Dean's Update: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the Core to Library Values
February 3, 2021
DEI—diversity, equity, and inclusion—has been a mantra that characterizes the core principles libraries in a democratic society pursue from their very beginnings. Nowadays, libraries recite the mantra with new energies through statements of commitment and activities[i].
In under a minute, an Internet search of the phrase—coupled with the root term for libraries—uncovers anywhere from thousands to over 70 million results (depending on search strategy used... but that’s another story). The increasingly visible DEI perspective places a mirror in front of the modern library to reflect on and assess its commitment to the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion and their applications to mission, practice and culture. These principles are embedded around such other library values as intellectual freedom, equitable access, privacy, democracy, lifelong learning, and the public good.
How do libraries promote diversity and remove barriers to be accessible to diverse ideas, create inclusive environments for diverse clientele, and conduct equitable practices? Libraries implement numerous strategies, such as the following:
- To assess coverage of collections and improve access to information resources, ensuring they include topics, authors and viewpoints that reflect the interests and experiences of the diverse clientele the library serves.
- To challenge censorship—free expression and access to ideas—and provide access to all points of view, and not just prevailing opinions, through materials, services and programming.
- To expand learning materials and guidance, and to ensure equitable access to them for persons regardless of age, education, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, language, income, religious beliefs, physical limitations or geographic barriers.
- To diversify both physical and cyber spaces to welcome clients from all backgrounds and ethnicities and to build a diverse staff to help people see themselves represented in these library informal learning environments.
The importance of diversity in the library goes beyond demonstrating its alignment with DEI principles. Libraries are a core component of educational institutions, and equally critical are educators and self-directed learners’ perspectives on how the library contributes to higher education’s mission to help students develop critical thinking skills, to become equipped to lead societal change, and to create information resources that voice multiple perspectives. As educators are observing, “When libraries feature a focus on diversity, students learn effectively. Just as importantly, when students see their own identity in the material they consume, they engage better in the learning process[ii].
Articles in this issue of In Circulation, describe recent Drexel Libraries activities that illustrate our efforts to advance and reaffirm the modern library’s essential support of DEI within a responsive institution of higher education.
Read about the Libraries’ addition of focused responsibility among staff to help connect its work with other DEI efforts on campus, joining a framework to address anti-racism and social injustices. A summary of the two remaining sessions of this year’s ScholarSip series—and an invitation to attend—illustrate topics for discussion of the relationship of COVID-19 to social inequities, and serve as an example of programming that facilitates the exchange of diverse ideas and science among persons with different perspectives and experiences.
The occasion of the 35th anniversary of DOCLINE celebrates critical support for library services to enable free and equitable access to information resources. Finally, the launch of the Drexel Family Digital Archive describes support of DEI objectives. As an important online exhibit and new archival repository, it improves equitable access to historic evidence by bringing together digital versions of archived information resources housed in geographically dispersed physical collections that in original format are not easily available to all. Furthermore, as a key development of a larger digital infrastructure, it illustrates the Libraries’ improved capacity to extend broader access to the University’s many historic artifacts and information resources.
This past month, we embarked on an explicit focus to help improve DEI culture and practices at Drexel. In the Libraries, by reflecting on how we can make such contributions and improve our own micro-community of Drexel employees, we also reaffirm that such commitment is fundamental to the purpose of a library and our own values as library staff members.
May reading about such reflections inspire you to find new ways to become an active champion of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Danuta A. Nitecki, PhD
Dean of Libraries