Diversity in Libraries
A blog for exploring and discussing the topics of diversity and multiculturalism in libraries.

Do libraries need diversity statements in addition to misssion statements?

By Margaret Rainwater

When deciding what to write for my first blog entry, I thought it best to begin with a definition of diversity. Though it seems like a simple enough term, I found it hard to put into words and began to wonder how other libraries and information professionals describe diversity. In a paper titled “Assessing Your Library’s Diversity and Organizational Climate,” Jane Williams also stresses the importance of first deciding on a definition of diversity, a set of goals to be reached, and a plan for achieving these goals before any real diversity assessment can take place. (2006, p. 4) She cites the University of Michigan as a leader in this area of librarianship, which has developed a mission statement dedicated to diversity.

Curious, I visited the University of Michigan library website, clicked on “MLibrary,” scrolled down to the “People,” and there it is – a link on their Diversity Committee. According to their website, this committee works with staff, community members, and administrators on all matters related to diversity. As Jane Williams mentioned, their site contains a diversity statement, which defines diversity as “…all the characteristics that can be used to describe humans. We are all diverse in many ways. It is the unique intersections of these characteristics that define each individual’s diversity. A few examples of these characteristics include:

Age
Language(s) spoken
Ancestry
Marital Status
Cognitive Style
Nationality
Cultural background
Economic background
Politics
Ethnicity
Race
Gender
Religion
Geographic background
Physical ability or appearance
Sexual Orientation”

http://www.lib.umich.edu/library-diversity-committee/about-us

Looking for to compare diversity statements, I next visited our own Wayne State University libraries website, but was unable to find the word “diversity” listed anywhere on our website. The closest thing I found was a listing of our special collections, which do include some collections with diverse materials, but that was the extent of it. If Wayne State University libraries do have any statement regarding diversity, they don’t seem interested in sharing it with the public.

This led me to wonder where the ALA stands on the subject of diversity in libraries. In our class text, Library Ethics, Jean Preer notes that the 1995 ALA Code of Ethics does not specifically address diversity although it does call for the “highest level of service to all library users.” (2008, p. 44) Then in 1999, the ALA came out with the statement “Libraries: An American Value” that did promote diversity. The second point states,

“We value our nation’s diversity and strive to reflect that diversity by providing a full spectrum of resources and services to the communities we serve;”

This same statement was also included in the ALA’s “Core Values of Librarianship” statement in 2004.

It seems to me that a diversity statement and a diversity committee like the one at U of M would help libraries stay focused and continually work to raise the level of diversity at their organization. Although everyone likes to talk about the importance of diversity, it can often take a backseat to other more pressing issues.

What do you think?

Possible Discussion Topics:

1) Do libraries and library organizations need diversity statements? Does your library or organization have one?
2) What do you think of U of M’s diversity statement? Does it leave anything out? Is it too specific?
3) What do you think about the fact that Wayne State does not have a diversity statement?
4) If you were to write a diversity statement for Wayne State, what would you include?

References

Dewey, B. (Ed.). (2006). Achieving Diversity: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers.
Libraries: An American Value (1999). Retrieved November 11, 2009, from American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/statementspols/americanvalue/librariesamerican.cfm
New Definition of Diversity (2009). Retrieved November 15, 2009, from University of Michigan: http://www.lib.umich.edu/library-diversity-committee/about-us
Preer, J. (2008). Library Ethics. Westport: Libraries Unlimited.

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