University library leaders concerned about diversity, equity and inclusion


The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 has had a measurable impact on library leaders’ appreciation of the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, a recent survey of library leaders found. academic libraries of the Ithaka S + R nonprofit research and strategy group.

More and more university library leaders are asserting their desire to implement anti-racist policies in the wake of national racial justice movements, according to the survey. But most are still concerned that their staffing and fundraising strategies do not adequately support these goals. Many library executives also failed to recognize how the COVID-19 budget cuts likely disproportionately impacted employees of color.

The survey was conducted in the fall of 2020 and includes responses from 638 library directors in four-year institutions. This was the subject of an Ithaka S + R webinar yesterday on the effects of national racial justice movements on library strategy, staff and collections.

Survey respondents were three times more likely to say that the ability to foster equity, diversity and inclusion is one of the three most important skills for a library manager in 2020, compared to 2019. Good that this skill is valued more than before, it remains a low priority for library directors. Only 25% selected this ability for their top three, Jennifer Frederick, senior survey analyst at Ithaka S + R, told the webinar. Frederick co-wrote the investigation report with Christine Wolff-Eisenberg, head of investigation and research for the association.

The ability to manage change was the most valued skill for library managers, with 63% of respondents choosing it as one of their top three, up from 54% in 2019. This finding was highlighted by the panelist from the webinar Patricia Hswe, audience program manager. knowledge to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which asked what change library leaders think they are managing.

There is a recurring criticism from Black, Indigenous and Colored staff that change is happening very slowly in libraries, Hswe said. The ability to manage change is perhaps the skill most valued by library managers, but “where is the evidence for this change?” Hswe asked.

Discussions about diversity in a predominantly white profession have been going on for decades, but the number of black library leaders remains the same as it was 30 years ago, said Trevor A. Dawes, vice-president of libraries and libraries. museums and May Morris University librarian at the University of Delaware.

None of the webinar attendees, including Dawes, expressed surprise that the survey indicated little significant movement toward hiring, retaining and promoting more diverse staff and faculty.

Survey respondents reported feeling less confident in their staffing strategies related to equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility in 2020 than in 2019. Overall, trust in institutional strategies and at the library level remained low, at 26% and 31%, respectively.

Administrators may feel less confident than before because they are now starting to realize that “white supremacy is still prevalent in libraries and society after all the marches and statements,” said Karim Boughida, Dean of Libraries University of Rhode Island scholars, in an email.

Although many institutions issued statements denouncing racism last summer, few have actually taken meaningful steps to support their black and brown students, faculty and staff, said Kaetrena Davis Kendrick, dean. from the Ida Jane Dacus Library and the Louise Pettus Archives and Special Collections at Winthrop. University, during the webinar.

“One of my direct reports recently asked me if I was going to write an anti-racism statement for the library, and I said no. I would prefer that we do certain things and then have something to write about, ”said Davis Kendrick.

The survey found that 84% of library managers did not expect employees of color to be disproportionately affected by cuts due to the pandemic. But Ithaka S + R’s analysis suggested that library positions with a higher percentage of non-white employees were more likely to be affected than other positions.

“I remain concerned, given my work on morale and the way people are treated at work, that leaders don’t know who is affected,” said Davis Kendrick. Library staff of color feel they are in a much more precarious position than their white colleagues in terms of maintaining their posts, she said.

In discussing concrete steps libraries can take to improve their diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility strategies, panelists agreed that it is not helpful for library leaders to say that they prioritize diversity if it is not an issue that concerns them.

In order to design meaningful strategies, you need to train yourself and hire real experts as consultants and trainers, Boughida said.

“Realize that white supremacy is systemic and not situational, start working intentionally on correcting inequalities,” Boughida said. “Realize that this work is very long term.”

Efforts to diversify the collections should be undertaken in collaboration with faculty members and students so that the material is truly integrated into the curricula, Dawes said. Additionally, staff of color should not be expected to shoulder the burden of diversity work without regular breaks.

“No time to think, but time to get away from work,” said Davis Kendrick.

It can take a long time for libraries to get to a place where they are able to prioritize work on diversity, equity and inclusion, Dawes said. The University of Delaware and the University of Binghamton are both working with Ithaka S + R to undertake an audit of their talent management, from hiring through to when staff members leave the institution.

It took the library four years to get to the point where Dawes felt ready to do such an audit. The results can be difficult to compare, but they will give the institution a baseline against which to measure success, he said.


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