D&I Planning Spotlight: University Library

February 17, 2020

  • Among the University of Chicago Library’s diverse collections are 2,000 North Korean stamps that have been digitized and made available online, including these stamps depicting a traditional Korean Bongsan masked dance.

    The University Library is committed to bringing diversity and inclusion efforts to the forefront of operations—so much so that it’s a top priority of the unit’s three-year strategic direction plan. With a staff of more than 225, the Library aims to "build an inclusive organization that cultivates and values diversity, recognizing the strength that it brings to our community and operations." The Library has spearheaded a number of initiatives that directly align with the University of Chicago’s Diversity & Inclusion Initiative. Additionally, the Library formed a Diversity & Inclusion Working Group that recently completed the University’s Diversity & Inclusion Planning Toolkit, and the unit is now appointing a new Diversity & Inclusion Committee to implement it.

     "As we develop further plans to cultivate diversity and inclusion, we expect our strategies to include fostering a diverse, inclusive, and culturally competent organization; actively recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce; acting as a strong partner in campus diversity activities; providing welcoming, accessible library spaces and services; and developing inclusive collections," said Brenda Johnson, Library Director and University Librarian.

    Diversity and inclusion have been priorities of the Library for some time. In November 2018, unit administrators worked with an external consultant from the Association of Research Libraries to explore what diversity means in library environments. Over the last few years, the Library has taken a number of steps to build a more diverse and inclusive environment within the unit. A prayer and meditation space was created in Regenstein Library, along with a lactation space for nursing mothers. All Library staff who participate in hiring committees are now required to complete training on the search process. Training topics include issues of implicit bias and stereotypes, as well as other factors that may affect the fairness of a search.  

    Diversifying Library collections, exhibitions, and programming has also been a priority for the unit, along with enhancing collaborations across campus and in the community. Among its recent online offerings are the fully digitized North Korean Stamp Collection and the web exhibit A Voice for Justice: The Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells. The Library has partnered with UChicago’s Center for College Student Success to develop specialized programming for first-generation, undocumented, and low-income students. As host of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC), a Chicago-based membership association of libraries, universities, and other archival institutions, the Library is working to broaden the accessibility of collections that document African American and African diasporic culture, history, and politics. The Library has also modified its community access policies in order to give community members greater access to the Library and its collections.

    In January 2019, Library leadership formed a D&I Working Group which created the unit’s diversity statement and began working on the D&I Planning Toolkit. The team found the toolkit to be extremely helpful navigating through various steps in the process.

    "Using the toolkit helped us determine our current priorities and focus on what we can do now, and how that work will ultimately translate to other areas," said LaTonja Ellis, Director of Human Resources for the Library. "For now, we’re mainly focusing on infrastructure, but are also bringing in some things in that area that will impact climate and community."

    The working group has already implemented some of the tactical steps outlined in the toolkit. In September 2019, all Library staff participated in the UChicago Inclusion Workshop Hearing One Another, which introduces practical approaches to help people develop effective communication and listening skills. The unit has also moved some of its catering work to new vendors in order to support more minority business owners. This month, the Library’s working group announced the intent to form the unit’s new D&I committee, which will be charged with implementing the steps outlined in the Library’s completed toolkit. 

    Ellis urges all units to make diversity and inclusion planning a priority and thinks the D&I Planning Toolkit is a good tool for units across campus.

    "Don’t be afraid to do it!" Ellis said. "It’s a great resource that will help you slow down and figure out exactly where your unit is going, and make sure you create diversity and inclusion efforts that are sustainable."