Library technology, diversity, and a question in need of an answer: C-EBLIP Journal Club, February 14, 2017

by Shannon Lucky, IT Librarian, University of Saskatchewan

Dewey, B. I. (2015). Transforming Knowledge Creation: An Action Framework for Library Technology Diversity. The Code4Lib Journal, (28). Retrieved from http://journal.code4lib.org/articles/10442

I picked up this article for our journal club because the title implies that the author has an answer to a question I have been thinking about for months – how can library technology (and library technologists) contribute to diversity for our institutions, collections, and communities? The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada: Calls to Action specifically describes work that must be done in our educational institutions, museums, and archives that require rethinking the systems we use, what their design assumes and implies, and the ways they are problematic for communities and individuals. At the U of S University Library, I am responsible for our online presence, including our website and integrated systems. While we are updating the content and infrastructure of this very public part of our organization I am trying to be conscious and proactive in making sure that our web interfaces invite everyone in and are useful for all members of our community. While I have been asking myself these questions, I don’t really know what a website or digital system that supports diversity looks like. I suspect I am not alone so I wanted to throw the question out to our journal club.

The best conversations in our group don’t always happen around the most well-crafted articles, and that was the case this time around. Our conversation sparked all kinds of new ideas for me, but (to be blunt) this article doesn’t deliver on the promise in the title. The first thing we all noticed was the missing definition of diversity. The author doesn’t give one and we are left to make a lot of assumptions about what they mean. We talked about definitions of diversity at length – about how it has to be about more than race and gender (as we felt this article implied), and that really embracing diversity has to happen in every aspect of the organization continuously and constantly.

We talked about the examples described in the article but agreed that the idea that a single program, event, or new hire effectively checks a diversity box is wrong, bordering on tokenism. One of the members of our group said that diversity means disinvesting in things that we hold dear. Things like what we believe achievement and success looks like, things that directly impact us, and things that make us comfortable and complacent (like tradition or ‘the way we have always done this’). This idea really resonated with me. We talked about how ideas of hiring for ‘cultural fit’ in an organization can be problematic and that having a workplace full of people who get along (because they think the same way, have the same opinions, experiences, and backgrounds), even if the group is gender or racially diverse, isn’t an objectively good thing.

The TRC recommendations and their call for a new relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples came up again in this conversation. We talked about what a new relationship really means and how drivers of major institutions (like libraries) need to give up some control and change the ways we do things, even if this will take more time and resources than we want it to. This connects to something we did like about the article – the call for ‘true partnerships and collaborations’ as part of the 3rd dimension of the 5-part action framework, Embeddedness & Global Perspective. A few members of our group said that that terminology jumped off the page at them, even if it wasn’t discussed in the rest of the article. Investing in long-term meaningful partnerships and collaborations, in ways that are not only convenient or easy for us, would be a way to foster greater diversity in our collections, communities, and organization in general.

There is a part of the actual implementation of the action framework that we were excited about too. The author described the Penn State Library Diversity Residency Program that hires recent LIS grads belonging to groups historically underrepresented in our field for a two-year term, rotating them through different areas of the library including technical departments like digital initiatives, emerging technologies, instructional and research services, and repository and data curation services. This would be a great opportunity for anyone interested in exploring library technology work and would benefit both the residents and the departments they work in by bringing in new perspectives to established teams. I would love to see something like this at more academic libraries.

While our journal club group didn’t think this was a great article, we thought the idea of the framework was interesting but, ultimately, had little to do with library technology in particular. The framework could be applied to diversity in libraries in general, and the challenge should probably be approached this way rather than targeting individual domains in the library. Making our technologies and systems work for everyone is an important step to take. Training everyone to think, research, and work the same way isn’t real diversity, even if the team doing that work looks ‘diverse’.

I went into this discussion looking for specific things I can do in my tech-based work to encourage diversity but I didn’t find an easy answer. A member of our group expressed this well when she said that we all want quick and tidy solutions, but the work we do is difficult and diversity is a multi-dimensional area of inquiry. There are few easy targets that are also meaningful so it’s no surprise that this article isn’t a silver bullet solution. Our conclusion was that change toward real diversity will require long-term investment and constant questions of regular ways of doing things. Our current context won’t hold still, so a one-time solution will never work. A line on a strategic plan, however well-intentioned, won’t make this work. It has to become an everyday practice that infuses every decision we make and everything we do. We won’t always do it perfectly, but having this conversation felt like a solid step in the right direction.

 


This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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