Suggested Readings on Diversity and Decolonization

by Lise Doucette
Assistant Librarian, University of Western Ontario

What role does the library have in addressing issues of privilege and oppression? What do we mean when we talk about diversity? How can libraries contribute to decolonization and reconciliation processes? I’ve raised these topics with colleagues at my own institution and beyond, garnering a range of responses from defensiveness and discomfort to thoughtful and critical conversation.

Learning through reading, listening, reflecting, and discussing is essential, and in this post I’ve compiled selected links and brief summaries of reports, conference keynotes, journal articles, blog posts, and books, which often have their own list of references or recommended readings. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, as well as recommendations of other readings in the comments below.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Interrupting Whiteness is a book list put together by the Seattle Public Library to support their public programming on “What is the role that white people can play in dismantling white supremacy and its related oppressions?”
• Ithaka S&R’s 2017 report on Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity: Members of the Association of Research Libraries Employee Demographics and Director Perspectives details the results of an investigation on inclusion, equity, and diversity-related issues in staffing of academic libraries. Some of the findings demonstrate a significant lack of self-awareness – for example, libraries that are more racially homogenous than the average see themselves as more equitable and more inclusive than the overall library community, by a larger margin than the more diverse institutions.
• The 2017 ARL SPEC Kit on Diversity and Inclusion documents activities that ARL libraries are currently engaging in and provides materials related to staff development programs that foster an inclusive workplace and climate. It’s an updated and expanded version of the 2010 ARL SPEC Kit on Diversity Plans and Programs.
• Dave Hudson’s article On “Diversity” as Anti-Racism in Library and Information Studies: A Critique (Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies) challenges diversity as the dominant framework of anti-racism in library and information studies.
• Two books from the Litwin Books and Library Juice Press series on Critical Race Studies and Multiculturalism in LIS have been published – Topographies of Whiteness: Mapping Whiteness in Library and Information Science, edited by Gina Schlesselman-Tarango; and Teaching for Justice: Implementing Social Justice in the LIS Classroom, edited by Nicole A. Cooke and Miriam E. Sweeney.
• In the article White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS (In the Library With The Lead Pipe), April Hathcock examines how whiteness has “permeated every aspect of librarianship, extending even to the initiatives we claim are committed to increasing diversity.”

Decolonization, Indigenization, and Reconciliation

• The Canadian Federation of Library Associations published its Truth and Reconciliation Report and Recommendations in May, 2017, which includes recommendations for decolonizing practices in Access and Classification, Indigenous Knowledge Protection, Outreach and Services, and Decolonizing Libraries and Space.
• The two keynotes from the WILU 2017 conference are available to watch online: Appropriation or Appreciation: How to Engage Indigenous Literatures (Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair) and Librarians, wâhkôhtowin, and information literacy instruction: building kinship in research relationships (Jessie Loyer).
• The keynote from the Access 2017 conference is available to watch online: The trouble with access (Dr. Kimberley Christen). In her keynote, Dr. Christen examines “library and archives practices related to access in the context Indigenous sovereignty, reconciliation, and on-going struggles of decolonization.”
• In her blog post Beyond territorial acknowledgments, âpihtawikosisân discusses the increased presence of territorial acknowledgements in Canada and delves into the purpose and practice of territorial acknowledgements, and the spaces where they happen.
• In 100 Ways: Indigenizing & Decolonizing Academic Programs (aboriginal policy studies), Dr. Shauneen Pete provides a list of “ways to indigenize and decolonize your academic programs [that] is not meant to be prescriptive. This list provides suggestions to help deans and faculty begin to commit to greater levels of Indigenization in their program planning and delivery.”
• In Decolonization is not a metaphor (Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society), Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang note that the “easy adoption of decolonizing discourse by educational advocacy and scholarship, evidenced by the increasing number of calls to ‘decolonize our schools,’ or use ‘decolonizing methods,’ or, ‘decolonize student thinking,’ turns decolonization into a metaphor.” However, “Decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life; it is not a metaphor for other things we want to do to improve our societies and schools.”

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.

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

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.