ABOUT THIS SERIES: The GARE Libraries Interest works to develop the capacity of libraries to make racial equity a priority within libraries, cities, communities and national associations. An Issue Brief on racial equity in libraries is forthcoming Spring 2018. For information contact, Gordon Goodwin, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Madison, Wisconsin, launched its Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative in 2013 to address deep racial disparities impacting children and families. A team of City staff — from department heads to bus cleaners, librarians to human resources analysts — convened to develop Madison’s Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative (RESJI).
Madison Public Library (MPL) took a leadership role in the City’s initiative. MPL integrated racial equity principles into staff training and has been using racial equity tools to transform hiring practices, partnerships and new models of community-driven program planning.
MPL has also worked to create an institutional culture that recognizes and addresses structural racism. RESJI developed a three-part racial equity training focused on core equity concepts: interrupting bias, applying a racial equity analysis and challenging white cultural dominance. These trainings and a consistent emphasis on building awareness related to racial equity has helped to normalize conversations about race and create honest dialogue about practices that may result in barriers to opportunity.
MPL has also been looking to the community for solutions. In 2014, MPL designed a community conversation toolkit called Tell Us. Through meetups in people’s homes, schools and community spaces, residents discussed issues and challenges they face and identified solutions. Through this process, MPL intentionally elevated the voices of communities of color. These conversations informed the library’s strategic plan and guided the design of a new library and expansion of library services.
MPL has also redesigned hiring processes with the goal of maintaining diversity at each stage of recruitment. By analyzing data, MPL discovered the need to proactively reach communities of color during the recruitment process and to change the process itself. MPL designed new application procedures and rubrics that emphasize customer service experience and the diverse skill sets that keep diverse applicants in the running — a shift that emphasizes capability rather that access to education or prior civil service opportunities. MPL and the City of Madison continue to make strides with the development of an Equitable Hiring Tool and a recent cross-departmental racial equity analysis of the City’s hiring process.
The library continues to lead the way in reshaping service philosophy to direct resources for the greatest impact. Madison’s focus has been on cultural transformation, community engagement and aligning strategic priorities with a strong racial equity analysis. Currently, MPL is pairing groups/organizations looking to work on a media project that positively impacts the Madison community with teams of media experts. This is just another example of how the library is flipping the script to engage with community and become a platform for social change.