Advancing IDEAs: Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, 22 August 2023

The following  post is one in a regular series on issues of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility, compiled by a team of OCLC contributors.

Recognizing the emotional and invisible labor of library DEI efforts

A young woman covering her face with a large leaf.
Photo by Majestic Lukas on Unsplash

The Work of Women of Color Academic Librarians in Higher Education: Perspectives on Emotional and Invisible Labor provides perspectives on the emotional labor and invisible labor that women (especially women of color) perform in United States libraries (in this context, “invisible labor” means work that is unrecognized in promotion and tenure criteria). The authors note that emotional labor is inherently feminized because of its ties to service occupations, including librarians. Female librarians are expected to perform emotional regulation not only with patrons but also their colleagues. At the same time, women of color are disproportionally assigned invisible work such as DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) projects because of their racial identities. The institutional impact is DEI work is further devalued and seen as the responsibility of the groups being marginalized. The personal impact is that women of color librarians should perform invisible work with forced cheer, suppressing the negative emotions they might feel about being asked or assigned to this work.

Asking or assigning people of color DEI tasks may originate with good intentions such as including people of color in organizational change, and especially in organizational change meant to address prior inequities. I often see this good intention in calls for committee participation that “strongly encourage people from underrepresented communities” and other language that suggests an active recruitment of people of color. All of us, especially those such as myself who identify as white, must be aware of all the effects caused by such good intentions. Author Naomi Bishop, (who identifies as Akimel O’odham), notes being assigned duties outside her job description such as creating land acknowledgements and provide education on Native Americans, while her colleagues are not similarly tasked. Author Tamara Rhodes describes the emotional dichotomy she faces in workplace DEI discussions: “There is a constant mental and subsequent emotional rollercoaster—wanting to speak up to help create change; the expectation that I should speak up because I’m Black and this is about me; the thought that my silence means that there is no problem; the knowledge that I might be seen as speaking for all Black women.” This article gave me another reason DEI is everyone’s responsibility and must be viewed as equal to other library projects on linked data and artificial intelligence that perhaps not coincidentally seem have large participation from white male librarians. Contributed by Kate James.

Book removal in South Korean public libraries

On July 27, 2023, the online edition of The Korea Herald published “Removal of gender diversity, sex education books from public libraries sparks controversy.” The Governor of South Chungcheong Province, Kim Tae-heum, ordered seven books dealing with sex and gender issues removed from 36 public libraries due to a “flood of complaints” from conservative groups. One such group, the Kkumkium Growth Institute, sent an official request to public libraries with a list of 120 books (later amended to 153) they want removed from shelves. Publishing houses and authors have denounced these efforts as “censorship,” including author Yun Eun-ju, whose book A Girl and a Boy: How to Become a Wonderful Person (in Korean: 소녀와 소년, 멋진 사람이 되는 법) appears on the contested book list.

It is important to remember that the struggle to maintain DEI collections in libraries (especially public libraries) is not limited to authoritarian-led countries or the United States in recent years. There are efforts worldwide to censor literature that celebrates diversity and tolerance and these efforts must be highlighted and the librarians, authors, and publishers deserve our support. Contributed by Morris Levy.

Report on books withdrawn by authors and publishers

In its recent report, “Booklash: Literary Freedom, Online Outrage, and the Language of Harm,” PEN America, the organization devoted to freedom of expression, looks at sixteen cases between 2021 and 2023 in which books were withdrawn by a publisher, an author, or an author’s estate because the author or the content of the book was determined to be “offensive.” Noting that some of the objections, especially regarding children’s books, are similar to those that have resulted in the removal of materials from libraries and schools, PEN America suggests that the ideals behind an open society “must extend not just to government book banning but also to how the literary community governs itself.” The report bases its approach, its research, and its conclusions upon the “Freedom to Read Statement,” crafted by the American Library Association and the Association of American Publishers in 1953, but as relevant today as it ever was.

This detailed and thoughtful report examines the current discussions about identity and representation from multiple perspectives, questions the roles of authors and publishers, and makes recommendations.  Contributed by Jay Weitz.

How libraries support prison-impacted populations

The most recent episode of OVERDUE: Weeding Out Oppression in Libraries focuses on how libraries serve the needs of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. Speakers include: Jody Redifer, Program Specialist, and Enrique Rivera, Library Outreach Specialist at Multnomah County Library (OCLC Symbol: ORX), and Trevor Walraven, Associate Director of Policy and Prison Outreach for the Oregon Justice Resource Center.

This was a great episode to listen to. Topics covered included how libraries support learning and degree attainment (demonstrated to be important for combatting recidivism), and how library services for incarcerated youth can include things like access to musical instruments, allowing for creativity and self-expression. A theme was caution against library staff pre-judging materials and content as not being appropriate for these populations—for example, true crime, urban fiction (which may have gang activity as central themes) or allowing students to express themselves by composing music that relates to their gang activities.  Having access to materials and services that populations find relatable is important and can lead to self-reflection. Final takeaways include the importance of libraries supporting not only those who are in the carceral system and returning from incarceration, but also family members. Additionally, word of mouth about the work of libraries and the breadth of library services is so important—so take a moment to share something new you learned with others. Contributed by Merrilee Proffitt.