By: GARE Libraries Interest Group
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.
More than 50 cities and counties are working with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) to advance racial equity and opportunities for all. In each city, public libraries have a role to play. In some, libraries are taking the lead.
From Seattle to Saint Paul, Madison to Marin County, library departments are leading racial equity initiatives that address structural racism, change policies, engage communities and reduce barriers to prosperity and well-being for people of color.
Public libraries aim to create welcoming and inclusive spaces, to advocate for equitable access to information, to foster civic participation and economic opportunity, and to ensure literacy and lifelong learning. At the heart of these goals is a shared aspiration that every person might have all they need to succeed. This is what equity means.
Yet, across the United States — in large cities and small towns — a person’s race remains a key predictor of opportunity, safety and wellness. Within libraries, we can see disproportionate impacts across virtually every core service area from early literacy and third-grade reading, to adult and digital literacy, career and job opportunities, health and housing, as well as the persistent lack of diversity in collections and within the library profession itself.
Acknowledging that a patron’s race is a principal determinant of whether they enjoy a quality library experience, success in their job search, the benefit of public safety or a voice in their own medical care, compels libraries to focus on race and racial bias in our work. Acknowledging that these same issues impact our workplace culture, hiring and retention makes racial equity a core priority for every library, everywhere.
Libraries realize we need to take a different approach if we want different outcomes for our communities and our profession. Using GARE’s Racial Equity Framework helps us go beyond individual change to begin changing the systems through which racism is perpetuated.
But what does this look like in practice? In this 3-part blog series, we begin by sharing the experience of two libraries — Madison Public Library and Saint Paul Public Library — that are working in coordination with local partners and across the field to leverage the power and influence of their institutions to address racial disparities.
These libraries are building on a rich legacy of social justice work within librarianship, while taking a more honest look at the strengths and the failures of our profession when it comes to racial equity.
By committing to racial equity, libraries and our civic partners seek to examine the often-invisible ways structural racism shapes our decisions, and to listen more authentically to communities of color for whom its impacts have always been visible. Most importantly, this framework guides us to reduce barriers and direct resources to communities that bear the largest burdens of racial inequity.