Listen to this article
Starting the journey toward building a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive organization can evoke a range of emotions. From being guilty you didn’t start this ages ago to feeling like you’re in over your head, it can be a scary and simultaneously exciting process. The truth is, the road toward a just and equitable future will be bumpy, with mistakes made along the way. The fear of messing up should not prevent us from taking the first step forward.
Having an understanding of EDI principles and an openness to learning will make library staff better equipped to serve patrons, no matter your library’s size or location. At the Colorado State Library (CSL), equity, diversity, and inclusion are tenets of our profession. Among the values of librarianship are equal access, diversity, and social responsibility, making us well positioned to respond to the current social climate. This, coupled with the spate of police killings of unarmed black people and the nationwide protests that followed, turned our responsibility to act into an imperative. CSL began by creating EDIT, the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Team, to create a formal structure around addressing EDI issues.
Although we understood many of our colleagues were already confronting these issues and thinking about them within their own work, our goal was to create a cohesive response, capture and better support the work we were already doing, and initiate work we should be doing. We are by no means the experts—and it’s a matter of fact that we lack diversity within our own ranks—but as much as possible we did learn from the experts, solicited second opinions, and continued to educate ourselves from those out there doing the hard work, including the libraries who are much farther along in their EDI journey. With that said, here are a few takeaways that may be helpful if you and your library are deciding to embark on this journey.
Where are we now? Where do we need to go?
Working toward an equitable, diverse, and inclusive organization is a never-ending process, so it’s important to understand that the work is never “done.” Before thinking about what we wanted to accomplish, we identified where we currently stood with the help of The Equity Project and Dr. Nita Mosby Tyler. Use this slide to think through where your organization currently stands on the equity continuum.
In order to better understand where our organization currently stood in regards to EDI issues, we also created and disseminated a survey for all staff. This allowed us to collect baseline data about how staff approach EDI issues within the work they do and to identify areas for improvement. Our goal is to retake the survey every three years to measure if our theory of change is correct/successful. It is important to note that although we conducted the survey internally, responses were anonymous. We also did not collect any demographic data because we are such a small staff and that could inhibit the anonymity of responses. Here is a pdf of our survey, which was based on online resources and then adapted for our specific needs.
Who needs to be involved?
No matter what position you hold within your organization, you can’t do the work on your own. Our process started small—just an idea among co-workers—and grew as we intentionally brought our colleagues in on the process. We realized that the buy-in of leadership was an essential component to advancing equity work. We were fortunate to discover that there was a lot of support from key leadership, who we met with regularly to help define our goals, strategies, and activities. Then we refined our objectives with a small group of our coworkers that were meeting regularly to discuss EDI-related articles and podcasts. After incorporating their feedback, we introduced our collaborative plan at an all-staff meeting. A few key things we learned from this process:
- Identify your stakeholders early on by asking yourself: “Which staff members could be advocates? And who could be a barrier?” If someone might be a barrier, consider how you would go about making them an advocate.
- Create opportunities for planning to be a communal process. The chances are, not everyone will want to be involved, but be sure to give them the option.
- Intentionally seek out people outside your organization that might provide a diverse perspective or people who you directly impact through your work.
What do we want to accomplish?
One of the scariest parts of this work is actually doing the work. Especially as library workers, we feel the need to continue learning, and researching, and asking questions. We need to gather our resources and remain open to changing cultural needs in order to tackle such a monumental problem as iniquity. At CSL, we started by creating a strategic plan document that would clearly outline EDIT’s mission, goals, strategies, and tactics. This helped us formalize a theory of change (if we do x,y, and z we will accomplish these goals) and allowed us to clearly define what we hoped to achieve and how we planned on doing so. We used ALA’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Implementation Plan as a model. Some key takeaways:
- Set achievable, actionable goals. While goals should be aspirational, they should also be reasonably achievable. Our approach was to set five goals, and related strategies for achieving the goals, for example by including suggested activities. Your goals should be a springboard for launching you on your EDI journey, and so it doesn’t need to be set in stone and in fact should be flexible.
- Define everything! We wanted to be very explicit about terms, including what we meant by EDI. We weren’t just talking about race equity, but also accessibility (a key concern for library staff), as well as the intersection of various identities, such as religion, sexual orientation, ability, ethnicity and so on.
- Get feedback. Don’t be afraid to reach outside your organization. If you lack diverse voices within your planning process like we did, seek outside perspectives from colleagues, your community, advocates, etc.
If not now, then when?
Even writing this post causes trepidation. There is always a lingering fear about sounding tone deaf and getting something wrong. Part of this process is remaining open-minded and open to criticism. We do not claim to know everything about doing EDI work—we certainly aren’t experts—but we cannot wait until we do feel like we know everything. That may never happen and the work is simply too critical to not start today. So if your organization is waiting to take the leap into EDI work, here are some simple steps to follow:
- Reflect on where your organization currently stands
- Gather your stakeholders (this is a good opportunity to practice inclusion!)
- Gather data
- Develop a plan
- Ask for feedback from outside authorities
- Don’t wait!