If you have heard me speak this year, then you’ve heard me repeat this often-quoted saying: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I thought every library worker already had that mindset, that all of us want to change the lives of those we serve through our actions. How dismaying it was to overhear a conversation among librarians recently in which they dismissed the possibility that they could change the world—they, and their library colleagues, “just go to work every day and do their jobs.”
It’s not good enough simply to “do our jobs.” We must do more. We must have a clear vision of what impact we can have; we must develop the skills and commitment to act on that vision. In my opinion, when we enter the library field (as a professional, paraprofessional, trustee, or any other role), we have a moral obligation to “be the change.”
I am issuing a clarion call for us to act on our values of social equity, diversity, and inclusion. Through public and honest conversation and individual actions, we can build an equitable and just society for our members, for the field of librarianship, and for our communities.
ALA has made progress in fostering inclusiveness in our Association and the field. The Spectrum Scholarship program, established in 1997 through the vision and commitment of former ALA President Betty Turock, has become a sustained model for ALA to increase attention to the diversity of the field. Focus on equity and diversity issues is maintained by various offices and groups within and affiliated with ALA, including committees, councils, round tables, and ethnic affiliates.
What we know, however, is that we are not doing enough. Members of our communities and profession continue to face inequity and discrimination. We cannot pat ourselves on the back because we have groups to take action for us. Each one of us must accept the personal responsibility to stand up for equity, diversity, and inclusion in our field and our communities.
ALA is committed to leading efforts in this area and to providing opportunities for all of us to get educated and involved. Collaborative conversations among the leaders of the ethnic affiliates and ALA have led to a renewed dedication to these issues and a commitment to provide opportunities and tools that will enable all members of the Association to engage, learn, and participate (see the story regarding the Joint Statement issued on March 24).
As president, I am forming a Special Presidential Task Force on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion that will be charged to: develop programs and other opportunities for members to learn about and engage in the issue; create an inclusion/diversity resources guide and toolkit for use by libraries; develop communications directed toward the public; and use the 2016 Orlando conference as a platform to provoke a national dialogue, build strong advocacy and awareness, and collaborate with local African-American and Hispanic/Latino community members and organizations.
Other efforts are being planned to leverage conversations among members, including inclusion in face-to-face and virtual membership meetings and support for actions at the state level.
I have no doubt we will move forward in ALA. Equally important, however, are those actions that we take in our own libraries and communities. Every day, we must listen to our colleagues and community members, develop empathy for the challenges they face, and then take positive steps to alleviate any hint of discrimination or injustice, whether it’s through a simple offer to help or through a major policy change.
Each one of us is responsible for ensuring a just society for all.
BARBARA K. STRIPLING is assistant professor of practice at Syracuse (N.Y.) University. Email bstripling[at]ala.org.