Ithaka S+R, Binghamton and Delaware Libraries Partner on Antiracism Talent Management Audit

Earlier this spring, in conjunction with a survey of how academic library deans and directors’ perspectives and strategies around equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and anti-racism have changed over the last year, Ithaka S+R announced that it would launch an anti-racism talent management audit in partnership with library leaders from Binghamton University, NY, and the University of Delaware.

screen shot of panelist head shots: Trevor Dawes, Curtis Kendrick, Christine Wolff-EisenbergEarlier this spring, in conjunction with a survey of how academic library deans and directors’ perspectives and strategies around equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and anti-racism have changed over the last year, Ithaka S+R announced that it would launch an anti-racism talent management audit in partnership with library leaders from Binghamton University, NY, and the University of Delaware. In a session at the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) 2021 Virtual Conference in April, titled “Translating Values into Action: Launching an Antiracism Talent Management Audit,” Ithaka S+R Manager of Surveys and Research Christine Wolff-Eisenberg spoke with Trevor A. Dawes, University of Delaware vice provost for libraries and museums and May Morris University Librarian, and Binghamton University Dean of Libraries Curtis Kendrick about the proposed plan.

The audit will inventory current practices, perspectives, and outcomes, covering aspects of the hiring and retention lifecycle that include recruitment, employment, promotion, and retention in order to identify basic metrics and strategies for change. The emphasis will on be issues of race, in light of the impacts of systemic racism and the resulting inequities for Black employees. Binghamton and Delaware both have strong antidiscrimination policies in place, noted Wolff-Eisenberg, so this is an opportunity to go beyond legal requirements and “focus on issues of justice and equity.” Her hope is that other institutions can be added after the first year, that this can serve as a model, and that these assessment activities will be ongoing, not something to do once “and check off a box.”

 

WHY AUDIT? WHY NOW?

The collaboration was prompted by disparities between intent and action highlighted by the Ithaka survey. While many institutions have pledged to strengthen EDI and anti-racism work, there is still a demonstrable gap between intentions and implementation. Librarianship across all types of libraries remains overwhelmingly white, at 88 percent of credentialed librarians. In the survey, 31 percent of library directors responded that they felt their EDI strategies were well developed; a similar share said the same of their anti-racist strategies around recruiting and retaining staff—a decrease from 2019. Only 16 percent of Association of Research Libraries (ARL) strategic plans discuss how they plan to operationalize and assess values of EDI and accessibility.

Kendrick recalled going to his first diversity in higher education meeting in 1988, when the major theme was the pipeline problem—the need to recruit more qualified people of color to the profession. “Thirty-five years later and we’re still having the same conversation,” he said. Part of the problem is that while they want intelligent, credentialed candidates, “all we have to offer are terrible salaries in ghettoized special programs leading nowhere,” and bringing them into a largely white culture that’s unable to accommodate their interests. When he hears “organizational fit,” he said, he hears “race.”

Instead, he said, academic libraries may need to take a new look at what they’re trying to accomplish. “It’s possible that we’ve been misdiagnosing the problem all this while.”

Why now? The past year’s developments, especially heightened focus on racial justice issues after the murder of George Floyd, have opened up white society to the point where it may be more receptive to the message that it needs to drive change—and these efforts may have a better chance of succeeding.

Dawes agreed with Kendrick, particularly with regard to the pipeline issue. “We have a number of programs in place that were designed to increase the number of BIPOC people into the profession. These have been very successful at recruitment in terms of creating credentialed librarians,” he said. But these organizations “do not have the types of cultures that are welcoming or make us feel valued or respected.” This work is necessary to interrogate those cultures, he added, so we can determine how to change them.

Diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism are all good words, Kendrick noted, but there is a longstanding reluctance to talk about race and whiteness in the profession. We need to put it front and center in conversations, he said. We’ll solve other problems in the process, “but let’s start with race and see how far we go.” Establishing qualitative and quantitative baseline measures of anti-racism work, and developing scores against which to measure progress going forward, will be a critical part of the process, he said.

 

MEASURING PROCESS

That assessment is just the beginning, noted Dawes. What is done with the results is what’s going to be meaningful. If data show that the library’s practices are not supportive of BIPOC employees or students, then practices need to change. Kendrick added that running such assessments can raise expectations, so follow-up will be critical. While they anticipate some pushback about this type of work being beyond the scope of the library, he said, “really, it’s a familiar role for us. We’re advocating for our patrons so that we can provide information resources to them.”

Beyond looking at personnel issues, “ultimately what we’d like to see is a change in our culture,” said Kendrick. But that requires building trust and safe spaces—which may require changing the definition of what the library is and how it serves all the members of the organization. They will be looking not only at talent management but also at services, spaces, communications practices and policies, collections, organizational culture, and climate. By putting these steps together, the partners hope to gain a better picture of what libraries look like today in order to better imagine the libraries they aspire to be.

Both Delaware and Binghamton have full backing from their administrations for this audit. At Binghamton, Kendrick noted, the provost is a historian specializing in race, civil rights, and the U.S. Constitution. But in spite of the provost’s strong support, “I didn’t present this initiative to him as something that we were asking permission to do. I presented it to him as something that we were doing,” said Kendrick. He suggested that other libraries interested in this work launch it on their own first, rather than ask for approval. “If you ask permission, that puts the administrator in the position of having to say yes or no, and they have to think about it,” he pointed out. “But if you say you’re doing it, you’re just doing it, and they may not want to get in front of stopping it.”

Dawes hopes the work will also be a model for not only the library but the broader community, looking at what their institutions have been doing around race relations across campus. “What we’re hoping to achieve should really be nothing short of changing the world,” he said—“only somewhat facetiously.”

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor for Library Journal.

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