A Call for Action | BackTalk

Black Lives Matter. Indigenous people should be honored and recognized. Xenophobia is not acceptable. This movement across our country is a call to action, and libraries are redefining what the scope of this work entails and how we need to take the appropriate action to create a safe space for everyone.

Cindy Hohl head shotBlack Lives Matter. Indigenous people should be honored and recognized. Xenophobia is not acceptable. This movement across our country is a call to action, and libraries are redefining what the scope of this work entails and how we need to take the appropriate action to create a safe space for everyone.

How do we accomplish this safe atmosphere while also employing police? How do we welcome patrons to explore our collections when there are not enough titles by diverse authors? How do we offer bilingual story times for families when the staff speaks only one language in a multicultural community?

The time is now for library leaders to get it right when crafting intentional diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) plans, as we focus our collective antiracism efforts toward helping our colleagues engage in thoughtful dialogue across our networks. This is not the time to layer empty slogans, hire expensive consultants, or use incomplete diversity plans. I share this feedback to be helpful, so that leaders will act with intention as we move forward together.

Michael Gorman got it right in 1998 when he proposed additions to S.R. Ranganathan’s five laws of librarianship, saying that “libraries serve humanity,” and “honor the past and create the future.” This work requires our full attention. Intention is key.

 

TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

Guilt can be palpable, and so can racism, unconscious bias, microaggressions, and acts of prejudice. Hurt comes in many forms, but one of the worst is when someone feels the pain of oppression and the emptiness of being minimized by another. The key to our understanding of these human experiences begins with believing our colleagues when they share their feedback. We must understand the wells of deep hurt and pain that can resurface. Words are powerful, and you might not know when you have harmed another. This is a time for us to listen and learn.

When unpacking this burdensome trunk of ignorance, it is important to remember to treat others as we wish to be treated. This is easier said than done. Toxicity. Disease. Ignorance. We see these continue to surround our field as colleagues dodge responsibility for their actions. We are not perfect people, and when faced with the challenge that we said something wrong, it is always right to accept responsibility for our actions. That journey forward starts with extending a genuine apology and committing to listening effectively.

 

A WELCOMING WORKPLACE

Why don’t we see more diversity among those promoted into leadership positions? Our leaders need to evaluate recruitment and retention practices and trust the process to identify the root causes of lack of diversity among the staff, leadership, and board of trustees.

Leaders have the responsibility to provide a safe and welcoming space for everyone. That framework should be designed to build a support foundation for staff, and it takes time to draft a thoughtful plan. We must prioritize implementing the work of becoming a strong team before we can plan to welcome colleagues of all ethnic and racial backgrounds to share this work with us. To recruit and hire diverse staff is irresponsible if you have not first trained staff on diversity, equity, inclusion, harassment, and trauma-informed care so that everyone feels welcome and so that they belong from day one.

 

IN IT FOR THE LONG RUN

As leaders scramble to introduce new DEI/antiracism plans, please know that this work is not a race, as there is no finish line. We are all in this together, and the work takes the time that it takes to unravel the many years of oppression that has been smothering people for generations. Accept where your organization stands and commit to implementing a thoughtful plan as a first step forward. As we audit individual perceptions via surveys, listening tours, and one-to-one discussion, we need to remain focused on where we are headed. To bring our library teams together, everyone needs to be included in the discussion. We cannot simply assign every BIPOC member of staff to create a plan and implement an institutional change order. We need to accept where we currently stand within our teams, with the intention of changing the narrative of what to expect while working in the LIS field. Simply signing a diversity pledge is not taking the first step forward until all our actions are in alignment with our words and we are standing shoulder to shoulder.


Cindy Hohl (Santee Sioux) is President, American Indian Library Association; Director of Branch Operations, the Kansas City Public Library, MO; and Steering Committee Member, Joint Council of Librarians of Color.

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