Efforts in Equity

Academic librarians in border cities share insights

March 28, 2023

Screenshot for "Equity and Inclusion Strategies: How Does My Library Start?"

Diversity, equity, and inclusion was a common throughline for programs during the 2023 Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Conference, held March 15–18 in Pittsburgh.

At “Equity and Inclusion Strategies—How Does My Library Start?: Case Studies from the Borderlands,”  librarians from Texas universities along the US-Mexico border discussed bridging their libraries and communities and advised attendees on ways to kickstart inclusion efforts at their own institutions. Speakers shared practical advice for how to serve first-generation college students, building community networks, and other ways to improve use of library resources.

Shannon Pensa, head of special collections and archives at University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) in Edinburg, said even small actions or changes can make a big difference. UTRGV’s library recently opened its special collections meeting space to students as a silent study area. Some staff were initially hesitant about allowing patrons— and their belongings, water bottles, and other items—into an area with special materials. However, they said it was vital to building trust and creating a welcoming environment.

“The library is so important as a space,” Pensa said. “Once [students] are there, they start asking questions. They bring their parents, wanting to share their experience with other people.”

Claudia Rivers, head of special collections at University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), discussed the significance of engaging with the community through different partnerships. Every week for the last 20 years, the El Paso Times—the city’s daily newspaper—runs an old photograph from Casaola Studio, a UTEP-held photo archive from the early- to mid-20th century. Readers are asked to help identify the photos’ subjects and have done so for images taken as early as the 1930s, recognizing them as relatives or late members of their churches.

Rivers said this shows that while many immigrants passed through El Paso, many decided to stay and plant roots. “It’s a sign that a lot of the population [in El Paso] is stable,” she said. “This has been great to get stories from families who don’t usually get their stories recorded in the archives.”

University of Texas, San Antonio’s (UTSA) library organizes pop-up exhibits for community events and fundraisers throughout the year, for which library staff display related materials from special collections. For example, the library curates annual exhibits to coincide with fundraisers organized by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, the country’s oldest and largest Latino voters’ rights organization. UTSA houses many of the organization’s archives.

Moderator Dean Hendrix, UTSA’s vice provost and university librarian reiterated that academic libraries must understand the diverse populations they are serving, whether it is students, faculty, staff, or the greater community.

“We have all have seen the benefits of going outside of the university and going into the community,” he said. “Sometimes, there are silent barriers in front of our students. We need to do everything we can to make libraries welcoming.”


ACRL 2021 Closing Session speaker Mona Chalabi

ACRL Day Four: Humanizing Information

Conference concludes with data visualization, first-gen students

ACRL 2021 invited speakers (from left) Jennifer Brown, Jennifer Ferretti, and Charlotte Roh of We Here

ACRL Day Three: Recasting the Roles of Academic Libraries

Speakers look at how COVID-19, systemic injustice affect the profession