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Notes from Executive Director Scott Garrison – November 2021

This fall has marked a return to some of the in-person conferences many have missed so much since March 2020, while others continue to gather virtually. This month, I’ll share some of the things I heard at two I recently attended: the Michigan Association for Media in Education (MAME, Michigan’s school library association) and the Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) conferences. Each conference featured a variety of presentations on diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice (i.e., DEIJ, leaving A for accessibility aside this month), among many other topics.  

I offer a friendly warning: this is a long piece and may be uncomfortable reading for some. I believe it’s important reading to do, and I hope some of these points will resonate with you. Whether you embrace or reject some or all these ideas, I hope you’ll find ways to engage with others on topics related to DEIJ and connect with me at  

From MAME 48: 

  1. DeEtta Jones gave a remarkable keynote that wove together many elements of leadership, our current times, and the conference’s “3-Ring Circus” theme. 
    • When COVID struck, libraries mobilized to adapt and share their stories, including around providing equitable service; and then the racial equity movement became global, shortly thereafter.
    • Due to these factors, what it means to work in libraries has changed– what do terms like “literacy,” “collaboration,” and “leadership” mean, now? 
    • Many have nostalgic feelings for various parts of a given culture (such as a circus with animals that entertain people), but what systems and structures are we supporting, in holding onto that nostalgia? 
    • We should all exhibit next-generation leadership, which includes impacting systems, modeling values, using positional authority to influence, and modeling more of what we want in the world – leadership is not positional authority, it is agency and intentionally making an impact and inspiring people toward a shared vision, through emotional intelligence, compassion, empathy, learning, and patience.   
    • We should consider literacy through an equity lens – whose narrative is centered, and who is marginalized? What messages should learners take away, and why are those important? 
    • When we collaborate, what are the rules, expectations, and behaviors that create a truly authentic and inclusive community of ongoing practice that honors a variety of experiences and needs?
    • Positive emotions make us more resilient, collaborative, and productive (see Barbara Frederickson’s research on a healthy ratio of positive vs. negative emotion). 
    • Humans mark time in terms of how things begin and end, and endings serve as an opportunity to invigorate ourselves; how has COVID influenced how we see time and endings (see Peak-End Theory)?

2. Carrie Betts (West Maple Elementary School, Michigan’s 2021 Model School Library) and Melissa Baril presented on Baggage, a film that documents the experience of tween and teen immigrants to Montreal, Quebec. The film serves as a powerful tool to talk about immigration in school districts and raise awareness of challenges newcomers are facing (such as what it means to come from another country, how it feels to not understand a new language, and the idea that an immigrant remains the same person they always have been – they just have a different situation in their new country).  

3. Dr. Kafi Kumasi (winner of the 2021 MAME President’s Award), Gwenn Marchesano, and Kathleen McBroom from Wayne State University presented on their work with Restoring Urban School Libraries (RUSL), an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant-funded project which will prepare six diverse classroom teachers to become certified school librarians. These individuals will then build capacity to restore the libraries in their respective schools. Dr. Kumasi and her colleagues detailed the InFLOmation model they and the RUSL fellows use to explore information behavior through the lens of hip-hop. The model fuses theory and practice with the cultural concepts of rhythm, rhyme, and remixing to enable emerging school librarians to connect with students who do not have deep experience with libraries. 

Moving to rural, from ARSL:  

  1. In their opening keynote, Tracie D. Hall (Executive Director, ALA), Sandy Littletree (University of Washington iSchool), and 2021 ARSL President Kathy Zappitello gave meeting attendees a great deal to reflect on. 
    • While we can be conditioned to believe that the poorest and the incarcerated are “broken,” we should ask instead which systems are broken, that allow poverty and mass incarceration to exist (including education, community investment, and employment). 
    • Rural and small libraries have a responsibility to help change this, along with others in their communities who are aligned with them. 
    • Native people have had a lack of representation in libraries, in terms of staff, collections, systems, and more – how can people learn about issues of power and colonization, and what can libraries do to promote sovereignty, justice-focused information literacy, policies, and programming, as they address privilege and other issues in working to improve lives? 
    • Colonization is a window into social justice work in libraries (see also Dr. Nicole Cooke’s Publishers Weekly piece entitled “What It Means to Decolonize the Library”). 
    • In the time of both health information gaps and COVID, information access, including class-based access and information poverty are both social justice and public health issues. 
    • Closing the information divide is the next wave of the civil rights movement. This includes addressing broadband access, having an Internet-connected device, and being able to interpret and apply information. 
    • Libraries should nurture leadership capacity to power social equity and assume good intentions as we make a lot of mistakes along the way.  
    • A recent study by Deutsche Bank showed that Black and Latinx people have much lower access to technology, and more than half of those people could be underprepared for 86% of jobs by 2045.
    • Consider how to identify and disrupt systems that create inequity through cultural humility, learning, finding others who share your concern, thinking about who may be missing from your conversations, and finding ways to provide services to the incarcerated, and those who are re-entering society.

2. Claudine Perrault (Estes Valley Public Library District) spoke about work she has led to build greater inclusion for library staff, considering dynamics of race in her community, awareness of the importance of inclusion, specific strategies toward inclusion, and tools for assessment to improve inclusivity.  

    • Claudine spoke of her experience as the first woman of color at a local all-white male Rotary Club. After engaging with authenticity and vulnerability, she gained a sense of belonging. 
    • Diversity is about presence, whereas inclusion is about practice (more information here). 
    • A diverse and inclusive culture requires building staff through recruiting and maintaining staff through retention.  
    • In addition to having written and spoken values about diversity and inclusion, it is key to include a wide variety of people in hiring, and look for “culture add” rather than “culture fit” – who has the skills for the job you need done? 
    • Welcoming, onboarding, celebrating, and training all staff in the most robust and consistent way possible can go a long way toward employee retention. 
    • Gartner’s Inclusion Index can be a helpful qualitative test for how included employees feel. 
    • Everyone has the power, authority, and ability to make others feel respected, valued, trusting, fairly treated, and like they belong. 

3. Dr. Nicole Cooke (University of South Carolina, referenced earlier) crafted a talk focusing on various ways in which libraries may be “finished” in terms of DEIJ work but not “complete.” A key work she cited was On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life, by Dr. Sara Ahmed.

    • While some in a predominantly white community may not see value in spending money on books by diverse authors and/or for diverse audiences, diverse books are still valuable to such a community.  
    • We see ourselves in “mirror” materials; we learn about others in “windows” materials; we can foster understanding and empathy when we expose our users to “sliding glass door” materials that allow them to gain new perspectives. 
    • We can be “finished” because we’ve checked boxes for training, hired diverse people, bought diverse books, and more. Are those efforts truly operationalized or simply performative? 
    • Recognizing, identifying, and naming mechanisms of systemic injustice is mission-critical – are we willing to share or give up some privilege so others might experience some level of equity?  
    • We teach, select, and run programs based on what we value, which comes from our lived experience – but what do we not know about others? 
    • Critical self-reflection requires empathy, a duality of cultural competence and cultural humility (do we know enough about others to serve them equitably?), and racial literacy. All of this is complicated for a profession that is 82% white and female. 
    • During the events of 2020, many bought and read books by Robin DiAngelo, PhD, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, and others, but are they living what they have read, or was that act of reading itself performative? 
    • Social justice is action and a process that can never be fully achieved, that draws attention to inequalities of power, hierarchies, and power dynamics for library users and destroys systematic marginalization and privilege.  
    • We can think of social justice at several levels:  
      • “micro” (each of us)
      • “meso” (in our organizations, such as policies)
      • “macro” (at the community level – are you connecting with others who share your goals?) 
    • LIS programs need a radical pedagogy, including: 
      • radical hospitality: making those who feel excluded feel included and that they belong
      • radical love: breaking silences that paralyze and divide us
      • radical honesty: caring about others with our whole, authentic self
      • radical candor: caring personally and challenging directly
    • If you’re going to do DEIJ work, do it for the right reasons, or don’t do it at all.

Thanks for reading. I hope you’ve found something helpful here, and that each of us will take some time to reflect on how we can continue to learn and engage around topics of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice.

As we find ourselves in this month often focused on gratitude, we at MCLS remain grateful as always for YOU, our library community. Have a great November!