Steps Toward a Welcoming & Inclusive Library

Steps Toward a Welcoming & Inclusive Library

This year’s presidential election in the United States has been a particularly divisive one, and unfortunately, there has been a spike in hate speech and hate crimes targeting marginalized groups in recent weeks. MakerBridge has always focused on diversity as one of our top priorities, and we at MakerBridge have always believed wholeheartedly in the inclusion of everyone across barriers of race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical and mental ability, immigration status, religion, socioeconomic status, and so on. As service- and community-oriented organizations that are public-facing, libraries have a responsibility to all people, and I believe libraries can rise to the challenge of helping to protect and serve these marginalized groups, who need us now more than ever. Here are some tips and concrete actions you can take to move toward creating a welcome and inclusive library for all patrons.

  • If you are supportive, let your patrons know. Be explicit, clear, and loud in your support. Rather than saying you are supportive of diversity, give details: who do you support? How do you support them? Intersectionality is crucial, and yet members of marginalized groups cannot assume allies will be intersectional in their support. Therefore, just saying you care about diversity in general terms is not enough. Consider releasing a public statement of support and/or incorporating this into your library’s mission statement.
  • As a follow up to the above, if you profess your support, be willing to stand behind your words with measurable actions. How will you ensure your library works toward greater diversity and inclusion? How will you keep it on the forefront of people’s minds? If your library has regular retreats, all-staff meetings, etc,, you might consider having this be a regular topic for discussion. You might bring in speakers or conduct staff training around these issues. When the library–or units within the library–sets annual goals, you might consider having an annual diversity goal. And, above all, how will you work to make sure these discussions stay current and informed, rather than repeating the same content over and over? How will you make sure the voices of marginalized patrons and library employees are heard?
  • Educate yourself. This is critical in effectively supporting diversity and creating an inclusive library. Often, the burden of leading the way is placed on members of underrepresented groups who are already facing constant challenges. Instead, good allies have the responsibility of teaching themselves appropriate language, terminology, and concepts. Librarians are natural researchers and life-long learners, so study up and look especially for materials produced by people sharing their lived experiences in these areas. Practice listening and trust what people say about their experiences. For example, seek out the stories of people of color speaking out about racism. Listen to LGBTQIA people about transphobia, homophobia, and the discrimination they face. Trust what you hear from undocumented people about their experiences with the system of immigration.
  • Create and post signage in multiple languages around the library. Release promotional materials in multiple languages. If you have paperwork that is given to patrons–such as library policies they must agree to, makerspace liability waivers, and so on–have these documents available in multiple languages.
  • Present events, speakers, and programming that is intentionally inclusive, not just in topic but in how the speakers or presenters identify, as well. Even if all you plan are makerspace-related workshops and events, you should be inviting makers of color, LGBTQIA makers, disabled makers, Muslim makers, and so on to help lead these. Don’t wait to come across diverse speakers; seek them out intentionally. Also, consider planning events that are autism-friendly or explicitly welcoming and safe for people with mental and physical differences.
  • Gather and disseminate information about community resources to groups who face unique challenges and dangers. Since my campus doesn’t have an LGBTQIA center, I have been putting together a LibGuide of local and campus resources to serve this population at my college and in my community. You might also distribute printed materials or post on bulletin boards. Trans and intersex people often have unique medical concerns: where can they receive help? LGBTQIA youth often end up homeless and many commit suicide. Post information about homeless shelters, suicide hotlines, and support groups. Where can a Muslim turn if they are the victim of a hate crime? What about a black person who has encountered police violence? Libraries are excellent at connecting patrons to information, and this is a natural extension of what we already do. Help your community members stay safe.
  • Consider library policies and whether they present a barrier or challenge to your patrons. Library fines are a big one; in recent years, many librarians have argued against the practice of charging overdue fines and have developed alternate solutions. Overdue fines, for example, can present a substantial burden for people of low socioeconomic status or those with disabilities, especially if they do not have reliable means of transportation in order to return materials on time. These people may choose instead to not visit the library at all. Examine the policies you have in place regarding bathrooms, especially with trans patrons in mind. Think about whether any of your library policies is having an outsized impact on a specific group of people, especially if that group is marginalized in some way.
  • Check out resources such as ALA’s “Open to All: Serving the GLBT Community in Your Library” (PDF). Note that although this targets a specific subset of marginalized people, you can consider how these ideas might carry over to other groups, as well.
  • Finally–worth mentioning because the holiday season is upon us–remain inclusive in your library’s decorations and acknowledgement of special religious events. Go beyond token acknowledgement, and make sure to educate yourself/get input from people who celebrate holidays other than Christian ones so as not to present any holiday or religious tradition inaccurately.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and I would love to hear from others who have found ways to promote diversity and to create safe, welcoming environments in their libraries. What have you done? What do you plan to do? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter!

Image Credit: “Respect” by Davide Taviani is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

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