Saint Paul, Minnesota
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, email@example.com.
The Saint Paul Public Library (SPPL) launched its racial equity initiative with GARE in 2014 as part of a larger, citywide initiative. SPPL quickly became a leader among city departments.
As the City aimed to increase the diversity of its workforce by 3 percent, so too did the library. SPPL set out to improve how they hire and retain people of color throughout the library system. Like many libraries, SPPL found that part-time staff are disproportionately people of color. Part-time employees often lack full benefits, consistent schedules and access to retirement and other forms of security. Cumulatively this equates to lower overall wages. As a result, part-time staff often work multiple jobs and commute farther to work, reducing family time and increasing transportation costs.
As a first step, SPPL created opportunities for part-time staff to “stack” multiple part-time positions to become eligible for full-time benefits. The library also sought internal candidates for existing vacancies and worked to develop an internal talent pipeline. To accomplish this, SPPL increased the promotion of its professional development funds and offered staff monetary support for a library degree or credential. The library additionally hired 17-20 summer interns, most of whom are youth of color. They also assured representation on hiring committees.
One year after setting these goals, 20 employees became benefits eligible (nine of them staff of color), two clerical staff are enrolled in library credential programs and two summer interns have been hired as Library Aides. By the end of 2017, the library expects to hire or promote eight additional staff of color full-time, exceeding their goal.
SPPL has also been actively involved in shaping Saint Paul’s citywide racial equity training. As Director Jane Eastwood put it, “Staff need to be comfortable talking about race and addressing race as a factor in our work.” In 2015, the library department became the first in Saint Paul to engage all 245 departmental staff in a day-long training. Since then, racial equity training and exercises have been incorporated into monthly managers meetings and twice yearly all-staff training days.
Using an annual work plan and reporting on a quarterly dashboard to the Mayor’s Office, SPPL is defining clear outcomes, specific action steps and clear expectations to produce measureable results. Among those results has been increasing digital access for patrons of color. Using an abbreviated version of GARE’s Racial Equity Toolkit, SPPL evaluated the impact of its computer use policy requiring users to login with their library card. They found obvious racial disparities.
While understanding the root cause of the disparity is important, SPPL acted with urgency. For a three-month trial period they adopted a “no card” policy. Any patron who requested a computer pass got one. At the end of the pilot, staff noted no increased wait times for computers. Moreover, Saint Paul staff discovered that patron frustration and arguments over why someone couldn’t use a computer vanished. In the end, providing a guest pass turned out to be better customer service.
Saint Paul’s local work to address racism is visionary, and it is also strengthened by a growing field of practice within the library profession. Across the country, hundreds of library leaders are contributing to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives — from ALA to PLA, Urban Libraries Council to the Association for Library Service to Children — and building on a rich legacy of social justice work within librarianship.
In doing so, they are beginning to see a difference for staff, partnerships, programs, collections and — ultimately — communities.