Academic libraries have long understood the importance of assessing their work. For example, they can look at the impact of their information literacy programs on student success or determine whether their textbook lending program is cost-effective for the library and for students.
Assessment work is multifaceted and needs both leadership and expertise to be successful. When assessments include matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), you have an even more complex situation.
Traditional library assessment practices often exclude DEI elements, or many academic libraries may be unsure about DEI assessments. Yet it’s crucial to consider: If institutions are already engaging in DEI work, what is the extent of the engagement? Where might they be missing the mark? What should their next steps be?
This is where two forms of assessment—the whole-library DEI audit and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Self-Assessment Audit (DEISAA)—may fill a void. In 2017, with insight and support from organization development expert Nikhat Ghouse, I created DEISAA to support DEI evaluation for an academic health sciences library. The library was interested in determining the status and progress of its DEI efforts, ranging from recruitment and retention of historically excluded populations to integration of DEI into library messaging and statements.
DEISAA is not a climate assessment that focuses on employees’ individual experiences of DEI within the workplace; it’s an attempt to offer a more holistic view of a library’s DEI efforts. Ghouse and I modeled it after the Social Inclusion Audit, a toolkit developed by the Canadian Urban Libraries Council that assesses libraries for 12 social inclusion outcomes. We expanded and organized DEISAA into six sections suggested by the Star Model, an organizational design framework on which a company bases its design choices.
Through a free pilot program for individual libraries, DEISAA has evolved to include eight sections—structures, strategy, processes, rewards, people, external DEI, accessibility for users, and accessibility for employees—with more than 60 items for libraries to consider. We have seen through piloting and continued use that some audit items simply don’t apply to every academic library, often because of larger institutional contexts outside the libraries’ control. Libraries may adapt DEISAA by removing items or indicating when an item doesn’t apply.
Why should a library embark on such a rigorous DEI audit? The value of completing it is threefold: The library gets a baseline for a wide variety of DEI efforts in which it is engaged or wishes to engage in the future; a baseline for future assessment, allowing it to measure progress and growth; and improved organizational communication, as successfully completing the audit requires library-wide engagement and includes all voices. In many ways, our audit shows academic libraries the vast possibilities of DEI work. While this can be daunting, it showcases how important and ingrained DEI work should be within libraries.
Our DEISAA is a dynamic instrument, growing and changing with each use. It will never be perfect. But with DEI work, perfection should not be the goal; increased effort, improvement, and positive change are more achievable outcomes.
Think of the DEISAA as a starting point, helping libraries to better understand their DEI efforts and providing them with information needed to make evidence-based decisions and move forward. With continued use, libraries should see fewer DEI items that aren’t being addressed and increased engagement overall.