June 4, 2020
Today, we are called to address current events—specifically, to condemn the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers, and Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of self-appointed white vigilantes. These may be well beyond the scope of librarians to solve, but we address them nonetheless. For one thing, they are the ultimate expression of a set of conditions that allow such abuses to happen repeatedly. It feels overwhelming, and to the members of our community directly impacted, beyond overwhelming to exhausting and terrifying. But we aren't helpless: It is incumbent upon us to consider these conditions in our sphere of influence—librarianship.
There is a persistent lack of diversity in librarianship; our ranks remain approximately 85% white, despite years of well-meaning scholarships and programming. The ILA strategic plan identifies one of our core values as "Diversity and equity of opportunity," along with "Energizing, visionary leadership," and "Adaptation to change," among others.
As a professional association, we are in a position to make statements, knowing full well a statement without action is empty. Some concrete actions were outlined in an article in the ILA Reporter March 2020 issue, including the 2019 development of a code of conduct for ILA events designed to enable full, effective participation for all, along with training for staff and Board members and an anonymous, online reporting system. In January 2020 the ILA Executive Board approved the transfer of $10,000 from ILA's net assets into the Diversity Scholarship Fund. These actions and others are a direct result of the report from ILA’s Diversity Study Task Force (p.22). We note these examples not to imply that ILA has solved the issue, but to make clear that we are resolved to act on our statements and in support of our strategic goals.
In librarianship, we provide education and resources to others, but in order to effect real change, we need to educate ourselves as professionals going forward: Becoming effective allies, examining white privilege, and learning how to be actively anti-racist in our work. None of these concepts are new and the work is long overdue, but we are seeing an unprecedented breadth and depth of engagement around them right now.
The ILA Executive Board will draft a plan of action to build on the steps we have taken so far, at our upcoming June 11, 2020 meeting that may include future financial support, a moderated discussion series, continuing to feature speakers and content on these topics, curating a set of the many resources available, and other ideas. As an association, as leaders within the library community, as human beings, we are committed to further concrete action in the fight against racism.
In the meantime, here are five things librarians can do right now:
1) Recommit to promoting the importance of the Census in your community, particularly among hard to count populations
2) Make plans to encourage voter registration via your programming, in advance of the fall 2020 elections
3) Identify and reach out to one (or one new) antiracist organization in your community to offer partnership and support
4) Read one of the articles on this list or one like it
5) Promote the titles and resources in your collection that address inclusion, equity, and antiracism via book lists or book talks, as the Evanston Public Library has done
Statement by Molly Beestrum, ILA President; Cynthia Fuerst, ILA Past President; Veronica De Fazio, ILA Vice President/President-Elect; Diane Foote, ILA Executive Director; and ILA staff: Kendall Harvey, Tamara Jenkins, Tina Koleva, and Cynthia Robinson.