Library Associations Announce Joint Cultural Competencies Task Force

On May 18, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services (ODLOS), and the Public Library Association (PLA) announced the formation of the Building Cultural Proficiencies for Racial Equity Framework Task Force.

ACRL, ARL, ALA, PLA logos stacked upFour associations and divisions of the American Library Association (ALA) have joined forces to create a framework for cultural proficiencies in racial equity. On May 18, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services (ODLOS), and the Public Library Association (PLA) announced the formation of the Building Cultural Proficiencies for Racial Equity Framework Task Force.

The framework will be used as a foundational resource to help academic and public libraries build inclusive cultures, both within the library and in their communities. It will offer guidelines on development and implementation of organizational policies, as well as best practices to support diverse workforces.

The task force will review existing documents, such as the ACRL Diversity Standards: Cultural Competency for Academic Libraries; similar statements and frameworks throughout the field will be identified and incorporated. After an extensive environmental scan is complete, the framework will be drafted. The task force will circulate drafts for public comment, revising them as needed before submitting a final document to each association, which will solicit comments in spring 2021. A final document is expected in summer 2021.

Work will be facilitated by Katharine Skinner, executive director of the Educopia Institute, with the additional expertise of Kristin Lahurd, ODLOS interim director and Mark A. Puente, ARL senior director of diversity and leadership programs, with support from Scott Allen, PLA deputy director, operations; Allison Payne, ACRL program manager for strategic initiatives; and Gwendolyn Prellwitz, ODLOS assistant director for recruitment and retention. The task force’s co-conveners are Jennifer Garrett, director, talent management, North Carolina State University Libraries; and Marcela Y. Isuster, liaison librarian, McGill University.



The framework is the end result of many conferences’ worth of conversations about issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) among the partner organizations, said Puente. “We all have [EDI] as major strategic priorities,” Puente told LJ. “We've all been very cognizant of the challenges with regard to racial and ethnic representation within the workforce in libraries and archives.”

Several years ago, Puente and former ODLOS director Jody Gray were involved in an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)–funded project to examine, and develop a framework around, leadership development competencies across libraries, archives, and museums. Out of that work, Puente and Gray, and later Lahurd, began wondering: “Wouldn’t it be interesting, given our challenges—given the intractable nature of representation and inclusion within our profession—if we tried to do something similar for proficiencies across racial equity?”

They took the idea to their respective executive directors, who were, said Puente, “highly enthusiastic” about putting together a task force to investigate the idea further, and the core group was formed. Together, they worked out the initial logistics—how to populate the task force, and how to arrange funding collaboratively across the organizations involved. The partners created a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) so that all would be clear on expectations about their responsibilities, and a call for volunteers to develop the framework was first issued in September 2019.



While the framework’s final appearance is still very much a work in progress, said Puente, he envisions it as a list of competencies or proficiencies for anyone, in any type of institution, who wants to advance their organization’s equity work at any level. “If I'm new to this conversation, if I'm just starting to explore what this looks like in my workplace, in my personal life, my interpersonal communications, what competencies do I need to have?” he proposed, “All the way up to people who are leading large organizations, large library systems, maybe even across museums, cultural heritage organizations…. What do we need to engage in terms of policies, in terms of organizational culture, in terms of practice?”

The group will begin by looking at the methodologies, learning outcomes, and competencies that scaffold existing EDI guidelines. All of the partner organizations have some documentation in place already; several of them are involved with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation–funded Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation initiative, which has produced its own framework and an Implementation Guidebook, and PLA has been working with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE). Equity “is part of our operating principles, part of our values,” said PLA president Ramiro S. Salazar, director of the San Antonio Public Library, TX. “"Not only racial equity. We're talking equity from all perspectives—economics, barriers that communities or individuals may encounter. The idea of this project is to help identify and have a better, wider understanding for all the partners.”

Although the ACRL Diversity Standards have not been updated since 2012, many of them will still be relevant. The task force will also look to literature outside the library world. “The group will review our existing cultural competencies document and draft a new framework to help public and academic libraries build inclusive cultures, through guidelines on the development and implementation of organizational policies and professional practices,” said Karen Munro, ACRL president and associate dean of libraries, learning and research services at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia. “This is a terrific example of work that makes sense for us to do together, to move our entire profession forward.”

Although the conveners had ideas about what the final outputs would look like going in, Puente noted, they want to make room for team members’ contributions as well. “We're trying to give some agency to the people participating in the task force, so they have some say in the process and ownership over the design and final framework.”



The COVID-19 pandemic has derailed the project’s schedule, said Puente—a scheduled April meeting that would have set the groundwork for the task force’s next steps had to be postponed. Instead, the group’s facilitators are looking at how to “build working relationships across all different types of folks working in different types of organizations, with different knowledge skills in this space,” Puente told LJ. “We're trying to figure out what we can do in an online environment to help facilitate some of those conversations and to help organize that work.”

However, the work is progressing in spite of these road blocks—which are also serving to highlight why such a framework is important. Inequities in the field “haven't been surfaced by COVID-19, but they've certainly been accentuated,” said Puente. “It’s really obvious to many of us who do this work that race and ethnicity dictates a lot in terms of outcomes for people across many systems—health and human services, health care, education…. I think it's more important than ever to think about this work, and the unique contributions that libraries and archives can make to advance the concept of racial equity.”

Many of the people most affected by the pandemic “come from vulnerable communities, and those are communities that often are left behind, said Salazar. “This crisis has really brought attention to, and magnified, the issue of equity and inclusiveness, and those barriers. That's part of the work of this task force. We need to bring down barriers, but first we need to understand them.”

Other members of the task force include Tatiana Bryant, assistant professor, engagement and inclusion librarian, Adelphi University; Kristyn Caragher, assistant professor & reference and liaison librarian (STEM), University of Illinois at Chicago; Jay Dela Cruz, library manager, Queens Public Library; Andrew Harbison, assistant director, collections and access, Seattle Public Library; Beatriz Hardy, dean of libraries and instructional resources, Salisbury University; Lars Klint, acquisitions manager, Harvard Library; John Edward Martin, scholarly communication librarian, University of North Texas Libraries; Pamela McCarter, equity initiative leader, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library; Teresa Helena Moreno, librarian and undergraduate engagement program coordinator, University of Illinois Richard J. Daley Library; Cecilia Salvatore, professor, Dominican University/School of Information Studies.

“ALA supports the work of this task force in helping to promote a culture of inclusiveness in our public and academic libraries,” said ALA President Wanda Brown. “The framework they produce promises to serve as a valuable resource that will benefit libraries and the communities they serve.”

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Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Senior News Editor for Library Journal.

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