I was inspired by this meme in the context of the needed conversations in all libraries (More ideas follows):
What can we do to address those policies – probably without intent – that do not match library values and disproportionately impact certain demographics?
- We can review our fines structures and consider eliminating them (even for certain groups). Do our fines disproportionately impact residents on or below the poverty line? Are they implemented fairly? Now, after the pandemic allows for opening, may be the time to eliminate fines for all or at least kids and teens. Consider programs that allow for fine forgiveness as an anti-poverty strategy (consider going fine free for seniors who show their ID birthdate or anyone who can display a social service card/ID/etc.). Consider family cards that are fine free. Fines don’t get back the books any faster AND they disproportionately disadvantage the very people who get the most value out of a public library.
- Do we have staff policies and training in place to ensure equitable service? Has this training been updated and adapted based on recent events to include discussions and philosophies that encourage equitable user treatment? Do we call out prejudice when it occurs (even unknowingly) in staff? Do we empower staff to address users who interact in inappropriate ways. Do we track official and informal complaints about staff and users so that we can size our issues and scale the strategies and tactics to work on them over time.
- Do we visibly display that public libraries are friendly and welcoming to all? (Rainbow flags and decals, gender free washrooms, black author displays, pictures and visuals where everyone can find a representation of themselves, First Nation art and indeed art by a variety of groups, are all of our READ posters caucasian?, etc. etc. etc.) A number of these are ideas are inexpensive or cost-free.
- Have we reviewed our signage? How many say YES and how many say NO? How many say DO and how many say DON’T? Are they clear, friendly and positively framed? Can they be replaced with an international standard symbol and then be open to all languages? (As an aside, personally, I think signs need to be few and covered in plastic, removed when tattered, have few words, and include the library’s branding and colour standards. Ask yourself, is this sign really needed and will it actually change behaviour?)
- Do our procedures, priorities, and schedules for regular review of library policies include a mandate that focuses on a social equity lens? It’s not the only lens but we’ve done this before when nearly all libraries removed sexist language from our policies.
- Are we fully AODA compliant? Have we trained our staff in autism awareness, dealing appropriately with disabilities and physical challenges? Is everyone up to speed on serving the reading challenged, visually impaired, print disabled through our CELA resources? Do we promote this to our communities and partners?
- Do we have clear and robust employment policies and defined protocols in place to address incidents that our staff may encounter from colleagues or the public? These acts are unlawful if they involve hate or discrimination. However, it is ethically and morally incumbent on the employer to ensure that staff know the protocols, that they’re supported, and we visibly call out racism, sexism, anti-semitism, trans-phobia, and so many many more types of physical and verbal assault.
- Have we ensured that no one is systemically excluded from being a library member and owning a card? For example, are all local First Nation Reserves residents eligible for a library at no charge and under the same conditions as other local residents? Does your library have a reciprocal agreement with your local reserve?
- Are we ensuring that our cardholder campaigns reach our entire community?
- Collection development is a big topic but consider supporting strategies that include de-colonialization collecting, supporting all types of authors with specific goals (black, LGBTQ, indigenous, and more) as well as promotion strategies too.
- Do you have protocols for dealing with disruption that don’t have contacting the police as the only step? If you have called police, does this differentially affect a particular group? (And is that group defined more by poverty or illness or differential access to employment, housing and social resources than race? Can the library address these issues in some way?) Is there a ‘line’ that when crossed empowers staff to call police? Are staff trained in de-escalation methods that keep them and other users safe but don’t engender an overreaction?
- How are your security staff managed if you have guards? What are your customer service standards for them? Are they uniformed to look like police? If externally contracted, what are the customer service standards beyond working hours?
These are just a few of my thoughts for internal questions as FOPL ED. To be clear, these are local Board and CEO/management decisions alone, but I believe that a conversation based on these questions is a good idea.
When we re-open, we CAN open BETTER for staff and our community’s residents.
We can strive to CREATE THE NEW NORMAL and not return to all of the old normal of our past. We’ll keep the great traditions and new innovations and discard that which can hold us and our users back.
All it takes is people of good intent working together. We have this covered.
Disrupting Whiteness in Libraries and Librarianship: A Reading List
This guide is in progress.
Developed by Karla J. Strand, DPhil, MLIS
Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian
University of Wisconsin System
This bibliography is number 89 in the series “Bibliographies in Gender and Women’s Studies,” published by the University of Wisconsin System Office of the Gender and Women’s Studies Librarian.