Gwen M. Gregory, associate dean for collections management at Northern Illinois University’s Founders Memorial Library, writes a column for Information Today that explores issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI, sometimes referred to as DEI) in the information industry. Here’s a look at her columns from April to November/December 2022, which have been lightly edited and condensed for the web. As of the January/February 2023 issue, two new writers take over writing the EDI Perspectives column. Look for a roundup of their work later this year.
Here are the previous parts of the series: Part 1 | Part 2
You can read the full columns in Information Today, starting with the January/February 2021 issue.
If you’re working toward EDI at your institution and would like to share your approaches with us, email email@example.com or tweet @ITINewsBreaks.
A Perspective From Inside the Industry
Librarianship is one of the least racially diverse professions in the U.S. The vendors and information producers we work with may not be much different. At the November 2021 Charleston Conference, I attended a presentation titled “Diversity Is Not a Webinar: Navigating the Library Industry in the Age of DEI,” which was given by both librarians and those working on the commercial side. I contacted Tony Zanders, one of the panelists, to explore the experiences of someone working as a vendor. We had a great conversation about his life and work, especially on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI, aka DEI) issues.
Zanders is the founder and CEO of Skilltype, a software platform dedicated to library talent management. While he is not a librarian, he previously worked at Ex Libris and EBSCO Information Services. When he started Skilltype in 2018, the impetus came directly from talking with academic library leaders about their needs. Many of their concerns revolved around staffing: equitable pay, recruiting, retention, succession planning, and EDI issues. Academic libraries didn’t have the strategic partners they needed. Campus human resources didn’t understand their special needs, and professional organizations focused on serving workers, not employers.
Zanders shared some details about his work for large information vendors. As a member of an underrepresented group, he had to make an extra layer of effort to fit into the culture. This was on top of the regular job he and his colleagues had to do; he needed to spend extra energy fitting in, on top of other equity issues such as pay gaps. This can lead to burnout, as well as contribute to job dissatisfaction and poor retention. He was clear that in his case, there was no person at fault. Rather, it was the organization and the larger culture; it’s everywhere in our society, a “multigenerational residue we are trying to clean up,” Zanders says. No single leader can fix it all. However, as individuals and in organizations, we must work to undo it.
Zanders believes library leaders should recognize that they are chief talent officers, just like corporate CEOs, and treat this as one of their most important roles. He was inspired to “build a community of library leaders using software to manage library talent differently,” he says. Part of this is creating a sustainable approach to EDI. Zanders feels that in most library organizations, EDI efforts are still an add-on rather than an integral part of the work. EDI is not a series of boxes to check, but a whole new way to view all of the organization’s endeavors. For example, the budget officer can consider what suppliers the library is buying from. Is it sourcing from minority-owned firms? Those working on acquiring materials for collections should look at what is already owned and what is being added. Those providing services to users should investigate accessibility and impacts on various groups.
Truth and Reconciliation in Canada
Canada shares some historical similarities with the U.S. Among them is the subjugation and aggressive forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples. Many human rights violations have occurred, including forcing Indigenous children to attend residential schools. People suffered horrible experiences in this process; children were removed from their homes against their will and taken to distant boarding schools, where they were treated poorly and even brutally. Parents were threatened with fines or prison for resisting. For much of the 20th century, survivors spoke out about this treatment with few results. In the 1990s, they began to organize and press legal claims. The 1996 “Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples” and the largest class action lawsuit in Canadian history led to the 2006 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. One of the mandates of the agreement was the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). Truth and reconciliation commissions have been implemented around the world; a few are active in the U.S. on the local level.
One mandate of the TRC was to gather the stories of those impacted by the residential school system and create a historical record of the schools and their legacy. This led to the establishment of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba. To learn about reconciliation in Canada, I spoke with Ry Moran, associate university librarian for reconciliation at the University of Victoria in British Columbia and a member of the Red River Métis. Moran was the founding director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. At the TRC, he led the building of an archival collection that includes 7,000 interviews and 5 million digitized documents from religious and government entities, all related to Canadian residential schools. Litigation was required to get many of the records. These primary sources are now available to all.
In his current role at the University of Victoria, Moran is growing a team of Indigenous people to undertake this work. Part of his emphasis is on educating all library staff, recognizing that individuals will be at different points in their personal journeys. The library is also decolonizing both physical and virtual spaces. A high point for Moran has been lighting a sacred fire on campus several times.
Moran sees his current work as breaking down the walls of colonialism and laying new paths for future generations. He hopes we can celebrate humanity’s diversity, seeing the inherent value and importance of all of our experiences and rejecting moves toward monoculture.
Are Libraries Autism-Ready?
Neurodiversity is the concept that some people’s differences in brain functioning—exemplified by autism, dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), etc.—are normal variations. Like other forms of neurodiversity, autism affects people on a spectrum that ranges from mild to severe. It is a neurodevelopmental disability that presents social, behavioral, and communication challenges, including extra sensitivity to sensory stimulation such as light or noise. While autistic children and their families can benefit from participating in library services, libraries have not always made efforts to accommodate their needs. The Autism-Ready Libraries Project at the University of Washington iSchool is using funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to change that.
In 2021, the CDC reported that one in 44 8-year-old children in the U.S. has been diagnosed with some form of autism. Recognizing the importance of literacy services for these children, a team at the University of Washington iSchool submitted a grant proposal for the Autism-Ready Libraries Project, which focuses on early literacy services for autistic children in libraries. The project was awarded an IMLS grant in 2020. I talked with several team members to learn more. Hala Annabi, an associate professor and master’s of science in information management program chairperson, first became interested in the inclusion of neurodiverse people in the workplace. She was part of the research team for the Welcome Inclusion (WIN) initiative in Washington.
Michelle Martin, Beverly Cleary Professor for Children and Youth Services and M.L.I.S. program chairperson, is especially interested in the lack of training for future and current librarians in serving those who are neurodiverse. Milly Romeijn-Stout, a Ph.D. candidate, focuses on early literacy education for autistic children. Christine Moeller, a Ph.D. candidate and instructional designer, is concerned about professional development for adults and training for neurodiverse adults. The team has submitted a second grant proposal focusing on neurodiverse employees in libraries.
The Autism-Ready Libraries Project aims to prepare libraries and their staff members to work with autistic children. Autistic children have the same literacy needs as other children and can benefit from similar strategies, including participation in storytime programming. A major difference, though, is the format of the storytime program. It may include dimmer lights and may take place at off hours when the facility is quieter, since bright, buzzing lights and noisy areas are distracting. Programs can also include sensory therapy components such as scarves, feathers, or stretchy bands, as well as other physical elements. Professional development should be available for library staffers to learn about the needs of autistic children. Libraries should also cultivate a compassionate environment where families with autistic children feel welcome without judgment. Although the project started with libraries in Washington, the group has branched out to working with libraries in other states as well, surveying parents and librarians and conducting focus groups.
Mentoring the State
How can we inspire a more diverse group of people to work in libraries and to stay in libraries once they start? How can we encourage equity in opportunities for library workers? One way is to actively provide mentoring. An ALA Annual Conference program that I found particularly compelling was the presentation by the Colorado Association of Libraries’ (CAL) Mentorship Interest Group about its development and the evolution of its mentoring program. To learn more, I spoke with Christine Kreger and Rose Nelson, leaders of this interest group. Kreger works at the Colorado State Library and Nelson at the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries. Both have been involved with CAL, the state’s library association, for years. After other experiences with arranging mentoring, Nelson and Kreger decided that CAL would be a place to provide mentoring opportunities to a wide range of people in the state. They recruited Donna Walker and Padma Polepeddi of Jefferson County Public Library and Bailey Wallace of Auraria Library to be part of the new interest group. In late 2019 and early 2020, they determined their goals and desired outcomes. Equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) emerged as a key component; they wanted to “foster diversity in leadership in the Colorado library community.” They also hoped to promote a culture of EDI in the state and to expand understanding of barriers to library careers faced by those from underrepresented groups.
The team created a mentoring program with several important aspects. First, CAL membership is subsidized for participants who are not already members. The interest group found an individual institution willing to pay the memberships. In the future, other institutions may need to step up for this, or CAL may need to figure out another way to support membership for participants. Second, interest group members were willing to seek out and individually recruit mentors. This seemed to work well. When contacted personally, experienced professionals were willing to be mentors in some way. This combined well with the wide variety of mentoring the group offers, which includes career/professional growth; short-term, speed, and conference mentoring; job shadowing; group/peer mentoring circles; and mentoring spotlights. Most participants have requested the traditional career/professional growth mentoring option. Speed mentoring has been offered as an event at the statewide library conference, providing an opportunity to meet and talk briefly with lots of colleagues in a brief time. Group mentoring aims to alleviate the power imbalance found in a traditional mentoring relationship and create a more inclusive space for all participants.
Nelson and Kreger feel that they are still not reaching all of their target demographic in the state. They want to do better marketing as well as reach out to individuals. They think that similar programs would work well in other locations. Their suggestions for creating a mentoring program include having clear goals, removing barriers to participation, starting small and scaling up as you go, and planning for leadership rotation. They hope that this program will grow the profession and provide every interested library staff member in Colorado with the chance to participate, especially those who would not otherwise have access to mentoring.
Unity in Diversity
This will be my last EDI Perspectives column for Information Today (IT). I first authored an article for IT in 1993 and contributed the Book Review column from 1994 to 2021. I have worked with first-rate IT editors and staffers during this time and edited a book for Information Today, Inc. in 2005 called The Successful Academic Librarian: Winning Strategies From Library Leaders.
In fall 2020, I had the opportunity to start a new column. At the height of the pandemic, it was challenging to be inspired about this possibility. There was only one topic that stood out for me as critical for the information profession but not already covered in the magazine: equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). I did not claim to be an EDI expert, but my plan was to interview experts on various EDI-related topics and share what I learned with readers. EDI has proven to be a huge field with so many facets. I have consciously tried to represent many parts of the information profession, talking with school librarians, consultants, social activists, researchers, and vendors. I am incredibly grateful to every one of the people who took a chance on talking with me after receiving an unsolicited email about the column from an unknown author who wanted to interview them and write about their deeply personal work.
While I am not an expert on EDI, I am committed to its principles in our profession and our society. I grew up in New Mexico, a state that is unusual in its long-standing respect for its multicultural heritage. Reflecting on my experiences there, I realize that although it was better than some places, equity and inclusion were not guaranteed, and some groups were still privileged. More recently, I have been fortunate to participate in conferences and training on EDI topics that have led me to better understanding: I have learned how much I still must learn. I have thought long and hard about my role in EDI, both in my individual workplace and in the information profession. I have also considered the privilege I have experienced throughout my life. Events in the past few years have opened many minds and hearts about EDI issues, as well as the critical importance of recognizing them and listening to a wide variety of voices. I was excited to use my privilege as a trusted IT columnist to venture into this important field. Writing the column for the past 2 years has shown me that there are so many colleagues out there with so much to share. I hope I have provided a platform for a few of them and given IT readers things to think about. I encourage readers to keep engaging with EDI in your life and work.