistakes and be given alternatives without judgment. Embrace change and mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow, and empower others to do the same.
Jones, S. (2019). Diversity and inclusion in libraries : a call to action and strategies for success. Lanham : Rowman & Littlefield.
Galvan, A. (2015). Soliciting Performance, Hiding Bias: Whiteness and Librarianship. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/soliciting-performance-hiding-bias-whiteness-and-librarianship/
Larsen, S. (2017). Diversity in public libraries: strategies for achieving a more representative workforce. Retrieved from http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2017/12/diversity-in-public-libraries-strategies-for-achieving-a-more-representative-workforce/
Swanson, J., Damasco, I., Gonzalez-Smith, I., Hodges, D., Honma, T & Tanaka, A. (2015). Why diversity matters: a roundtable discussion on racial and ethnical diversity in librarians. Retrieved http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2015/why-diversity-matters-a-roundtable-discussion-on-racial-and-ethnic-diversity-in-librarianship/
Vinopal, J. (2016). The quest for diversity in library staffing: from awareness to action. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/quest-for-diversity/
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